USA Andrew Zuluaga

Apart from all of the #RLWC2021 warm-up games that were played over the weekend, there was also a select side match contested in the United States between South All-Stars and Puerto Rico.

The All-Stars came away with a 66-12 victory on Saturday in Tampa, Florida, but there were plenty of positive take aways for the Puerto Rican team.

In all, the South scored 11 tries, and led 36-0 at halftime, although the Coquis gave their all to make a competitive game of it.

Included among the All-Stars’ multiple try-scorers were Andrew Zuluaga (2), Justin Branca (2), Claudius Pubien (2) and James Williams (2), while Gunnar Johnson, Bart Longchamp and Vashon Marrs all chimed in with singles.

Goalkicker Mason McCrory had a 100% record on the day converting all 11 tries.

All-Stars stand-in coach David Ulch says given that they barely had any training as a team, he thought the South came together well.

“We started off kind of rough not completing a lot of sets, and then we started getting better and by halftime we were at a 58% completion rate,” he says.

“We started off the second half kind of slow again and I think we went five sets without even getting close to their half of the field, and then we started completing every set and that’s how we were able to jump up even more in the second half.

“We were very heavy in the forwards. We had some big boys in the forward pack, so the game plan was to stick it up the middle for our big boys to suck them in and then get it out wide, but we actually never got the ball out wide very often.

“Those big boys were busting it though the middle on tackle 2 with guys following through in support and offloading and we scored several tries that way.”

Ulch says despite Puerto Rico having very limited preparation and not much game time under their belt, he was impressed with them.

“A few of their guys hit hard. They brought it,” he adds. “Halfway through the first half we were only up 12-0.

“They have a few guys who are heavy runners, and I was actually kind of impressed with their aggressiveness. The offensive side needs some work, and that will come with them being able to practice together, which is something they haven’t been able to do.”

Puerto Rico’s two tries came late in the match with Ben Beiro and Sergio Acala finishing off movements and dotting down for the Coquis. Gabriel Cuprill was good with the points after both scores.

Puerto Rican captain Jon Torres, who picked up an injury during the game, says given his team’s lack of experience, he thought they played pretty well.

“Since we’ve been building our program off the ground, a lot of our guys have played rugby (union) but don’t have rugby league experience,” he says.

“In the second half, we never gave up. We gave a constant fight.

“The South’s forwards were phenomenal, and I’d say we were a little undersized.”

Torres says Puerto Rico Rugby League is looking ahead to playing more games down the track, and they will announce their schedule in due course.

There is one final game to be played in the US to round out 2022. The Hawks are set to host the Canada Wolverines in Tampa on Saturday, November 5th.

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Brian Lowe
Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others.