Nigel – Its time to go. No ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to US Eagles’ poor Rugby World Cup, says Melville 21

Attn: Nigel Melville.

It is time for you to return to the homeland.  You’ve been around for close to 10 years ‘running’ American Rugby and have absolutely nothing to show for it.  You have a chance with one of the world’s leading rugby reporting newspapers, “The Guardian”, to tell the story of what YOUR plan is for American rugby.  I say YOUR plan, because it is YOUR plan (well it would be if a plan existed).  All the marvelous points you make about the plight of USA Rugby, our performance at RWC2015, and the pointing of fingers away from yourself and your group for the results of hard decisions poorly made (or even not made) during your tenure are pathetic and shows no comprehension of the LEADERSHIP required by a CEO at any level.  It is not our play that is embarrassing any more, it is our barren leadership.

I have done a lot of research, study, communication and collaborating with dozens of vested American rugby people  since my epiphany last week, that American Rugby is mediocre at every level (not the USA 7’s of course, but that is a completely different cup of tea – lots of that in England when you arrive home). I know it is mediocre, cause it was mediocre 30 years ago, is mediocre now, and NOTHING has changed.  Everyone in the country knows it, everyone in the world knows it. Years of missed opportunity.  And you have personally had close to 10 years to bring us out of mediocrity, and we are worse than we were at the beginning of your tenure.  This is your deal now, OWN IT.  The lack of collaboration and coalition building at the USAR Board level is a disgrace.  Rugby leaders throughout the USA feel like they are operating in a silo, 100’s of people running on the hamster wheel – doing a lot of work, but really achieving nothing in the overall scheme. Imagine what we could do if these people had a road map, something to show them their work is leading to something and for the greater good.   More numbers sure (not because of you and your group), but because of the tireless work of hundreds (thousands?) of people who just love the game in the USA.  They do this not for money, but for love.  And you have given them nothing to measure and achieve success. And to top it off, are we to understand that this ‘RIM’ is a for profit company that will directly benefit  from the choice of this “ProLeague” outfit and that you and other board members may personally financially gain from this venture”.  I hope that’s not true, because if so – it is an abuse of power and privilege like none I have seen in this sport.

The lethargic and apathetic tenure of your participation in this article in the Guardian, crushes the last remaining vestiges of any confidence I have in you, and this is true for the hundreds of hard working people in the American rugby community who I have communicated with this week also.  You gave it a go. There is no confidence.  Please, the best you can do for us now is leave.

You are not a scapegoat.  You are the culprit.  You have held the senior leadership role in USA Rugby for close to a decade. This interview gave you an opportunity to come clean, talk about any plan, lend confidence to the rest of the world you could lead yourself out of a paper bag, yet there you remain  – stuck in the bottom.  Take some responsibility, man.  You don’t even care enough to try and make excuses, that’s how apathetic and shameful this situation is.

Here is the article I will refer to…

No ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to US Eagles’ poor Rugby World Cup, says Melville

What?? No knee-jerk reaction.  Yes, that is good for you – allows you more time to wallow in mediocrity.

Step away.  Leave your legacy with someone that knows what they are doing, and as a very minimum accepts responsibility and accountability for their failures.  Like I have said, its not the losing I mind – its the acceptance of mediocrity that gets us (and now it is ‘us’ because I have heard if from EVERY SINGLE PERSON I have spoken to.  Not 99%, but 100%

Here are some quotes and my thoughts…

“Did we play to our potential?” Melville asked. “No. But the level of play at this World Cup was extremely strong, as strong as I’ve seen.”

TR: Oh, perfect.  We have identified we did not play to our potential.  The level of play is ‘strong’. Well how about doing something and LEADING us to become strong.  How many coaches have you had in your tenure?  4?  Maybe the problem is not the coaching, its the selector of the coach.  Like really, I have been a bit unfair to Coach Mike Tolkin, he has had good success the level he has coached.  But is HS rugby really the stepping stone to a job coaching against teams that are coached by Eddy Jones.  You brought a knife to a gun fight.   I would like to say that Tolkin did his best, but according to those I have spoken to close to the team (i.e. in the team) numerous comments on the feedback was ‘the coaches were lazy, we are very disappointed in this experience).  This isn’t slanderous, these are words said to me and written to me.  Where is the oversight?  Oh, of course – the top dog, the leader – the CEO.  You!!  The accountability starts with you.  And you just phoned it in.

