#RWC2015 Bye Bye Miss American Pie – My Post Match/Tournament RWC 2015 Interview aka “I want what those guys are smoking”. Leadership, Rugby Style 19

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.

Scheduling:

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.

On Milestones:

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.

Huh?

“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?

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19 comments

  1. The game is different in that it’s tougher for these athletes to play multiple games in two to five days. Players are bigger, stronger, faster, etc., which you must take into account when comparing the results from 1987, 1991, etc.

    Yes, USA has won matches in prior RWCs, but it’s about the way they played. You’d have a better argument saying Japan is a better team than the Japan teams of the past, accounting for the Eagles’ loss Sunday.

    It makes complete sense that USA will have a better squad in 2023. The players in high school (and younger kids) playing now have already had a better start to their rugby careers than the likes of Todd Clever and Mike Petri. Think about it: our best players at this tournament weren’t playing at age seven. Let that settle, then compare the Eagles to New Zealand.

    Your previous posts regarding “hubs” for matches and professional teams is “BULLSH*T.” International matches have returned to familiar locales most years, including Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. And if you think the general player with national team aspirations is going to leave his job and move to New York because his club team in Louisiana isn’t good enough, you need a refresher course in common sense.

    Everyone wants to point the finger at USA Rugby or the coaching staff. How about pointing the finger at Joe Schmoe Do Nothing? Who’s giving little Johnny the instruction he needs to he doesn’t throw a forward pass in the World Cup? Who’s making sure these skills are engrained in players before they’re selected to the national team, so that it’s not the NT’s head coach’s responsibility? This team had the most professionals of any USA RWC team, but it also had an uncapped player and about half that had never been to the World Cup. That’s not an excuse; that’s just the state of rugby in this country.

    Basing USA Rugby’s evaluation on RWC results is flawed. Yes, it’s the NGB’s responsibility to put together a winning national team. Understood. But it’s not like USA was a world-beater and now they suck. No, the USA national team has more professionals than ever before, gets more matches a year than ever before, and is annually seeing more and more young players represent the national teams at all levels. There’s growth happening, and USA’s slowly reaping the benefits of that growth. To condemn USA Rugby for the Eagles going 0-4 against South Africa (3-1 and arguably a tournament favorite), Scotland (3-1 with annual Tier One match schedule), Samoa (a rugby-playing nation (go ahead and argue that Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, etc. don’t have professional competitions, which is why their players don’t play professional rugby, because it’s not true)), and Japan (first team to not advance from pool play with 3-1 record) is asinine. No excuses need to be made, but it’s important to keep a critical eye that’s factual and encompassing of all the elements related to discussion.

    Until then, support rugby in this country and USA Rugby. Add more detractors and, eventually, there won’t be anything from which you can all detract.

    • Shark – first, thanks for reading my stuff. Second, don’t for a second I don’t support USA Rugby – I wouldn’t have wasted 10 or more hours of my life writing my heartfelt thoughts. Third, Lets keep the decibel level down on the discussion. Deal?

      OK, as I clearly stated I was not comparing the teams from yore to the teams now. I look at the game and go ‘gee, can’t believe I used to play that – these boys are bigger, fitter, faster’. What I was saying was that if a USAR representative is going to make a public comment, first lets be honest about it. This was not the best RWC performance the USA has had. So, why say it is? To make ourselves feel good about the ‘progress’ we have made? I have spoken of accountability, and self analysis and I believe my assessments are well grounded. You might not like my assessments, clearly you don’t – but please don’t call them asinine.

      So, lets say that player from Louisiana you hypothesize has the talent and wants to play for the national team. You are suggesting that he stay in the local Louisiana leagues/unions that currently exist to play against completely substandard competition? To dominate some local league? My friend, once again – I have ‘been there, done that’. And, it doesn’t work. That person will NEVER be able to compete against the likes of any similarly gifted athlete from a major rugby playing nation. The higher the consistent level of competition, the better we all are individually and collectively.

      I have made a suggestion for ‘hubs’ (and using Canada) to create a premise for the professional league we desperately need. What is ‘professional’ anyway? What is that vision? My thought is that we choose the geography I suggest.

