By now, if you have read any of my stuff – you know that I am an upset, frustrated former USA Rugby player. And, as I have come to find out, there are a lot of people crammed under that roof. From the mid 1980’s to the RWC2015, there are a lot of frustrated people in American rugby. How about, everyone in American rugby!! I’ve done my share (more than I would like w/out action) complaining, identifying my view on the state of things, basically trying to identify all the reasons why we suck. Yes, I said it. We suck. Not the players, not the coaches, no one person. All of us. We suck.
“We suck” because collectively we have allowed over the years for the American rugby scene to deteriorate into its current state. One in which ABSOLUTELY nothing has changed in at least 24 years. Here’s why. If in 1991, I would have been asked about my RWC experience. I would have said,
1991 Player: “You know I am disappointed, and I would be hard pressed to call this a positive life experience’
I wasn’t disappointed in our record (you win, you lose – big deal. Just play hard given what you are given. I, and so many others I have found (like EVERY person I have communicated with in the last 72 hours) are fed up with the approach, the culture, the incessant acceptance of mediocrity up and through to the highest levels, i.e. the Eagles. There are exceptions of course (particularly in the college ranks), but not many. I want excellence. Call me crazy.
Ask the same player from the RWC 2015 – here is the response…
2015 Player: “You know I am disappointed, and I would be hard pressed to call this a positive life experience’
This is real, I am not making this up. The exact same words, 24 years apart! All I have heard is from USAR is ‘we are improving’. 1991 -> 2015. Same song, different verse. Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed.
From the conversations and research I have performed recently… this is nothing short of a sh*t show. There is NO cohesion between USAR and outside interests (i.e. the USA 7’s gig, which is one of the very few bright spots from ‘sea to shining sea’ in the American Rugby scene. And, USAR has NOTHING to do with that success. Quite the contrary. We all know this. I will stop talking, and start doing (more later on that).
Why am I so passionate…
I played rugby as a schoolboy in Sydney, Oz in 1971-1973. I was 10 years old. And loved rugby the second I touched the ball. I reconnected with rugby at West Point in 1980, was picked for my first representative side – the ERU U/23s for the Saranac Lake tournament in 1982. It was my first representative rugby experience (i.e. playing at a higher level) and I was HOOKED. All I thought about for the next 12 years until I stopped playing was improving my game, playing at a higher level – and when I heard their was a USA Team – there was my goal. And it is all I thought about 24/7/365 for about 10 years.
And, like all of the players – I worked my ass off to get there. My first selection to the Eagles was in 1985 for the Japan tour and it was way too early. I got to that level and it was the first time I had ever played in a team with a defensive pattern (or an attempted one). Backrow and other First phase movement was barely heard of until that level. It was crazy. I was way too inexperienced.
I was terrible on that tour, and had a hard time with some of the guys. Some were cool, but it was tough as a new guy. Not a great experience for me, but we did well and the vets I know had a great tour. So, I went back to mediocre rugby in the USA and worked my butt off to get back on team. I got another opportunity and was a last minute surprise selection for the Australia test in RWC 1987. Three weeks before this test I played in Seattle on a club in front of 50 people, dominated the lineout, running the ball etc… Big deal – this was no preparation for the World Stage. And believe me, that late 1980’s Aussie team was on the World Stage. This was a great experience for me..
Over the next few years 1988-1993 I was in and out of the team, but had a nice run in 1991 where I played 8 tests and all three RWC games. Yay Tony. But, I was empty. I knew we could have and should have performed better. I wanted to be pushed 10x harder by the coaches, I wanted to play hard rugby week in and week out, it just wasn’t even available at that time. And, I have always regretted that. What hurts me to the core, is that in 24 years hence, the current players experience the same thing. We knew we had more to offer. We may still lose, but we had not chance to perform at peak performance – and we still don’t today
This cycle MUST end.
As my ‘spectating’ career started, most notably at RWC 1995 in South Africa where I was fortunate enough to see the opening game of the Jonah Lomu era (the famous run over Underwood to score in the corner) and the epic final where Nelson Mandela came out in the Springbok #6 shirt. This was an iconic moment not just in rugby, but in the world. See the movie ‘Invictus’ to learn more in a short amount of time.
