My Friday night consisted of ensuring all notifications on all my technology were turned off. Saturday morning consisted of watching (in the order listed): NZ v. WAL, AUS v. ENG, and IRE v. RSA, with no awareness of the results beforehand! (Thanks to ESPN for providing that content to the USA.) While I was curious to see the ‘new look’ All Blacks, my interest was focused on Eddie Jones’ England team and their visit to Brisbane.
Spoiler Alert: This article morphs into yet another missed opportunity for USA Rugby to try and maintain a par with the rest of the world.
It’s June, time for the Summer Internationals
In the kickoff to the “Summer Internationals”, Wales came out storming and threw all they could at the AB’s. At the 50 minute mark, a lot of people thought Wales might pull out a historic win. I was one of them. The second half replacements were the difference, and I believe NZ is about to take ‘the 23 man game’ to a new level. They will rely on their depth to remain dominant. In the end, NZ won. But it was clear that Wales looked crisp and NZ were not the team of the last RWC campaign. It was not NZ’s talent in question, but their team “cohesion”. There were timing mistakes that will easily be rectified in coming weeks.
England vs. Aussie: A lot to take away. Off the field.
I was most interested in this revitalized England team, curious to see if there would be retribution for the shellacking Aussie gave England at Twickenham last October.
The entire ‘World Rugby Calendar’ matter is a fascinating one, and for the June series I would personally think that the southern hemisphere teams would hold an advantage. They are in the middle of the Super Rugby season and playing at home, while the northern hemisphere teams are coming off a long slog of a season in their multiple competitions. Buying into the ‘southern hemisphere is better’ mantra, I thought Australia would win this one easily, 15-20 points.
Of course, England won handily, yet it did not appear to be an upset. Australia played well, but had timing/handling errors that were absent nine months ago. It should be noted that this was the first test the Wallabies have played in nine months, while England have come together six times – five for Six Nations and most recently, a ‘friendly’ v. Wales just two weeks ago. The reality is that Eddie Jones has prepared his team for six months whereas Michael Cheika has had little over a week.
It’s no wonder England looked crisper and more team polished. As Rugby teams, they are in mid-season form and Australia literally was playing opening day. Aussie had moments of brilliance and I anticipate they will come back strong next weekend in Melbourne to set up a huge rubber match in Sydney later this month.
I couldn’t get the timing issue of these tests and the inherent ‘preparation’ of the various teams out of my mind. Ireland solidified my theory by handily beating the Springboks, despite being down a man for three quarters of the match and down two during a minute spell.
USA Rugby: Another Opportunity Lost
I started to think about my favorite team, the USA Eagles, and apply this theory to our June international test window. World Rugby nations are able to play three tests during the June window. The Eagles will be playing only two. The Eagles play Italy next weekend in San Jose. While Italy’s preparation for this match consisted of battling Argentina in Buenos Aires in a tough loss on Saturday, the Eagles didn’t play.
We had an opportunity to play three tests, but we are playing only two. Why? I know a bit about the inside story and I chose to not write about it at this time. But it’s clear that USA Rugby has missed yet another opportunity to get on par with the rest of the world. Japan played just 50 miles north of the USA border vs. Canada yesterday, and will host Scotland (who wanted to come here) in Japan for two tests. Japan is already here, and Canada has three fixtures. A full rugby international, an opportunity to make some money (for the host), an opportunity for rugby exposure to the community – and we are the only country of any substance not playing this weekend/3 tests this summer.
America’s Rugby Championships Debacle
I’m not sure why we gave so many mulligans to our team during the America’s Rugby Championships (ARC). No one seemed to take notice that our loss to #42 Brazil earlier this year was the worst loss, in terms of rankings, in the history of World Rugby! I assume that since the ARC was USA Rugby leaderships’ brainchild, and we awarded ‘caps’ for the event (perhaps leading to the greatest number of ‘one cap wonders’ in the history of international rugby), that we took the Brazil game and the week prior loss to Uruguay seriously. My take? What a wasted opportunity not to win that competition, gain some momentum, and move into our summer series.
I am not criticizing any player, coach or administrator involved with our national team. Every one of them is doing the best they can with what they are given. The fact is that we, USA Rugby, continue to not give enough. We had an opportunity to host Scotland this summer. There were other match opportunities to our avail. I have spoken to people on the other end of these ‘negotations’ to get a third match here. No one seems to be held to account for this absence. I hope I’m wrong but I give Italy a pretty good shot at being better prepared than our Eagles based solely on the match they had this weekend. I’m not saying we won’t win, just that we are starting behind where we could and should be.
The success/failure of the Eagles may not matter to many as much as it does to me. I’ve been on that field though, and I 100% understand the basics needed off the field to give us a sustainable chance on it. Although I am sure that the Strategic Plan being developed this summer will address many of these leadership issues, it’s unfortunate we just don’t seem to even try at times. I hope this plan also addresses how we use the concept of professional rugby in America as a pathway to our Eagles. This is critical as well.
The Italy match on June 18 is the culmination of the 2016 Men’s Eagles year. They are far and away the highest ranked international team we will play. This weekend started the short test window. Italy prepared by playing the #5 team in the world. We are practicing in San Diego. It shouldn’t be this way.
This is another example of the complacency that has been tolerated at USA Rugby. I am sure our outgoing CEO tried to get us a game, but the fact that we don’t have one is testament enough. Providing the resources for our elite teams to succeed is a primary responsibility of USA Rugby, it’s CEO and the Board of Directors. Our performance has been abysmal on the international stage.
USA Rugby will announce a new CEO in the next few weeks. It’s an exciting time. Let’s place people in leadership positions that understand the importance of what happens off the field and the effect of results on it. This is no time for status quo.
To accommodate our growth of rugby in America, we must field competitive and winning national teams. This holds true for men, women, age-grade, everything. Our young players want and deserve to be proud of our national teams. We need to provide American heroes/stars to the youth coming up playing. It is essential to sustainability and growth. Look to both Men’s and Women’s Soccer for immediate past proof. People take notice of winners.
Best wishes to the players and coaches in this weekend’s match vs. Italy, and the following week vs. Russia. They deserve more. We also need to resurrect the Canada rivalry. What a natural fit. Gareth and Al agree. More on that later.
I have been nominated for a seat on the USA Rugby Board of Directors. These are my thoughts and I would welcome an opportunity to participate in the leadership of USA Rugby. Go Eagles!