Some people may notice I am slightly frustrated with the state of our national team at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, it is not the losing I mind so much. I have “been there, done that”. It’s a brutal tournament. What I am most upset at is the complete lack of self awareness and honest self assessment in the team management and our senior administrators. I sit in disbelief as I watch/read these interviews… So I thought I’d give myself a shot at answering some of the same questions.
Here is what Coach Tolkin has said during the course of the tournament. The comment on the overall performance just leaves me gasping for hope:
On his team’s World Cup performance:
“I think it has been the best we’ve ever performed. We have been consistent in every game and showed moments of brilliance and periods of good play, unfortunately our game management and other areas let us down.”
TR: Really. Best we’ve ever performed. Not quite. 1987 – Beat Japan. Our “2nd team” lost to current World #1 47-12, and then to England in the final match. The USA had the oldest team in the tournament by far. 1991 – Our “2nd team” lost 46-6 to current World Champion New Zealand (on 2 full days rest), and then 37-9 to eventual runners up England (again on only 2 full days rest). My comments here are not intended to compare the two era’s. Far from it, But, please don’t make blatant comments that sound good on camera or on paper , but are just not true.
Before the South Africa game:
Overall, the back five is dynamic and they bring aggressiveness,” Tolkin said. “While they have had less playing time than some of the others, they are an experienced group of players. Phil Thiel will lead well up front and also brings a good amount of experience.” “It comes to a point in this tournament with a four-day rest where you have to use the whole squad,” said Tolkin. “Every team that’s been in this situation has had to do the same thing. We have to use the full squad and we’re confident in this full squad.”
TR: Excellent, before the RSA game we are an experienced group of players and are confident in the full squad. Sounds good.
After the 64-0 loss to South Africa on Wednesday
“At this World Cup you don’t get any 80, 90, or 100-point scores. They (players) played against a full Springboks side. In four years’ time it will be really interesting to see what happens. It would have been interesting to see what a full (USA) side would have done against the Springboks.”
A match reporter commented: “Tolkin sees the problem correctly — many young players in the lineup with little experience at the international or World Cup level.”
TR: What will be interesting in four years? What specific program do we have in place that will make it interesting? Would be interesting to see what a full side would do? Wait, before the match we were ‘experienced, and have confidence in this full squad” and afterwards we had many young players with little experience? Take some ownership. We dropped 50 points in a half. 5-0. FIFTY.
Tolkin said he was also frustrated with the four-day turnaround between the two matches and said “It is hard to take when you have to make a lineup based on a few days’ rest and I am sure Rugby World Cup will look at this after the tournament.”
TR: This might be the most embarrassing statement of the entire tournament. Again, could we take some ownership please? Leaders own their results, not place blame on schedules and other circumstances. Oh, and by the way – recall in 1991 playing the All Blacks to 46-6 on two full days rest, and then England on another whopping two days rest. (n.b., I was on the field for both matches and I do not recall us complaining about this. We just were out doing the best we can). And if you want to compare results for ‘the first 30 minutes’ or whatever garbage we like to pat ourselves on the back with – we were down 3-0 after 26 minutes against New Zealand. I can’t recall the halftime score (and of course there is no paper trail as apparently we played in the stone age (see below – the comment about ‘the game has changed so much). More lack of accountability and ownership by this management team. N.B., In the ‘modern game’, teams bring 31 players and are able to suit 23 for a match with unlimited replacements. Formerly (and in ’87/’91) teams brought 26 players total, suited only 21 and the only substitutes were made for legitimate injury. I am not trying to compare the teams, or the standard – but for Pete’s sake, lets not whine about having to play on 4 days rest when you can literally substitute an entire roster during games and between games.
This is a team that continues to grow and reach milestones,”
TR: Awesome!!! Now what exactly are those milestones? Seriously, how low are our standards such that we can make a comment that we are reaching milestones? Recall we beat Japan (with all but Michael Leitch in the line up for Japan – but I am sure we were down a few players too), 23-18 a mere 10 weeks go. So, tell me more about these milestones we are reaching. Sounds kind of backwards to me.
“It’s not a step back. Obviously publicity from winning is big but, in a strange way, people see the tournament, see what the teams are doing and see what the possibilities are. They therefore get more excited and motivated to make things happen. They say we’re not where we can be and I think that has stimulated people more than the last World Cup.”
TR: I just put this one in because I have no idea what the hell he is talking about.
Another Senior Team Management member texted me after the post hyperlinked in the first sentence above:
“What a BULLSH*T write up on FB. You have no clue on the game today!! Way different than 20 years ago…. I’m embarrassed about your post!! We have made huge strides in 4 years!
