On USA Eagles 29 – Uruguay 23. Some thoughts from ‘Off the Field’. 3

I sat in a locker room in 1985 after USA barely beat Japan 16-15 in Tokyo (I was in my #1’s, i.e. didn’t play) and will never forget #8 Mark Deaton muttering the words, “A win is a win”.

Yes, a win is a win and that’s about the most I think we should take out of today’s performance vs. Uruguay.  Our boys played hard, never in doubt.  My bottom line, we need to be waxing Uruguay. Comfortably, by 20 points.

That’s not to disrespect the wonderful sporting nation of Uruguay, a small, emerging economy that takes a developed nation with 20 times the # rugby players to the wire. 

We should be happy we won, it’s better than the alternative. That’s it.

I was surprised after the match to hear Brian and Dallen calling that a ‘great’ win.  Other American based rugby media labelled the victory “big”.  I know I am sounding critical, and I understand the need for Viz & Co. to be uber-positive in their commentating.  Note, we should be delighted to have such excellent announcers handling the production.   However, if this were a major rugby playing nation playing such a lower ranked team and the run of play was the same as USAvURU, the media would slay everyone from players to coaches to selectors, et al.  Greg Martin or Lawrence Dallaglio would be removed from the booth it would get so graphic.

And, while I understand why many of our media must use a more positive tone, I hope it doesn’t send the wrong message to the community. I’m grateful for that media, and completely support it – I’ll try and provide a balancing viewpoint.

Rugby, a sport whose essential ethos is honest effort and transparent personal accountability, cannot become Modern Americanized with soft deflections of responsibility and participation awards no matter the performance.  

#17 USA v #21 Uruguay

The #17 in lights makes me uncomfortable.  It’s Tier 3. In writing.  Let’s not forget who we were playing.  Uruguay.  #21 rank in the world.   The following was posted on FaceBook today:

Uruguay has population of 3.4 million (about the size of metro Seattle). It has just 28 rugby clubs, with 5,829 registered players. Uruguay’s per capita GDP is $16,350, or 1/3rd of the US. We’re trading the lead after an hour…. This isn’t just about resources. This is about strategy and governance

We should not merely place blame for this problem on the players. They are hard-working lads who deserve our support. I am (again) directing attention to our Directors and Congress, who rob our players of opportunity with the failure to develop an adequate framework for escalating competitions; coherent, progressive development opportunity, and; financial resources to overcome our geographic distribution. 

I heard Coach Mitchell’s pre-game interview, he used the word ‘developmental’ on several occasions. I think that is a crock.  With players named Scully, Clever, Baumann, Civetta, Quill, McGinty, etc.. that was not a USA ‘developmental’ side on the field today. I like Coach’s interviews, however, the 30K foot stuff Mitchell talks about does not appear to be transferring onto the field.

I don’t like when people use the word ‘developmental’ as some sort of pre-ordained excuse for a piss-poor performance. If we are playing ‘developmental’ sides, we should not award caps.  We should not waste USAR resources to fly Blaine Scully in to captain such a side.  If it’s developmental, then play a ‘real’ developmental side.  If it’s a test, i.e., a full international, then lets man-up (apologies to the female readers, but you know what I mean) and take responsibility in the build up to the game and call this a full test side, and be judged accordingly on the result and performance.

If this was a real developmental side (i.e. U/20-23’s majority with a few senior players), I’d call it a decent result (still, far too many errors to be ‘pleased’ regardless of standard).  However, we fielded a full test side (subject to player availability only).  No one in the community should be in any way satisfied or ‘feel good’ about that win in terms of it being something to remember. Our new kids were excellent today.  Congratulations to them on their first “cap”.  The cross-field kick to score Scully in the corner was a thing of beauty.

The look on our faces after the match, of pure relief, made a clear statement on the run of play.  We were fortunate to win.  Full stop.  Against, Uruguay.  (Speaking of looks on faces, I am unimpressed with the manner our players look at the referee as if the ref owed them something.  At nearly every breakdown numerous USA players are looking to the ref in some anticipatory way.  Focus!  Just play rugby.)