      If that player doesn’t want to commit to move to say, New York – that’s ok. We’ll find another one who does from say, Virginia. And you know what – after less than a season of competition at a high level, that player will be waltzing all over the Louisiana one. If you dispute that, then you and I are too far apart to discuss the matter.

      What is your suggestion? Status quo? I’m sure that will go down well (see definition of ‘insanity’). I have set forth a realistic plan who’s concept is well grounded. Higher levels of competition to raise the boat in the bathtub.

      Its not about the individual needs (i.e. the Louisiana player who doesn’t want to move). It is about the collective needs (i.e. the 100’s of players who would move given a shot to represent their country).

      Please send me a link from the Samoa, Fiji, and/or Tongan Rugby professional leagues. I must have missed all that in my 40 years affiliated with our sport. And, then we must actually define was a ‘professional league’ actually is.

      I am with you on “Joe schmoe do nothing”, my case is made for those of us who are now prepared to make some very difficult decisions for the better good. The NT coach is definitely not responsible for basic skills, but he sure is for identifying those that don’t have them. And my statements are grounded. Did we or did we not show an inability to put the ball in the line out? Did we or did we not kick away possession like it was a disease (and when we did make errant efforts – i.e. vs. Japan?). We did not compete for ONE ball in the air. It’s not up for debate. We didn’t.

      I didn’t say anything was ‘the coaches fault’. What I called for was some accountability for the things the coach is saying to the public. Saying we are ‘moving in the right direction’.. how do we say that. On what scale is the Y-Axis on that curve? What metrics are we using?

      The Rugby World Cup is the ONE and ONLY constant every four years where we can accurately measure ourselves, where every team is operating on their top form (well supposed to be top form). And, on that merit – we are going backwards. I believe that is also a well grounded assessment.

      We have thousands of young players coming thru, but if we have them all playing at ‘Joe Club Rugby’ levels forever – without making some hard decisions/changes in our development program then we will sit here 4, 8, 12 years from now… and saying the same things you are.

      I want to see a ‘home’ for rugby at each of the hubs of rugby in the USA so that our domestic players can get a semblance of order and expectation about their level of performance. Consistent focus, where we are not re-inventing the wheel for events. I am confident in what the results will be.

      To be clear, I wasn’t pointing any fingers.. I and so many others – want us to take some accountability. We were not good in this RWC. I want to hear someone stand up and say it and not hide behind ‘scheduling’, and whatever other garbage has been spewed.

      What are your suggestions, sir?

    • “The game is different in that it’s tougher for these athletes to play multiple games in two to five days. Players are bigger, stronger, faster, etc., which you must take into account when comparing the results from 1987, 1991, etc. ”

      The NFL regularly asks its players (who are also bigger, stronger, and faster than 1987 rugby union players) to play 2 games in 5 days.

      • RJ, thanks for taking the time to read and post. The fellow that posed the issue (and I challenged) has taken a leave of absence from this thread apparently :-).

      • RJ, I’ve discussed ‘the game is different’ with many people. Yes, it’s different. Different for us, and different for our opponents. Equally different. Unfortunately, our opponents and their governing bodies have ensured that they progress much faster than we do. This is the United States man. This is not acceptable. We have guys ready to do this.

  2. Not sure how I’m affecting the decibel levels with my typing, but I’ll attempt a quieter practice from here.

    I’d have to disagree with you that this team did not perform better than previous RWC sides. It’s not about wins and losses when one win is not a guarantee. This team performed better than previous USA teams, but the teams in their pool played better. Not sure if you’re just getting offended at the fact I’m calling out one of the teams you played on.

    I don’t blame the coach for “sugarcoating” his post-match comments. It wasn’t the time nor the place to rant like you suggested. There should be times when he thanks the coaching staff and friends and family and supporters, but that wasn’t one of them. And it doesn’t make much more sense to call out the players or himself for a lackluster competition, even if that had been the truth. There’s a difference between being truthful/honest and downright harmful. (But you can bet the players who didn’t play well heard it from the coaching staff. That’s how feedback works, right?)

