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Description:Rugby in America, the way it is and could be.
Keywords:Rugby in the USA
Rugby in America, the way it is and could be.
22 October 2015
National team audit due in three weeks
USARFU intends to complete a performance review of the 2015 World Cup campaign within three weeks.
High performance director Alex Magleby is leading the inquiry, along with chief executive Nigel Melville. Findings are to be presented to the board of directors on November 7.
The report is not likely to be made public, as it will evaluate union employees.
Four years ago, USARFU set a target of reaching the quarterfinals, a goal team management reiterated prior to the start of the competition. But the Eagles posted an 0-4 record for the second time in the three tournaments played since Melville has been chief executive, and finished near the bottom of numerous performance categories.
Over the quadrennial leading to the world championship, head coach Mike Tolkin posted an 11-23-1 record, in line with the USA #39;s long-term average. In an email, the Xavier High School and New York Athletic Club man indicated he hopes to continue. Manager Tristan Lewis, a Chicagoan on his second Eagle tour of duty, expects to resign.
In an interview with England #39;s #0160;Guardian #0160;newspaper, Melville said #39;There could be knee-jerk reactions #0160;[by the rugby public]. Blame the coaching, the player, and so on. But it isn鈥檛 going to be like that #39;.
Related: #0160;Heading into World Cup, a better quadrennial
Kurt Oeler on 22 October 2015 | Permalink
Comments (5)
21 October 2015
On describing the USA's problem
A sports-minded but non-rugby friend asked: why is it important there are four Southern hemisphere teams in the World Cup semifinals?
My reply was simplistic:
The significance lies in evidence that New Zealand, South Africa, Australia play rugby more effectively and organize themselves better #0160;than the Northern -- if not to say British -- powers.
SH teams prefer to run the ball and are less inclined to kick for territory, and the elite squads are directly accountable the #0160;national governing body, much like American soccer #39;s single-owner model.
Leading NH teams focus more on field position. This is partly due to wetter #0160;European weather -- think of Big 10 vs SEC football. Further, in the two biggest markets, England and France, the top teams are American-style franchises (a la NFL or #0160;MLB) less beholden to the NGB.
Many of the Northern teams import Southern players, which is said to crowd out promising Northern players, leaving the European national #0160;squads with a smaller talent pool.
If the Southern hemisphere teams (Argentina included) are ascendant, the Eagles are declining. In the 30 years before 2006, our historical winning percentage against Tier 2 countries was 43 percent. In the past 10 years it has been 27 percent 鈥 a fall of more than one-third.
How shall we simply describe what鈥檚 going on, so we can get on with fixing the problem?
Kurt Oeler on 21 October 2015 | Permalink
Comments (0)
19 October 2015
Wither the American playing style?
Graham Henry, the 2011 World Cup-winning coach, recently asked #39;why are we all looking to play the same game? #39;
One of the clear disappointments of modern rugby is that in the main we have lost our innovation. There are a #0160;number of different ways and styles to play, but [teams copy New Zealand] even though it probably doesn鈥檛 suit the #0160;DNA of players or the development environment they grow up in.
Henry suggests video analysis is driving imitation, but in America, the lack of distinctive purpose can #39;t be ascribed solely to the national team.
In the late 20th century, US coaches and officials constantly discussed refining an ideal playing style. For example, Eagle coach Dennis Storer studied how body types contribute to success in contact sports, and his master #39;s thesis addressed adapting American athletes to rugby. His teams emphasized the counterattack and broken-field running as well as tackling skills brought over from football, the international stereotype that persists to this day.
Each of USARFU #39;s four territories also sought to develop their own approach. They were particularly conscious of regional geography -- the influence of weather on strategy and tactics. Some of the conversation, however, came to be conflated with the question of a unified playing season, a Gordian knot of fairness.
Also contributing to the lapsed quest for an American style is the latter-day abandonment of representative rugby. At the Inter-Territorial Tournament, the national team transmitted knowledge and planning to the competitors. The modern USARFU, believing competition inefficient and preferring to rely on scouting combines, has effectively reduced the scope to the coaches and players within the national team #39;s immediate orbit. This is Henry #39;s echo chamber.
One can argue the American playing base has changed dramatically. Most now come into rugby a decade earlier, in their teens, and there are probably proportionally less crossover athletes. Moreover, over the past two decades, players at every levels have been able to watch increasing amounts of rugby, with the best heading overseas and conversely, the union recruiting #39;America qualified #39; elites from abroad. But athletes do not drive playing style: they are a resource in its formation.
In the wake of another winless World Cup, the conversation is worth renewing. No matter the importance of daily training environments, if America is practicing to play the same way as everyone else, we are unlikely to surpass our rivals.