I was able to watch the ENGvFRA Six Nations match this morning, my assessment is there is a 60 point difference between the teams from that match, and ours.  And, I’m probably being generous.  We’re really not close, I don’t yet see how all this ‘development’ will one day turn the corner, but I sure hope it will!

San Antonio?

San Antonio?  It’s my favorite convention city in the country.  Nothing else is close. But, there’s a reason I’ve said we must perform a comprehensive club/member audit. I’d estimate that San Antonio might rank #50 on a ‘heat map’ of rugby participants.  Does anyone know?   Why is a USA Eagles test match played in San Antonio? Another wasted opportunity, unless you consider 1,700 stragglers watching our national team to be satisfactory.  This is RIM’s gig (aka Rugby International Marketing). I am not impressed.  Putting on events w/ 1,700 people in a minor (at best) rugby ‘hub’?  No.  Wasted opportunity.   We should utilize our top tier markets to consistently place events that help to grow a ‘rugby community’.  A one off test in a minor market costs us financially in the near term and in culture/community in the long term. I’m looking forward to attending in person in Austin next week.  Hopefully, redeeming last year’s World Rugby record setting loss to Brazil.

Why a 3 p.m. Central start? 

This is the middle of rugby season in many parts of the country, so players of all ages are playing at the same time as the Eagles game.  Anyone involved in youth rugby on the West Coast would not be able to watch live.  I’m sure the same in other geographies.  We should maximize the timing of games such that our own audience is not out participating in rugby during the day.  How about a 7 p.m. match in San Antonio CST. Wouldn’t that make more sense?  And, certainly financial sense for the maligned The Rugby Channel.  Speaking of The Rugby Channel…

The Rugby Channel

I actually have two subscriptions to The Rugby Channel (TRC); one online, and one Apple app.  I support it. But I cannot see how the TRC business model works, and how it will sustain.  A FB thread today yielded the following: “Pay the $5, and watch the game!”. That is the common theme of TRC’s business model.  Asking the current members of the rugby community just to support it, while offering literally nothing to grasp new viewers (and making them pay for their ‘new’ experience), is not a sustainable business model.  I want to get behind it.  I can’t at this time.

RIM is the financial arm for USA Rugby. It controls all the events, marketing, etc…for the national teams.  The Rugby Channel is one of 4 revenue ‘verticals’ for RIM, and apparently we are betting large on it’s success, i.e., spending invested dollars from the sale of RIM and developing TRC.   If TRC fails, it could be a disaster for USA Rugby.  (I hope someone will tell me I’m wrong, but no one else is talking about it).  So, we have a vested interest in it’s success.

I don’t understand how taking the same rights that could be available to us on ESPN (showing all non USA ARC matches live) and placing the game behind the pay wall of The Rugby Channel makes any sense.  I guarantee not enough people watched to make a difference, yet we lose ANY and EVERY casual observer by putting it behind the paywall (especially when it could be ‘free’ on ESPN).

First step to the solution:  Strategic Plan

Yes, I’ve attempted to frame our on the field performance in relation to decisions made by our Board of Directors.  RIM, TRC, etc… were not vetted, or understood entities when created.  We have not had a Strategic Plan for over 10 years, despite it being required in USA Rugby’s bylaws to be reviewed by the Board of Directors each year.

I urge the Congress during their Feb 11 meeting in Austin to be vigilant in learning more about the financial future of USA Rugby, and removing those who have not shown an ability to make sound rugby/business decisions, and actively drive our Union forward.

There must be a critical accounting of the Directors, individually, and collectively. Alternatively, there should be deserved public scrutiny of a Congress that abdicates it’s responsibility to the membership. 

Other Articles I have published on these topics:

3 comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more. why don’t we pay our coaches on a contingency basis : based on teams we beat in the top 10 ; anybody we beat out of the top 10 , no compensation; just expenses

  2. Pingback: A Letter to all USA Rugby Congress Members. From Tony Ridnell « Tony Ridnell

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