    Re: Mr. Louisiana – you are correct, the player that makes the jump to train full time will probably be better than the player that doesn’t. However, a main problem with selection to the national team is actually being able to view players. If you create hubs, you’re discounting everyone else. USAR’s ODA programs are doing well, but the coaching staffs aren’t solely keeping their eyes on those programs. They have to worry about the other hundreds of clubs across the country. That kid from Louisiana could have better potential than the Virginia kid, but because you say, “Too bad,” to him, we’ll all miss out. You have to figure out the solution for everyone, not just the top two percent, and that includes more input from coaches and players at those levels.

    I was ambiguous in my comment on Samoa and other tier two nations having a professional league. You are correct in that those countries don’t, but their players play in professional leagues and get the experience USA players lack. USA have maybe 11 or 13 players in their RWC squad playing in professional competitions. Compare that with Samoa’s, Fiji’s, Tonga’s.

    I have no idea what happened with the lineout, but that’s on one person – the hooker. Maybe you can provide more background on how the forwards can screw with the hooker if they’re timed wrong or whatever, but if he’s not throwing it straight, seems like a no-brainer.

    I agree it’s the coach’s responsibility to pick players with the basic skills. Now that we agree on that, how do you account for the players chosen – who beat out hundreds of other senior players for a spot – not having those skills? There are a dozen professionals (professional meaning good enough for another country to pay them to play) and the rest of the squad is made up of domestics. Whether or not Tolkin’s game plan is working, you have to have a few more fingers to point.

    On the game plan, I’m not sure why the team is told to kick so much. There must be plenty of factors, and I can only guess that the coach understands it’s tough to be as hard on defense and offense when you’re constantly running into a wall in your own half, so he wants to kick it away. Blaine Scully had a memorable contest for a kick against Bryan Habana in the South Africa match, though I’m assuming you mean there wasn’t a chase on a kick from USA.

    What does the losing team’s coach say in the World Cup Final? Is he supposed to say his fly half should have made his kicks? Or how about his players didn’t tackle properly on the try-scoring plays? I’m not saying he should flat-out lie, but there’s no reason to give a state-of-the-union tongue lashing after the team’s been disqualified. Much like the dismissal of Todd Clever earlier this summer, there are some things best left behind closed doors. Tolkin will be held accountable to those that pay his wages, not to the fans around the world wondering why his team didn’t win a game.

    You continue to fail at properly defining the team’s performance compared to other USA RWC teams. How can you say the team’s going backwards? A lead over a tier one nation after 40 minutes – did you do that? A 14-point deficit to South Africa with two professional rugby players after 40 minutes – did you do that? I’m not saying there aren’t faults if the lead can’t be maintained or if 50 points are conceded in the second half, but surely you have to recognize that the USA is getting better on the international stage.

    No one disagrees that a professional competition in the United States will change the game. I’m ready for one. But the young kids who see the league, grow up with Rookie Rugby, and decide they’re going to be Eagles still need the youth-, college-, and club-level coaching on par with that in New Zealand, England, etc. Right now, the Eagles do the best they can and put on the best face they can to show the sliver of American viewers that there’s hope, that they played better than before, and that they’re looking to improve for next time. If Tolkin says, “We are disappointed in our performance, and frankly it is clear the team was not prepared by myself and my staff,” people will turn away faster than they would during a viewing of the South Africa match.

    USAR doesn’t have the resources to fix everything in a matter of a World Cup cycle, but its efforts have increased the likelihood more and more Americans will want to have something to do with rugby. Even if you claim to support USA Rugby, do a better job than ranting on the negativities in a daily blog.

    • Hey Shark, thanks again for taking the time to reply. Clearly you are passionate, as am I. At least we have one thing in common. I’ll make an effort to address your post in order….

