USA Rugby South is just about set with two U19 teams to play in the Rugby Americas North Men's U19 Championships, and one women's team in the 10s tournament.
The Rugby Americas North (RAN) is what used to be called NACRA and was NAWIRA before that. It is the governing body for North America, the Caribbean, and parts of Latin America. (This also includes Guyana, which is on the South American continent but has traditionally been a West Indies or Caribbean nation when it comes to sports.) Some years ago World Rugby and RAN recognized that if the USA put in its full U19 squad, it would win comprehensively. So the decision was made to create a USA Rugby South team to compete, and that's how the tournament has operated since.
In 2015 Mexico defeated the South 24-0 to win the RAN u19s, but in 2016 the South garnered some revenge with a 25-10 defeat of Mexico in the championship match.
This year, the South is fielding two teams. That fact came as something of a surprise for Program Director Mark Williams of Rugby Tennessee. A late pullout forced RAN to ask the South to take a 2nd side. Williams found new Queens University Charlotte Head Coach Frank McKinney, who had also coached the North Carolina HS all-star team, to coach Team 2, and added "I am very pleased with the coaching staff we have for both teams."
McKinney was able to bring some players from that North Carolina team, and Williams aid he is not saying whether Team 1 or Team 2 of the South is the stronger. USA South 1 will open the tournament against Jamaica, which is an athletic outfit.
The teams were selected through a fairly long tryout process, and that process included performance in the South Regional Cup Tournament all-star event, which means the North Carolina players who made Team 2 did so using the USA Rugby South process. Meanwhile, South Team 2 also will feature several players from Florida. This is a new development. Despite the fact that the RAN Championships are normally held in Florida, many Florida coaches have not embraced the program, and thus have not encouraged their players to try out. This year, things are different.
"I use the barking bog method of outreach," said Williams. "I get one dog barking, saying this is a good experience, and then another dog barks, and pretty soon every dog in the neighborhood has heard about it. I am very pleased to see more Florida players try out."
This event provides international experience for all of the players, and can be a jumping off point to a college scholarship, or greater all-star or select side recognition. In addition, the USA South Panthers teams are representing the USA, and will stand for the National Anthem as the USA's representative. That's something that the players value.
The RAN U19s kick off on July 15 in Mirimar, FL. The women's competition is a 10-a-side tournament that will run over two days. The South is the defending champion in that event, as well, and that event will see Mexico compete for the first time.