“Remember, we led Scotland at half-time, and that wasn’t by good fortune. The team played very well and were the better side to that point. They just weren’t able to take it past 40 minutes to 60 and 80.

TR:  Perfect, when the ‘First Half World Cup’ gets played, sign me up for tickets.  Ok, we played well for a while.  That is the standard now apparently, play well for 30 minutes?  Raise the bar, man.

“The teams with amateur players have now gone home,” Melville said. “And of course so have England, so we’re in good company there. But you look at those teams knocked out: Canada, Georgia, Namibia, us … we have squads containing a number of amateur players

TR:  Nice sounding quote, this is all true.  Only problem is the teams you reference, Georgia, Namibia, Canada, etc.. throw in Romania and others – would all kick our butts around the field (ok, not Canada – they are even more lost than we are now).  We were pushed around in the scrimmage by Japan!  How does that happen? You compared the USA to England – who had to play Australia (who should win this thing) and Wales (who are a VERY good team).  How can you make even an attempt at this humor.  The only company we are in is with the grass, the grass that touches the team name that is on the bottom of the tournament ladder as it sits on a field. #20/20

“There could be knee-jerk reactions,” Melville said of the post-World Cup picture, perhaps having read some of the angrier internet message boards serving the American rugby community, where calls are rife for a foreign coach like Eddie Jones, the Australian who worked wonders with Japan. “Blame the coaching, the players and so on. But it isn’t going to be like that.”

TR: Nigel, this is the deal killer.  This quote is the end of your line. (Oh, are there angry messages on internet boards? :-)).  You are right, don’t blame the coaching – don’t blame the players (how could you possibly blame the players after coaches were identified as ‘lazy’ in post tour debriefs).

Blame?  Blame the person responsible for choosing the coaching, for creating the culture around the national team (or supposed to be).  Who is that person?  Nigel, you can answer that by looking in the mirror.  It’s you.  CEO.  Chief Exec.  The Big Cheese.  You are responsible when it goes good, and you are responsible when it doesn’t.  We are mediocre, we have been for years – and nothing has been done to change that.

Make a knee jerk reaction. Resign. Do us a favor – at least leave us with someone that can make something happen, and if it doesn’t lends some transparency to the matter.

To close out:  Here is how the interview should have gone down…

Guardian:  “Well Nigel, how about an assessment of the World Cup for American Rugby and plans for the future”

NM: “We didn’t play well in this tournament.  We really couldn’t expect to.  I chose a coach who’s highest real level of experience was with a high school team in New York. They did win a lot of USA Championships but apparently that didn’t translate to well on the Worlds biggest stage.  We have a lot of amateur players.  In fact they are so amateur we decided to tolerate a staff that the players identified as being lazy, so its really a self fulfilling prophecy. That’s why I make amateur decisions.  It’s why I cannot seem to work with other groups in American rugby that actually bring something to the table, like USA 7’s, CRC, etc..  Our/my ego is so big that if we don’t control it, or ‘profit from it’ we don’t want it. But now, with RIM and the ProLeague – all of us who have worked so hard on the board now have an opportunity to financially gain from a decision that we made without vetting the provider – and we are looking forward to many more years of development and progress in USA Rugby.

Final comment… and I will be the first to commend you.  You have announced that USA Rugby would like to host the RWC in 2027.  This might be the first successful think you have done.  If we host the RWC 2027, that means we are guaranteed a spot to play in it – an outcome not necessarily looking so bright at this time. Well done.

21 comments

    • Jeremy, a valid question. Absolutely valid. Please let me know your rugby background and I will be glad to answer in detail. If you read my posts in detail and you have a comprehensive and passionate understanding of the state of Rugby in America, you will have your question answered. Cool?

    • This movement has nothing to do with the coach. But, while you are at it… This is the Rugby World Cup. The worlds highest stage where mistakes are punished like no other. The feedback i have on this coaching staff from numerous USA players were that ‘they were lazy’. I also know that the players social lives on the tour were quite extensive. Jon, its time to install people that are not afraid to have high standards, meet those standards themselves and demand them of their subordinates. Do you think any other team at the World Cup (well at least the ones that were not 0-4) had coaches the team called Lazy and were partying like it was 1999? This is the stuff noone talks about dammit. This is not acceptable. Unless you accept mediocrity. Let me know if you are with me or not.