      1. Wins and Losses:

      I never said it’s about wins and losses, what I said was – let’s make honest assessments about where we are. We have not improved, and we are going in the wrong direction (on the field)… you can see that by comparative results. At this time, we can barely be called Tier 2. And, since you make it personal about ‘the teams I played on’, my teams were 4-10 in the 14 tests I played. In all three games against the Top 3 teams in the world (two of whom were ranked #1 at the time), my teams could hold our heads extremely high. Going into the New Zealand locker room after our match, you could hear a pin drop but for Graham Henry screaming at his team for allowing a minnow like the 1991 USA Eagles to hold them to 40 points when the Ladbrokes line on the game was in the 70s. I would NEVER compare my teams to this one; this team would beat us by a healthy margin. However, I am comparing apples to apples (my era), and oranges to oranges (this era). And it is indisputable we are going backwards; not to the Tier 1 nations, we are not even in that conversation, but to the Tier 2 nations – where we now sit fondly next to the likes of mighty Uruguay. South Africa put 50 points on us in one half, and frankly we were lucky there wasn’t 10-12 more.
      2. Progress?

      Yes, on a comparison to USA teams in the past, we are progressing. Big deal. Do you think the All Black team of 2015 beats the All Black team of the 1990’s? Of course they do. Just like the USA’s team would beat our former generations. But comparatively against the likes of almost every other rugby playing nation, we are receding. This is what is not acceptable. We would be soundly beaten by Georgia on a given day, and most American’s think that is one of the fifty United States masquerading as a country.

      3. How can we say we are progressing and going in the right direction when the likes of Tonga, Fiji, Georgia, and Romania (?) are so rapidly progressing? All I am asking for is some honest self-assessment from our management and administrators, not making a comparison between my teams and this team. I can promise you I am not offended by your comments at all. I have been in the arena, I know exactly what I am talking about. I have an All Black Jersey (worn only for 80 minutes) on my wall. I have David Codey’s jersey (worn only for 80 minutes), Captain of Australia on my wall. I have Dean Richards’s jersey (worn only for 80 minutes) on my wall. So, believe me there is absolutely nothing you could say that ‘offends’ me.

      4. You see, I am 100% qualified to make the assessments I make – which brings me to you. Who are you Shark? What is your Rugby pedigree? Because quite frankly, all I have heard from you is disputes of my comments, all with no grounding. So, please – do tell.

      5. Sugarcoating –

      If you are not going to be honest, say nothing. And for lord’s sake, don’t make an issue of the scheduling in a public forum. Really? I didn’t call for a rant from the coach – I called for some integrity to the public and the supporters back home. Progress? We beat Japan 23-18 a mere 10 weeks ago. And lost, and were well beaten last night on the stage that matters. Please, provide for me your definition of progress. There were thousands of spectators in the stands from USA and thousands more at home watching online/TV, etc… Why wouldn’t you at the last event thank those people? Like, that’s inappropriate or something? It’s quite gracious IMHO.

      6. “Louisiana” –

      this is my point. We will never get the actual top 15 players in our country on the field. But, we have so many players at an equally ‘high’ level (relative term) that if the Louisiana guy doesn’t want to make the commitment it will take to get the USA teams playing at least at a comparable level to other Tier 2 teams (and forget about the top 8-10 for the near future) then he’s not in the program. There are plenty to replace him. If this guy is ‘the real deal’, he’ll find a way to make it to the hub. This is what I am saying about the collective good. You are making it about the individual. I say, let’s make it about the collective. Perhaps you are not understanding my point. You are right, we will say ‘too bad’ to him, but we will not be missing out.

      7. You are not making any suggestions, only countering mine which I have laid out honestly and with nothing but good intent. I am calling for a ‘search for excellence’ with our program and have outlined my idea. What are you offering to this conversation? Please, offer away.

      8. “Hundreds of clubs across the country”.

      Exactly. All but 4-5 clubs playing mediocre rugby. I’m sorry to inform you of this, but it is mediocre. If you would answer my question about your rugby pedigree, perhaps I could have a frame of reference to know what I am dealing with in this discussion with you. (One which I appreciate, and I hope one day we can meet in person and discuss)

      9. Culture:

      We can create culture, but it is going to take change by those most unable to face change. If they aren’t up for the task, we must call on those who do. It really is not insurmountable to create culture. One of the founders of the Seattle Sounders, Adrian Hanauer created a culture in Seattle in less than two years. A program that sells 30,000 tickets a match with every single person wearing licensed Sounders gear at the match. We CAN replicate that. But we won’t with your idea that our best players can and should just stay home and play for one of the 100s of mediocre level rugby clubs in this nation.

