In part two of our two part series (take a look back at part one) previewing Americans overseas, we take a look a players in the British Isles, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand, and Japan.
The Saracens have been the steady team of England over the last few years. Despite losing some key players every season the Saracens seem to constantly finish near the top of the league. In the thick of that consistency is Eagles back Chris Wyles. Now in his fifth year with the team, Wyles should be a versatile player for new head coach Mark McCall. That versatility will help get Wyles playing time with the continued emergence of Alex Goode and the signing of Chris Ashton from Northampton. If Wyles stays injury free he should pass 100 appearances for Saracens this year. In addition, after bouncing around for the first half the season, Saracens will be getting a permanent home in Allianz Park, due to open in February.
Heineken Cup Opponents: Munster, Edinburgh, Racing Metro.
LV=Cup Opponent: Leicester, Sale, Cardiff, Worcester
Samu Manoa had a breakout season last year for Northampton. Eschewing a chance to play for the Eagles in the World Cup, Manoa took advantage of his opportunity to become a first choice flanker for the Saints. Now that he has had a full year in the Premiership, Manoa should be even stronger this year. The Saints should be equal to their semi-final form from last year and could look to take the next step and make the final.
Heineken Cup Opponents: Ulster, Glasgow, Castres
LV=Cup Opponents: Harlequins, Newport-Gwent Dragons, Gloucester
The biggest offseason move in the RaboDirect Pro12 didn’t involve a player, but a team. After two seasons of struggle Aironi had their license revoked and replaced with Zebre. That meant the while some players from Aironi would be retained by Zebre, the opportunity for new players would also be available. One of the players to take advantage of that opportunity is U.S.-eligible Dave Ryan. The big prop played his rugby with Lazio in the Super 10 last season and earned a call-up to Eagles camp this last summer. Now, Ryan will be suiting up for a new team that may struggle not to finish at the bottom of the league. That means he could get plenty of playing time, and if he is available for the Eagles, that could be a major plus.
Heineken Cup Opponents: Biarritz, Harlequins, Connacht
U.S.-eligible Hanno Dirksen (yes, I know he’s said he wants to play for Wales but technically he’s still U.S.-eligible) returns to the Ospreys who will look to defend their title. Dirksen had a breakout year last year starting a majority of the Ospreys matches and that trend should continue this year. However, the Ospreys may find it hard to be repeat champions. They’ve lost several key players to their team (Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams) while only adding Jonathan Spratt. Still, that trend has happened to quite a few RaboDirect Pro12 teams so maybe it won’t be so bad.
Heineken Cup Opponents: Toulouse, Leicester, Benetton Treviso
LV=Cup Opponents: Gloucester, Exeter, Newport-Gwent Dragons, Harlequins
Another U.S.-eligible winger in the competition is Glasgow’s Tommy Seymour. Seymour, who also is eligible for Ireland and Scotland, made the move to Glasgow last year from Ulster. He started off the season well scoring several tries before injuring himself. That injury cost Seymour his starting job and this summer he has been trying to win it back. If pre-season matches are any indication it looks like he’s done that. As for the team, Glasgow exceeded all expectations last year by making the playoffs. This year they’ve added some young players around their established core and should once again push for a post-season berth. Leinster and Munster are still going to be the class of the league, but with the moves at other clubs, the last two playoff spots could be anyone’s.
Heineken Cup Opponents: Northampton, Ulster, Castres
Over in Ireland, U.S.-eligible prop Callum Black looks set for a big year for Ulster. Black seemed to be pushing for more playing time even before an injury to Paddy McAllister opened up a permanent starting role. Black should see plenty of action this year between the RaboDirect Pro12, Heineken Cup, and potentially the British & Irish Cup. It will also be a big year for him in determining whether he gets a chance at representing Ireland or whether he choses to represent the United States.
Heineken Cup Opponents: Northampton, Castres, Glasgow
Italian Serie A
Lou Stanfill has made the move back to Europe by signing with Vicenza after a season state-side with NYAC. Stanfill has previously spent time in the Italian Super 10 with Mogliano so a return to Italy will be no problem. Vicenza earned promotion to the Serie A after finishing in second place in their Serie B group last year. They are a club with some financial resources and have brought in players like Stanfill that could help them make it to the Super 10. Either way, for Stanfill the move means 22 league matches, regular training with great forwards, and a chance to be in Europe when the Eagles make their fall tour.
Two rounds of the Currie Cup have been played and L.A.-born Marcel Brache has so far been a key piece for Western Province. Brache, who played one match for the Stormers in Super Rugby, was named vice-captain of the team. Elsewhere is South Africa, Eagle number eight JJ Gagiano has been playing for the University of Cape Town in the Western Province Super League.
The ITM Cup begins this weekend and Eagle prop Eric Fry has signed on to play with the Manawatu Turbos. Fry, who had been playing for the University Old Boys in Wellington, should see plenty of action for the Turbos after injuries have hurt the prop corp. Manawatu are in the Championship bracket and will look to move up to make their way into the Premiership bracket. They lost the playoff to Hawke’s Bay last year so the talent is certainly there.
After two years with Suntory, Eagle captain Todd Clever has made the move to the NTT Shining Arcs. With the Shining Arcs, Clever should consistently start and be the focal point of the team. That is a great position for any Eagle. The Shining Arcs finished 9th in the 14 team Top League last year so Clever will have his hands full trying to move the team up the ladder. Japanese teams have added some big names over the last year (Sonny Bill Williams for one) so the competition in the league should be stronger than ever.
Lastly, there are a couple of Americans playing college rugby in England. Former Cal All-American Jason Law is entering his second year at Oxford and will look to be a major player for the team. Injuries slowed his season down a bit last year, but all indications are that he is ready to step into the boots of his former Cal teammate Derek Asbun. Speaking of Asbun, he graduated from Oxford and is currently surveying his options. Junior All-American captain Will Magie will once again be the flyhalf for Leeds University.
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