      I guarantee you this, having ‘been there, done that’. Any player worth his salt would rather have a hard, disciplined World Cup with high expectations. Any coaching staff must control that. Standards were not set, and that starts at the top for the entire community. To allow another set of players every 4 years to experience this mediocrity will be a travesty.

  1. We were competitive with Australia at the half.
    We were leading Scotland 13-6 at the half.
    We were down 0-14 against South Africa at the half, rough, but can be overcome.
    We were down 8-14 against Samoa at the half, another deficit that could be overcome.
    We were down 8-17 against Japan at the half, which could have been erased.
    Playing a great 1st half isn’t enough on this stage….
    About 20 years ago, David Campese said to me ‘everyone keeps talking about how the Americans are going to come and conquer rugby. I won’t hold my breath’.
    He was right then, just as he is right now.
    We’ve been playing at being on the international stage for too long. That was an OK excuse when rugby was amateur, but no longer. (And, frankly, we performed better when it was ‘amateur’ despite our country’s size…)
    The US is the richest sporting nation in the world. The USA Rugby Board is packed with bankers & former captains of industry (or so their bios would lead us to believe), so why haven’t they been able to raise the cash to make the national team what it could be?
    Why are they settling for mediocrity, which, based on their bios, they never accepted in the business world?
    Rugby in the US is starting to thrive at the school & high school levels, and these kids need some American heroes to look up to & aspire to emulate. They should want to hang posters of USA rugby players on their walls.
    The only rugby heroes in the US come from the 7s program, which is managed separately & has a different stage & Olympic support.

    • Liz, What a coincidence. It was Campese who brought up the same point last week(and offered any assistance he could), not in a condescending way – but genuine concern. So tired of that conversation. Then, he and Mark Ella gave me a graduate degree in back play for the next 45 minutes.

  2. Pingback: Hey USA Rugby – It’s time for a change (part 2) “Hope, but no Expectations” « Tony Ridnell

  3. Other than the comments about the scrum – which actually did pretty well and was an area of clear improvement in this tournament I agree with everything you have to say Tony.

    Accepting mediocrity is not an American characteristic. I hate to come across as racist but mediocrity is something that the British, in particular the English, seem quite comfortable with when it comes to their rugby.

    All the talk leading up to the WC was the wonderful preparation the team had. 7 games. A test against Australia … wins against Canada and Japan. Now come the close of the WC and a mediocre performance is acceptable because other teams are getting better and somehow the US is not supposed to be getting better?

    Tolkin is NOT the problem. The problem is that a coach of his caliber was ever allowed to occupy the position. You can’t blame someone with limited abilities for not being able to live up to the needs of the position but you can ask who it was that allowed that seat to be occupied by that person in the first place. Or apparently not.

    Now we are going to go on a venture into professional rugby that will NOT raise the standard of rugby in this country and at what cost?

  4. Can you summarize your proposal and how we can transition to a professional system with a credible national team in the US? Please include how we (I coach for the largest youth club in CA) can help initiate this change to a well run national rugby system and culture. Thanks

    • Hey Bob. Thanks for reading my stuff and engaging. And, for what you do for rugby. I’ll put out my group’s initial strategy within 24 hours. A lot has happened in a short period of time. It will fulfill the immediate needs of the national team, and simultaneously engage in developing a national culture of rugby in this country, with appropriate standards and levels of expectation (on and off the field). It will integrate the international community, but it will be an American show. We will develop the cross athlete program in a big way and create a win win with the NCAA and NFL. Its a multi pronged approach. So much to do, so many great people doing great things but with no pathway. I will use the word ‘pathway’ a lot… I’ll be giving up secrets to success, but it won’t matter because the current leadership is inept to implement it. OK, give me a little time. Are we on the same page with above?

  5. It’s worth noting that the United States is 6-1 against Romania all-time, and has won the last three matches against them (2014, 2012, 2005). Its only loss to Romania occurred at the 1999 RWC. The United States is also 3-1 all-time against Georgia, defeating them in its last 2 encounters (2013, 2012). Its only loss to Georgia was in 2010 – by 2 points in Tblisi.

    To ignore the gap created by amateurs playing against professionals (or to pretend amateurs would lose to other amateurs that it has a 9-2 record against) is pretty directionless.