      10. Let’s take the best 1-2 players from each of those 100’s of clubs and get them into my hub program, competing against each other. I’ll give you some real feedback from a real person who has been in the arena. Two weeks before the first Test I played (#1 ranked Australia in RWC 1987 – at open side flanker no less, the first and only time I have ever played that position) I played a club game in Seattle in front of 50 people, took almost every line out ball (ours and theirs), scored three tries, and blah blah blah. Do you think that match prepared me to play the likes of Australia? (See Campese, Lynagh, Poidevin, Cutler, Farr-Jones, and keep on going). Absolutely not. So “Shark”, let’s keep your idea and have our players playing at a mediocre level week in and week out and then go out and play South Africa and have them tornado 50 points on us in a half. Your ‘plan’ sounds very ‘status quo’.

      11. Tolkin’s game plan:

      I would ask ‘what’ game plan. I’ll say it again. Talk about embarrassing. One of the legends of the game, Michael Lynagh on international TV: “It looks like the USA game plan is to run with the ball and just hope for a missed tackle”. Yes, a very proud moment for the state of our game. I had the very good fortune to spend time with the likes of Mark Ella (let me know if you need a reminder on his pedigree), David Campese, and Chester Williams. Over a glass of wine, Ella asks me: “What’s happened to rugby in America, it appears you are going backwards”. He didn’t say it in a condescending way –the way the English would, but more out of compassion and a genuine concern. And that was quite kind compared to the comments the much more outspoken and brash Campese had to say.

      12. Kicking:

      Something we finally agree on. I did not mean we didn’t compete for one ball in the entire RWC, but in the Japan match alone. The Scully/Habana high-rise act was exciting, yet of course scary at the same time.

      13. Losing RWC final coach comments:

      Shark, this is a foolish analogy. By the time of the RWC Final, the losing team will have already won 6 matches in a row (5 if RSA makes it through ;-)). I hardly think their comments could be compared to ours after losing our 4th straight (and to a team I remind you we had beaten 10 weeks earlier). A losing RWC coach would thank his supporters, and his team – just as I have suggested we might try to do.

      14. Leading SCO at half time:

      Like my classmate, Kevin Dotson said – “I can’t wait for the first half only World Cup”. Who cares what the score is at halftime. It is an 80 minute game. And we cannot compete for 80 minutes. Fact. Not opinion. Fact. 33 points to SCO in the 2nd half and a half century to RSA.

      15. “Surely I have to recognize the USA is getting better on the international stage” –

      What?? No comment. But since you mention it, I decided to have a look at the IRB rankings. Today we are #16 by ranking. In 2007, two RWC iterations ago we were #14. Now, I don’t know if or when or where you got an education, but where I was educated being ranked 16 now is not quite improvement over #14 eight years ago. So ‘surely’ I am not going to recognize that we are getting better on the international stage. You good with that?

      16. Coaching:

      What’s wrong with a leader saying ‘we didn’t do the job’ in public. CEO’s do it all the time. And they work to make amends. Why would anyone turn away from honesty and a promise of future commitment to do all that he can to improve? That is taking responsibility and accountability. Again, I would need to know your pedigree to assess whether you are capable of understanding that.

      17. Resources: Amen. This will not get fixed in one RWC cycle, and 8 years from now we will be better man on man than we are today. But, if we don’t get all those players that are coming thru playing at a high level we will continue to fall rather than gain on our international competition.
      So Shark, I’ve said a lot – but again no suggestions from you. You call my comments negative. They are not negative, they are honest and heart felt assessments made with grounding from personal experience and knowledge. Please, continue to challenge me. I won’t be hiding behind a pseudonym and blue icon of a profile picture. You know who I am; the good, bad, and ugly. Who are you?