This photo is from the final of RWC 1995 when the plane famously flew over the stadium w/ “Go Bokke” painted under the wings! The scene is one of the highlights in the movie “Invictus”
That was the last of my high level rugby intense spectating until my personal attendance at RWC 2015 during the pool stages.
I went to two matches, the first was USA-RSA, the debacle with the half century in the 2nd half. And then I attended the match at Twickenham for perhaps the greatest game of all time in which a try was not scored (at least in RWC history). I f you get a chance to watch – focus on minutes 53-73 for the ‘goal line stand’ for the ages by the Australians. I liken it to an NFL team running 20 plays in a row from the 2 yard line and NEVER scoring. Epic! Read my post about my serendipitous meeting with Campo, Chester W, and Mark Ella before the game.
The next day I had tickets for USA-Japan 2 hours away in Gloucester. For the first time in my life I had an opportunity to attend an Eagles match and I didn’t. I processed my feelings and thought that I didn’t want my RWC 2015 pool play trip (I am seeking to get back to the semis/final) to end a note of anything other than the ecstacy I felt at Twickenham during the Aussie – Wales war. I feel horrible about this decision now, not supporting the boys – but I just didn’t want to be disappointed again. During my week in London I read about ‘how we are improving’ from coaches and USAR – and I realized. It’s all bullshit. We are not improving. Far from it. There is not one metric to prove we are improving and any synchronization with USAR and any other entity in existence (accept for this new RIM that stands to financially benefit from this ProLeague about to be announced). More on that later.
Attention all Rugby Players with a vested interest in American Rugby:::
Does any of this pain and disappointment in our country’s inability to field a competitive team bother anyone? If response to my blogs and FB posting are any indication, there is huge unrest and an enormous desire for change. Not just to win, but at a minimum to give our lads the chance to succeed.
What’s your plan, TR?
I am constructing it. From the input of so many people whom I respect and many people who were not necessarily my friends in the past – I have reached out and said.. “I agree with you TR, what can we do?” . I have my ideas, I am working with several other key people to construct our vision of a ‘plan’. This includes the basic premise like a ‘mission statement’ something the current USAR apparently does not have. Anyone in business work at any semblance of a successful company without a working and infused mission statement within their organizations. In the near future, I’ll tell you what that mission statement will consist up and Conditions of Satisfaction (i.e. how do we measure success?) to hold ourselves accountable to that mission and all the tasks/actions/work that have to happen in coordination to ensure success.
I know this resonates with anyone who has worked in a functional, successful organization or team.
I am not just blowing smoke with a bunch of writing and angry rants. I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure that the USA Rugby Team never again has to face the humiliation we have for the past 30 years and as an ex player never have to apologize for why ‘we suck’.
All I ask of you is if you like the message I am going to bring, please support it accordingly. We will all never agree on 100% (like should we kick more in a test)… that’s not the point. My goal is to ensure a system and structure is created to ensure our team at least has a chance to succeed… I am not talking random one off wins against sub standard Japan teams (i.e. 10 weeks ago) only to find ourselves pushed around the paddock on the worlds biggest stage in our recent loss. #embarrassing.
A lot of people say ‘youth rugby’. That is part of it, and we are doing great there!! And thank-you to all who participate at that level. But, it is my opinion that if we do not provide something for our youth to strive for – i.e. a functioning world class program (we might not win, but we will give ourselves a chance; and hence, as Americans – we will win) with world class practices from the top level down to the schools, and coordinated efforts from organizations with USA 7’s – our greatest brand at the moment. The current scenario is dysfunctional horror at all levels. Sorry, its true.
Some people say “7’s” – yes, the 7’s is great and we are doing well. This is something we should capitalize on, but everyone – listen to me… Even if we win the gold medal in Rio (and I will be there thinking that is a real possibility) it will not effect our ability to compete on the real world stage of Rugby – the Rugby World Cup. I was humiliated this week by international greats from all over. I am sick of spewing out indefensible answers why we do not improve.
A lot of people think the ProLeague (about to be announced in a few weeks) is the answer. It could be! Absolutely, but if that league is not at its core intending to improve the standard of play exponentially from what we have now (and is more driven on generating revenue), and fails to get people to rally and support and create a culture around it… all we will have is some TV coverage with a piss poor appearance (i.e. 10000 screaming empty seats) and the ever continuing cycle of mediocrity.
Am I resonating?