Kurt Oeler on 19 October 2015 | Permalink
Comments (2)
19 September 2015
Samoan opener pivotal to World Cup, and more
Tomorrow #39;s Samoan match, long seen as pivotal to America #39;s World Cup campaign, could become the defining contest of Mike Tolkin #39;s tenure.
The Brighton opener has seemed the likeliest stepping stone to a two-win tournament. In the wake of Japan #39;s toppling South Africa, the stakes have increased concomitant with unexpected possibilities of advancing from pool B.
How the Eagles respond to entwined opportunity and pressure will indicate how effectively coach Tolkin and his staff have shaped their charges. Focus, like strategy, is predominantly the coach #39;s responsibility.
quot;Guys are focused. They know their business and are prepared. They #39;ve been working hard #39;, Tolkin told This is American Rugby earlier this week. #39;It #39;s been a good build up. When we take the field we #39;ll know everything we need to do. #39;
After two years assisting Eddie O #39;Sullivan, the Xavier and New York AC head man has led the Eagles the entire 2012-15 quadrennial. The US has played nearly 8 matches per season, more than the 2007 and 2011 cycles, and logged additional squad training during #39;A #39; assemblies such that its #0160;training and competition are broadly comparable to #39;tier 2 #39; rivals.
Having dropped long-time captain Todd Clever just weeks before the World Cup, there can be no reason the team #39;s mindset would not bear Tolkin #39;s stamp.
Further, especially if one stipulates the superiority of the opposition #39;s roster (because virtually all its players are UK or French professionals), Tolkin #39;s strategy for reversing July #39;s 21-16 loss to Samoa in San Jose occupies center stage. What did the US learn? What adjustments has it made? Anticipating the September matchup, what did it hold in reserve?
It may seem undue or unfair to saddle 1 game among 35 played over 4 years with such significance. But the circumstances of real opportunity are often unpredictable. In practice, the chance to make one #39;s mark at the World Cup is as good as it gets.
Japan and Georgia, which yesterday posted a Tongan upset since overshadowed, have achieved something special. Fiji could have #0160;bested England but faltered. The statistics of the Tolkin era have already taken shape: the denouement is at hand.
2015 World Cup: United States v Samoa Blaine Scully (Cardiff Blues); Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz), Seamus Kelly (San Francisco Golden Gate), Thretton Palamo (London Welsh), Chris Wyles (captain, Saracens); AJ MacGinty (Life Univ.), Mike Petri (New York AC); Eric Fry (Newcastle), Zach Fenoglio (Glendale Raptors), Titi Lamositele (Saracens), Hayden Smith (Saracens), Greg Peterson (Glasgow), Al McFarland (New York AC), Andrew Durutalo (USA 7s), Samu Manoa (Toulon).Reserves: Phil Thiel (Life Univ.), Olive Kilifi (Seattle Saracens), Chris Baumann (Santa Monica), Cameron Dolan (Cardiff Blues), Danny Barrett (USA 7s), Shalmon Suniula (Seattle Saracens), Folau Niua (USA 7s), Brett Thompson (USA 7s)
Kurt Oeler on 19 September 2015 | Permalink
Comments (1)
16 September 2015
Heading into World Cup, a better quadrennial
Summertime results offer some hope the US will achieve its World Cup goal, the quarterfinals.
The Eagles enter the world championship 3-3 in 2015. That #39;s the best buildup since 2003, when the US posted a 6-3 pre-tournament record, and 1999, a 3-3 campaign. Heading into the 2007 and 2011 World Cups at 0-4 and 1-4, respectively, the team lacked momentum.
Taking a broader look, the USA #39;s record over 2012-15 is 11-1-19, or 37.1 percent. As the team #39;s winning percentage since 1976 is 32.3 percent, Mike Tolkin #39;s charges effectively won 1 more game than would have been expected.
Few of these games, however, were against against so-called tier 1 nations. Over the current quadrennial, the US played T1 opponents only 6 of 31 occasions. That #39;s better than the 4 it played leading up to the 2011 World Cup -- but rather worse than the 10 in both the 2007 and the 2003 cycles.
The USA #39;s total number of games per quadrennial has rebounded. This cycle #39;s 31 matches compare favorably with the 2011 and 2007 cycles, 21 and 22 games, respectively.
But the previous two quadrennials, 2003 and 1999, saw 29 and 37 games. So essentiallly America lost 2 World Cup cycles while replacing the Pacific Rim tournament with the Pacific Nations competition -- virtually the same competition.
Head to head, the US has never beaten Samoa in 4 matches, nor Scotland in 6 (counting A matches), nor South Africa in 3. #0160;The Eagles #39; record against Japan is 13-1-8.
This July, the Eagles topped Japan 23-18 in Sacramento, a week after falling to Samoa 21-16 in San Jose. Samoan games have always been close, originating with 1999 #39;s 27-20 loss in San Francisco. The win over the Brave Blossoms was America #39;s first in 6 games dating to 2008.