      Final thoughts. I really don’t intend to name drop, but I am trying to provide a guy like you with a reference point of ‘what it takes’ by those who do know what it takes. I am not saying that is me (quite the contrary), but I am 100% confident in my domain to discuss the topics. I also know my history pretty well, and I am demanding of true leadership by those tasked in leadership positions. It appears those standards are bit high for what you are asking for.

      • Regarding #3.

        I don’t know if we are regressing relative to the other Tier 2 countries. Clearly we are inferior to Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga – but I don’t think we are any more or less inferior to them than we were in the late 80s/early 90s. Georgia? We’re 3-1 against them all time. Georgia was a huge part of the USSR sides that were our equal in your day. We are consistently better than them. Romania, likewise, has a 1-6 record against us, and lost to us at home a year ago. Basically, nothing has changed here either. We’ve certainly improved against Canada, but that’s offset by the fact that the opposite has happened against Japan. (In your day, Japan was an expected victory and Canada an expected defeat.)

        We’re not getting any better, but – contra Bo Schembechler – we’re not really getting any worse.

  3. Bottom line to this conversation that “shark” is trying to make into a debate, is despite if one quadrennial Eagle group is better than the next, our results against Tier 2 are at best a wash and probably going backwards. Therefore asking why and for an explanation does not seem difficult, nor should it be offensive.

    Simple question to Tolkin post game versus Japan would have been, historically you have a winning record against Japan, that has slipped in the last few years, however you beat them recently this summer. Can you explain this shift in them winning more and why you could not repeat your win earlier this summer.

    His answer would have to take in some historical context, reasons for their advancement and or our decline and then where their adjustments or personnel or our lack of adjustments and personnel resulted in the changes and loss.

    Scotland beat us convincingly in Houston but not by the margin in Leeds, what accounted for that loss and big second half? Samoa have played us within 7 for the previous 4 losses, what accounted for the slightly larger score line in a game you and the team stated early that you targeted for a win? Is that game where our line out wows started, what did you work on to correct them, we finished last in pool play in line outs a tradition strength of the team? Is our historic strength now not, what other issues did you realize that we’re not apparent in the 6 build up games?

    Are your players as fit as your opposition, what accounted for the second half collapses? Are the as good of athletes, meaning as fast, strong, powerful, do you game plan for these strengths or weaknesses? Has the last few years seen our team get fitter or stronger compared to our opposition, if so can you point us towards the comparable analysis that you did that can help the “Everyman” conversation that you have just as good athletes, but just limited training and competitive opportunities. Specifically, how many Japanese players had better metrics than your players and in what positions?

    Kicking is a question for you as well, did you can territory on average and cause a net gain, happy with your kick chase?

    Coach, can you outline the specifics that you did that you think saw or proves why this team and the Eagles are better and better off than the team in 2007? How does going 0-4 argue progress?

    Because we have no real press attached to regular readership and a limited amount of qualified HP coaches and administrators we rarely see any questions of value. Equally as we have very limited businessmen in rugby in the U.S. we are ok that USAR executives don’t have to answer the equally obvious questions of why a road map for succcess as and when finances are secured is not part of the sell to advance the team.

    Frustrating that questions like these are not posed immediately after each match and request for the CEO to talk about how major hubs will/are being prepared, etc are not and when one highly successful person asks, “sharks” come out!?

  4. Who are you? We need you involved! Call Colorado Springs now!! Great points. Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff and reply in a sound, professional manner. Your points are grounded, and less emotional than mine, and most likely therefore, more effective. I’ll admit that I am just sick and tired of having to face the condescension from the rest of the world. My own father (English to the core, and all that means ;-)) as well. We are all proud American rugby men (and women), we are on the same team. I’m fine for a debate, but all I want – as you advise above in such a solid way is some self truth and honest assessment. Not some BS that sounds good so people will go away and feel better about the sorry state we are in.

  5. If by calling Colorado Springs you mean the USOC, that is a 7s conversation and would argue that they already threw down their marker with USOC when 18 months ago their report and happenstance with Alex Magelby started to build a new program rather than the coach led teams only of the past.

    If you mean Boulder where USAR HQ is based then I say good luck, for without some sort of USOC type supervision and accounting who will audit the 15s team and begin a program there?