    I also recall a time not but 4 years ago when the American rugby community was screaming for an American coach (and you got him!) after three successive foreign hires. Now it’s time to go back to a foreign hire?

    Further, it is explicitly against the policies and procedures of NGBs for their board members to have a financial stake in a for-profit entity, as it violates signed clauses about conflict of interest (required by the USOC).

    This blog reads as though it is parroting a lot of ill-informed rumors, and little else.

    • EA, Here’s a comment from a guy who’s assessments I would consider quite grounded and credible.

      Again, perhaps you and I have different expectations. It is understandable, we have lived in a rugby world where “Hope, and No Expectation” is status quo. I am not prepared to accept that anymore and am willing to do something about it.

      Here are the comments of another:

      If your two points are about beating Georgia – go for it…
      If your point is about scattering legitimate questions, go for it…
      Our record against Tier 2 is slipping and you bring up we are beating Tier 3 is that now the standard…
      Our record at the RWC is the only standard to which we an measure against the world – 
      On the business end – If I speculate based upon information being shared guilty, but the facts remain that USAR is required by by-laws to produce an annual business plan and now has created an offshoot business development for profit company where the business plan is only accessed through an NDA or investment – not a great way to get every able American to understand and know the elevator pitch 

      • Tony, I was responding to your hyperbole, not saying I thought defeating Romania or Georgia was my “point,” or my expectation/standard.

        You stated,
        “Only problem is the teams you reference, Georgia, Namibia, Canada, etc.. throw in Romania and others – would all kick our butts around the field (ok, not Canada – they are even more lost than we are now)”

        I simply noted that’s a little extreme given the USA’s record. Also, Romania and Georgia are firmly entrenched as ‘Tier 2’ nations (Georgia even just auto-qualified for the 2019 RWC), so to call them ‘Tier 3’ is also extreme. Tier 3 is Chile, Hong Kong, Portugal, Spain, etc. – teams the USA no longer plays (unless this American Six Nations thing launches).

        The USA record at the RWC is more or less on par with what it’s done historically. The only difference this year (really) is that Japan was better than expected – the USA has never beaten South Africa, Scotland, or Samoa. Usually the USA has another Tier 2 team that it might be competitive against, but Japan came on stronger than expected. Pool A was pretty tough, to be frank. The USA has never beaten a Tier 1 team in the modern era (e.g. not the Olympics in the 1920s). If you put the Eagles in Pool C or D, they probably would have come out with at least 1 win. Historically, they always get 0 or 1 wins – except when they failed to qualify in 1995.

        Everyone would like to see the USA do better, but it will always be a challenge while its fielding amateurs against professionals. To be honest, I’m amazed the gap hasn’t widened more than it has given that circumstance.

      • EA, on behalf of all rugby people in America who have had a chance to influence your experiences and expectations for rugby in this country – we are sorry. We failed. The fact that you are content with the standards and assessments you make means you and I have completely different goals and aspirations for rugby in this country. And that’s fine, you have been given no reason to have higher expectations.

        Regarding progress, I will give you the best example of all. Argentina.

        Please refer to the following link for my thoughts. And unless we take action now, as you say – we will be further away from success than ever before.

        https://blog.ridnell.com/2015/10/18/hey-usa-rugby-its-time-for-a-change-part-2-hope-but-no-expectations/

  6. EA., thanks for taking the time to read and reply in such detail. First, if you wouldn’t might letting me know your rugby pedigree, I would appreciate it. It’s just important to know what level we are seeking to improve. My comments:

    1. If as an American you are ok competing with Romania – then you and I have different goals. If this were gymnastics, I might agree with you. This is the USA, and we are doing so little with the financial and human resources available to us. I am thinking big, not minute. If people want to think small, that’s fine – but you will enjoy the benefits of what our group will bring.

    2. Coach – I wasn’t aware I said to go back to foreign hire. All I said that to put a coach with only HS experience (I know “he” coached NYAC to a Nat’l Championship – my mother could have coached that team with how stacked they were) is going to get a predictable result in the game at the highest level (i.e. RWC 2015). What a waste of yet another opportunity.

    2. I am seeking review and oversight of the board members activities in a for-profit.

    I hardly think this blog isparroting anything. This is all original content and all assessments are well grounded.

  7. Pingback: USA Rugby: Change of Leadership is a Mandate from the American Rugby Community « Tony Ridnell

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