Last weekend’s kick-off to the Top 14 season means that the European season is officially back in session. For American fans, that means it’s time to preview the Americans that ply their trade overseas. In part one of a two part series, we’re going to take a look Americans playing in France.
The Top 14 has already kicked off and the usual suspects are on top after one round, including Taku Ngwenya’s Biarritz team that endured a nightmare season last year. Ngwenya played well last year after returning from the World Cup, starting and going the distance in almost every single one of Biarritz’s matches, but the team didn’t have the season they would like. Much of that is due to players being absent for the World Cup last year. This year however, that shouldn’t be a problem. Heavyweights Dimitri Yachvili and Imanol Harinordoquy always help Biarritz in any match and a return to top form should be in order this year. Ngwenya will continue to take his place on the wing and put in a full 80 minutes all season.
Heineken Cup Opponents: Harlequins, Connacht, Zebre
Scott LaValla started out the Top 14 season by starting and playing 48 minutes for Stade Francais. LaValla mostly came off the bench last season late in matches or playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup. However, with a big summer playing for the Eagles, LaValla seems to have claimed a bigger role on the team. Hopefully he can help Stade improve upon their 7th place finish from last year.
Amlin Challenge Cup Opponents: Grenoble, Cavalieri, London Welsh
The Pro D2 has quickly become the place to be for American players. After having only one player in the competition last year, the league now boasts four Americans. Inaki Basauri moved from relegated Perigueux to Tarbes. He’ll be an experienced player on the team that is looking to move up from last year’s 12th place finish. Credit should go to Basauri for creating his opportunities in France. He’s played in the Federale 1, in Italy, and the Pro D2, something that is unique for an American. The Pro D2 season starts this weekend.
Also making the move within France is Seta Tuilevuka. Tuilevuka had a breakout year with Top 14 side Montpellier two years ago, but a string of unfortunate injuries prevented him from making an appearance with the team last year and was subsequently let go at the end of the season. He then signed with Beziers who finished in a relegation spot last year but were saved after Bourgoin were relegated for financial reasons. It will be a new start for Tuilevuka who will have the task of improving Beziers performance and showing that he belongs in the Top 14.
Roland Suniula turned his strong play with the Chicago Griffins last Spring, and with the Eagles over the summer into a contract with FC Auch. Even though he plays flyhalf for the Eagles, Auch has him playing in preferred centre position. So far through the pre-season Suniula has gotten quite a bit of playing time and is adjusting to life in France. Auch finished 10th in the 16 team Pro D2 last year and will have work to do if they are going to make the promotion playoffs. Hopefully, Suniula gets plenty of playing time and experience.
Also in the Pro D2, young American Ben Roach has signed a development contract with La Rochelle. Roach played a year of college rugby in American before going to play in Ireland. Eventually that led to the contract with La Rochelle. (Here’s more about Roach.) He picked up an injury and hasn’t had the opportunity to play for La Rochelle yet, but the winger should gain plenty of experience throughout his first year as a pro. La Rochelle finished in the promotion playoffs but ultimately fell to Pau in the semi-finals.
Andre Liufau and Mate Moeakiola have a lot in common. Both were born in Tonga, played football for the University of Utah, are props, have been capped by the Eagles, and now, both have played at L’Uson Nevers in the Federale 1. Liufau played for the club last year and should return once he gets his visa situation sorted out while Moeakiola moved from fellow Federale 1 side Bobigny. L’Uson just missed out the the promotion playoffs last year, but they’ve looked to re-tool and should be a good candidate for promotion this year.
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The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
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