    I am reminded that the best teams in this RWC are filled with coaches who constantly seek information and have redifined themselves through change at at times hardship, is this the same for USAR?

    All the press is about Georgia automatic qualification, Romania demanding more Tier 1 games, the Pacific island nations athleticism and of course Japan at 3-1. Very, very hard to take that the U.S. are not mentioned in any of these discussions. When opportunity is nor realized it is deafening at times and for those of us at the coal face, embarrassing.

  6. Great post ‘No Press’! I did mean USAR HQ, and your point is well taken. I noticed in the UK papers today as I left London the exact scenario you mentioned. Georgia, Romania, Japan, etc.. No mention of USA. I literally searched The Times, Daily Mail and The Telegraph back and forth several times to see if I missed anything. Not a mention. Nada. This is a very hollow feeling for me. I still don’t understand how people can say we are improving and going in the right direction. Thanks again for your replies and insight.

  7. For fear that it is not clear, coaches are the public face of the “franchise” in this case USAR, however all decisions go through a director, CEO and board.

    Tolkien and crew had the opportunity to present a better plan, tactically, and working to identify and fix the issue we historically have and this team or any team has. This combined is your strategic, seasonal, and technical plans supported by a weekly game plan.

    Without the CEO and board having a plan for the Eagles, what is left? I think absence of any comments ( Melville, Latham, Chang or say Seccia sitting next to Nigel at the Japan game) proves that they are all living in silos.

    Arguing improvement would be based upon the strategic plan, encourage people to read, where we miss most membership, revenue and HP goals. Did those goals in the first place relate to this team winning a game, two or more? Did those goals relate to only 7s success and qualification ( for which we can be proud, but as noted above down to a forced change by the outside and then going to work).

    If USAR announce a league tomorrow or this year as the strategic plan states, do we forgive the lack of performance now, or say that is what we have needed, again a great question to ask by a journalist or those in Congress, and more? If a league does pop up, are we prepared, has their been a massaging of major hubs and cities, PRP teams and ARP in the know, senior college teams and stakeholders being asked to join a larger group?

    Stones are not being thrown here, these are logical journalistic questions as to the state of the U.S. game and the plan tha is or will take it forward. Can we interlace it with questions like, we are seeing massive youth growth, what is that down to, can or will it remain, stagnate or accelerate? You created RIM( rugby international marketing) as reported to inject professional commercial personnel to the game through a for profit, what are the expectations for the next five years on a yearly curve that will see new money? Did the RFU investment in perpetuity give away assets to cheaply or is their investment Capitol and personnel/over site the bargain? How does the RFU owning part of a company that manages our best assets not a conflict as the analogy would be the Seahawks owning part of Kraft Inc a vehicle for the Patriots?

    So, questions on the business of rugby are just as thick as those for the playing side, where they meet and collaborate is where we need to start as many improvements are a recognition of problems and planning, not just financial.

  8. Pingback: Talking Rugby (Vol. 2, Iss. 17): Eagles' RWC, That's a Wrap! - Americas Rugby News

  9. Alan – having reread your post several times, I guess I can say that if your standard is for the USA to merely compete against the likes of Romania (a country that at least one time in recent history only was able to put electricity out to its homes 75% of the time), then perhaps you and I have different goals. It’s cool, you have every right to have no expectations. Our leadership at USAR has given you know reason to have expectations. Let my group provide that for you.

    • Where did I say that I have no expectations and that staying even with Romania is ok?

      All I said was that, relative to the remainder of Tier 2, we are more or less the same as we’ve always been. Is that acceptable? Of course not. But I reject the notion that we have lost ground to any of them except Japan.

  10. Alan, it really depends on the frame of reference. Mine spans over about 30 years. So, in my day – Argentina was a doormat too. Perhaps you know where this is going as we all prepare to what The Pumas/Wallabies next week for a shot at the RWC final.

  11. The Eagles played BOTH South Africa AND Scotland after each of these teams had short turnarounds – not short like in your day but for this tournament. By that measure the Eagles were given a significant advantage – they played the two best teams when these two teams would have been most vulnerable due to fatigue…. at least in theory.

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