Takudzwa Ngwenya, the 2010 Rugby Magazine American Overseas Performer of the Year, will line up at right wing for Biarritz in Heineken Cup action Sunday, and he will face Chris Wyles, the 2011 Rugby Magazine American Overseas Performer of the Year, who starts at left wing for Saracens.
It's an outstanding matchup of two players who burst onto the USA scene right around the same time. Ngwenya was a relatively unknown with lots of speed and some 7s ability. He had been at a USA U19s camp, but the Zimbabwean-born Texas student didn't break into the international consciousness until 2006, when, at 21, USA 7s Coach Al Caravelli put him on the team for some pre-season tournaments.
Urged to boost his strength, he became a better player, and just before the 2007 World Cup was put on the USA team. His 15s first cap was against England in the World Cup in France. Then-coach Peter Thorburn then made the key decision to switch him from left wing to right wing. For some reason, that opened up the door. He scored a brilliant try against Samoa and the Try of the Year against South Africa, and earned a contract with Biarritz, where he scored another try of the year in the Heineken Cup. He's a legitimate international star.
Wyles also came up in 2006. Born in Connecticut, he moved with his family to England at 11, and grew up in the English rugby system. He had a shot to play for England A in 2006, but decided instead to try to make the USA team. He played in the NA4 and was picked by Caravelli for the 7s team, which he played for in 13 major tournaments, captaining them as well.
He wasn't capped in 15s until 2007, when he was put on the wing in the Churchill Cup. When Francois Viljoen went down with an injury just before the World Cup, Wyles put his hand up saying he could play a little fullback, too. He has played 24 times for the USA at that position. He missed most of the 2011 USA season due to injury, but came back to perform a key role in the World Cup, scoring a try against Italy and becoming one of only two USA players (along with Ray Nelson in 1987 and 1991) to score a try in two separate World Cups.
Both players are now established in their clubs and with their fans, and both have been playing well of late. Now they face each other. Kickoff is 3pm UK time Sunday.