TR: He was so upset he took the time to capitalize the epithet. Well, I am glad this individual got so upset about my post. It means that perhaps deep down he realizes that my post was pretty much spot on. I guess I’d be scared more if he just said, ‘you’re right’. So, how is the game different today? It’s two teams playing by the same rules trying to score more points than the other. Unless the game has changes so drastically that the team with fewer points at the end of 80 minutes wins, I think I can be confident that I have some ‘clue’ on the game and how it shapes up today.
A Senior Team member said:
“The direction things are going, future World Cups hold huge amounts of promise for us and America intends to fulfill that promise”
TR: Like the Chris Wyle interview after our 4th and final loss v. Japan (i.e., very diplomatic as any losing captain should be), this is a diplomatic quote by a player that sounds good to the average Joe. Hey, it’s ok – we’ll get’em next time!! Yippee. So, what direction is it that we are going that will hold future World Cups brightly for the USA team? Is there some monstrous changes that are happening in our completely dysfunctional structure? Are we going to have leaders that have more than high school pedigrees coaching our team? That might be a start. I made some suggestions in a previous post, but I really would like to know about this ‘direction’ we are headed according to this player. Cause either he is smoking the same stuff that the management team and our senior administrators are (i.e., everything’s ok, just chill) or he is using a different compass to find his way than I am.
The one saving grace I can see is the enormous number of youth players coming thru schoolboy level. This is fantastic, and congratulations (and thanks) to all the people involved at this level. We do need to raise the standard at this level.. get kids used to playing as high level as possible and truly learning what 80 minute fitness is. We probably won’t see the true benefit of this enormous pools of players until RWC 2023, but that will be a great thing to see. However, it will all be for naught if we continue the dysfunctional system of internal USA competitions. We have to raise this standard. I addressed my thoughts on this most important matter in a prior post.
Thanks to everyone who has read this far. Here is how I might answer some interview questions that I hope would demonstrate ownership of our issues, accountability, responsibility and some courses of action for the future (i.e. hope for all of us who care about the state of the game in the United States of America)
Interviewer: “So Coach, another tough loss in RWC 2015. What is your assessment of your teams performance in the World Cup and also the state of USA Rugby at the moment?”
Me: “Well, thank-you for asking. First, regardless of the results I would like to thank our players and my assistant coaches for the tremendous commitment and dedication they have shown over the past months and years. Each of these men has done everything asked of them with the resources they have been given.
I’d also like to take a moment to thank all the spectators and fans back home whom we have not performed up to expectations for, but who keep coming back – spending their time and resources to support us. It is hugely appreciated by the players and the coaching staff.
About the game today, look – we just have not played well. I thought we were well prepared before the tournament, but it’s clear we were not. Anyone who thinks it is ‘easy’ to beat a Tier 2 team is simply out of touch. Every game is a war. And we knew this coming in. It used to be Tier 1 compared to Tier 2 – but now, we have to work to get back into the middle of the pack in Tier 2. We are disappointed in our performance, and frankly it is clear the team was not prepared by myself and my staff. We make mistakes that are not experience dependent; i.e., our mental game is completely suspect. We would score and immediately let Japan come back deep into our half with foolish errors. Our 2nd half letdowns are inexcusable, and the basics like scrummaging , putting the ball in the lineout, basic man on man tackling are not up to standards of World Cup play.
About the state of rugby in the USA at the moment – we clearly have some big issues. Look, we are the most geographically disadvantaged rugby playing nation (perhaps except for Romania who only gets electricity 50-75% of the time), but we should look to use this tremendous geography to our advantage and not make excuses. It is my commitment to the USA Rugby supporters, past players and current/future players to go back home and meet with the USA Rugby Board and come up with some out of the box solutions to our problems. We are going to need to put aside individuals needs for the greater good; i.e., we might have to have players, teams and coaches literally move to certain geographies in order to ensure we get critical mass of top players to ensure the standards of play are as high as possible. I will do whatever it takes to get us back on the right foot. “
Interviewer: “Thank-you Coach. One last question. What do you think of Michael Lynagh’s comment that the US Teams game plan was completely pedestrian and it looked that our plan was to take a ball up and hope for a missed tackle”
Me: “Well he’s absolutely right. It’s clear that what worked at the high school level in the USA doesn’t translate well into the standards that are required on the World Stage. Thank-you”
Well, there you have it. My read on leadership. Rugby style. Thanks for reading. And where the hell is Todd Clever?