LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The Men’s Eagles are 2-0 and tied with Argentina atop of the Americas Rugby Championship standings after their 51-3 win over Brazil. Veterans of the squad like Chris Baumann and Todd Clever have shown well, but so too have a handful of D1A Rugby’s brightest players.
Indiana All-American Bryce Campbell is one of the student-athletes making an impact for the Eagles. Playing outside center, Campbell hasn’t been shell-shocked by test rugby and has scored a try in each of the Eagles’ first two fixtures.
“The step up in competition hasn’t been that demanding because we’re surrounded by such good teammates that put less pressure on our individual role,” explained Campbell. “Being around such good players and a positive team culture has also made me step my game up, which makes the challenges on the field easier.”
Wheeling Jesuit All-American Peter Malcolm has featured well, too. After starting in the Feb. 4 victory over Uruguay, the Rugby East All-Conference standout came on as a second half substitute against Brazil. Like Campbell, Malcolm hasn’t been overwhelmed by international competition. Instead, the biggest challenge has been progressing as a hooker after spending the majority of his career playing loose forward.
“Being an international front row presents more challenges at scrum time,” Malcolm attested.
Fortunately, there is plenty of experience in the squad to help ease the transition for guys like Campbell and Malcolm. James Hilterbrand, who captained the Eagles against Brazil, is a hooker with experience playing with Super Rugby’s Waratahs and Western Force in Australia
“That’s a great guy to learn from when it comes to being an international hooker,” Malcolm said of Hilterbrand.
Although Blaine Scully had to leave camp and return to his professional club, Cardiff Blues, Campbell said the 34-time capped Eagle was immensely important in making him feel comfortable and confident in his role in the back line.
“He welcomed me to the program and helped me step up my game and was a huge influence during a week in camp and our week leading up to the Uruguay match,” Campbell complimented of Scully.
Campbell and Malcolm aren’t the only players from D1A Rugby excelling in an Eagles jersey. Life prop Alex Maughan and BYU lock Matt Jensen earned their first international caps when they came on as second half replacements versus Uruguay. Neither was available to suit up last week, and Maughan recently returned to Life. Jensen, on the other hand, will come back to the Eagles for the final two matches of the competition – a Feb. 25 contest against Chile and a March 4 match versus Argentina XV. The All-American lock won’t be the only Cougar giving the Eagles a boost for their final two Americas Rugby Championship fixtures. BYU center Calvin Whiting will be seeking his first cap when he joins the team ahead of the game against Chile.
The Americas Rugby Championship is a unique competition in that competing nations use the tournament to develop younger players while still competing in test matches that count towards World Rugby’s rankings. Despite an understanding that up-and-comers – who may or may not have a role in this summer’s World Cup qualifying matches against Canada – will be given a chance to prove themselves as Eagles, there’s no room for excuses pertaining to age or inexperience.
“We’re past the point where we are the new guys,” explained Malcolm. “We’re halfway through a tour – halfway through a tournament. It’s time to not be worrying about being a new guy and worry about being the guy who makes an impact – a guy who helps the team.”
Campbell concurs with his college-grade running mate that they are with the men’s national team not for a tryout, but to make the program better.
“It’s made me realize I can have a big contribution on the game. There’s no more time to think, ‘Oh, I’m just a new guy.’ I have a huge role to play and I can do well as long as I put the work in.”
Besides the tutelage and encouragement from senior players and the coaching staff, Campbell and Malcolm have found life on tour with the Eagles a little easier because of the support they receive from their college programs. Campbell has spoken with Indiana Head Coach Sopa Enari a few times since the beginning of the Americas Rugby Championship, and receives several texts weekly from his Hoosier teammates. Similarly, Malcolm’s teammates at Wheeling Jesuit let him know they are keeping tabs on him.
“All my boys at Jesuit have been really supportive this whole time and I’ve heard from them during the week and before the game.”
Head Coach John Mitchell has yet to unveil his lineup for the Eagles’ Feb. 18 bout against Canada, but Campbell and Malcolm hope to be a factor in the rivalry match. The Round 3 Americas Rugby Championship fixture between USA and Canada will kick off at 8 p.m. ET and will air live on The Rugby Channel.