Americans shine in Junior World Rugby tourney
Murray • Madison Hughes smiled and then shrugged, giving the all-confident look of a guy who had dominated an entire rugby game, and the entire week as well.
The USA halfback, short, stocky, strong and lightning quick, had just led his country to a 54-25 shellacking of Chile in the final pool-play match of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy. The attention afterward, however, didn't faze Hughes, who plies his craft during the regular season at Dartmouth College.
"I just tried to take advantage of chances if I got them," Hughes said. "I felt fast and really sharp. I was pretty happy with the performance. It was a good result. I came up big on the score sheet, but this was a total team win."
Hughes, through two matches, has been the best player in the tournament. On Friday, before a large crowd at Murray Park, he accounted for 35 of USA's 54 points, outscoring Chile by himself. Hughes did the same thing in a win over Tonga early in the week, outscoring its national team as well.
In what has been a breakout performance, Hughes has been a finisher, converting seemingly whenever he's had the chance. He's converted on multiple tries as well, adding two points relentlessly after scores.
"We felt good coming in, and we thought we could find gaps in the defense and exploit them," Hughes said. "We forced them into mistakes, and that turned out to be big."
Because of its dominance this week, the USA Junior National team finds itself in good shape heading into the playoffs next Tuesday. In the semifinals, USA will face Russia, a team it has had success against in the past. Because of scoring margin, Russia would have to defeat USA by at least 50 points for Hughes and company not to advance to the title match next Saturday.
With an athletic bunch and a team that has shown the ability to turn close matches into blowouts in a short amount of time, USA appears primed to play for the championship in a week.
"This has been a good experience, playing with some of the guys who will one day be some of the best players in the world," said Tua Laei, a rising sophomore for national champion BYU. "We came out and we played well; we ran our system, and it gave us good results."
USA found itself leading 36-6 at halftime, and by that point the match was essentially over. The athleticism, the tackling, the ability to move the ball, the national team was vastly superior in all aspects.
The match was never close in the second half, although Chile did play better, and did find a bit more success. Still, whenever remotely threatened, USA was able to score with ease.
Team USA beats Chile 54-25
• USA's Madison Hughes accounts for 35 points.
• USA will meet Russia in a playoff match Tuesday.
• Brigham Young sophomore Tua Laei is the lone local player in the tournament.