As to the T1 teams, Scotland topped the US 24-6 in Houston in June 2014, while South Africa last met the Eagles at the 2007 World Cup, overwhelming Peter Thorburn #39;s side 64-15.
Credit to Mike Tolkin #39;s squad for publicly hewing to the quarterfinals target, which will probably require winning 3 of 4 matches, including 1 #0160;of 2 against Scotland and South Africa.
But USARFU #39;s management, which floated the idea of after the 2011 world championship, is on the hook for the shortfall in total matches and #0160;T1 games. That #39;s who deals with World Rugby #39;s schedule makers.
The union often talks of a professional city-based league. Perhaps that will ultimately help the Eagles, but first it should aim for a better schedule.
Kurt Oeler on 16 September 2015 | Permalink
Comments (0)
13 September 2015
Wyles and Petri: nice guys finish last
Chris Wyles and Mike Petri, each of whom earned Silver Eagles this summer, are an interesting contrast.
Each stands as the USA #39;s all-time positional leader, at fullback and halfback, respectively. It needn #39;t have been so. Wyles, once he committed to the US, presented a question as to where he should play. With Petri, on the hand, the issue was whether he would play at all.
Wyles debuted in 2007 against the England Saxons, and earned his 50th cap earlier this month against Australia. Born in Stamford, Connecticut, he moved aged 11 to England, where by 2006 he had become a good but not quite Premiership-caliber backliner. Choosing to play for the US was a risk to his professional ambitions.
You would not know it, for he soon became not only a 15s regular but also captain of the 7s Eagles team that rose to unprecedented heights on the 2008-09 World Series. Thus he was the first player given a USARFU contact. Simultaneously, he earned a place with London #39;s Saracens, partly because of his versatility. The 32-year-old routinely plays center, wing, and fullback for club and country.
Going into the World Cup, he has scored more tries than all but Vaea Anitoni and Paul Emerick, and also stands 3d in points scored, behind Mike Hercus and Matt Alexander -- notable because he has not always been first-choice goal kicker. As poised as he is adaptable, Wyles was an obvious choice to succeed the defenestrated Todd Clever as captain.
Petri, who debuted against South Africa at the 2007 World Cup, earned his 50th cap this July against Japan. The determined Sacramento comeback win resembles the 31-year-old #39;s playing record. #0160;
A Brooklyn native and Penn State All-American, Petri competed with several British clubs but never found a home. Initially it was held against him. One US coach, sneering with the foreigner #39;s dogmatic certainty that only European pros would do, ruled Petri out of contention -- only to decide otherwise.
Like Wyles, he has been part of three World Cups. Eight other halfbacks have earned US caps during Petri #39;s tenure, and still more rivals have never gotten on the field. Whatever has been the requisite standard, he has cleared the bar. #0160;
But the moral of the story isn #39;t simple tenacity. Petri is preternaturally cheerful, such that he goes by the nickname #39;Peaches #39;. In other words, he has never exhibited the insecurity or petty rivalry of a fringe selection.
Athletes compete to win. Sportsmen, win or lose, magnify the best of the human spirit. Although they are not mutually exclusive, the latter, judging from the summer #39;s evidence, appear more likely to finish on top.
Kurt Oeler on 13 September 2015 | Permalink
Comments (1)
12 May 2015
7s World Cup bid: rationale and risks in question
Later this week, either the US or Wales is expected to be named host nation of the 2018 7s World Cup.
Aiming to showcase the American game #39;s trajectory while increasing the union #39;s income, Boulder has aspired to such a trophy for a decade. But the tournament #39;s economics are likely to fall short of expectations, judging from the experience of the Olympics and soccer #39;s World Cup. Meanwhile, the very decision to bid points up the insulated nature of USARFU #39;s board, which is almost completely unaccountable to the rugby public.
USARFU trumpeted its December 2014 tender but omited economic detail. As Andrew Zimbalist, the noted Smith College economics professor, makes clear in Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, such an effort would amount to little more than propaganda. Local organizing bodies have a poor record of achieving short- or long-term benefits, as demonstrated by 19 independent academic studies examining these events from 1972-2010.
The San Francisco Giants and San Jose Earthquakes featured in the American presentation, the union highlighted. Will Chang, a director of USARFU, is part owner of the Giants and executive chair of the DC United soccer franchise, a sister club to the Earthquakes. The union #39;s bid thus appears to steer business to a director #39;s colleagues as well as his own interests, while the liability for any loss is likely to fall on the union itself. #0160;
Chang has recused himself from negotiations with the Giants, according to union officials. The venues will be rented as the union does with any international event, according to officials. Terms of the bid have not been made public.
There is no evidence of malfeasance. The issue, however, isn #39;t corporate best practice but principal-agent conflict, a phenomenon whereby management acts according to its own preferences rather than those of the whole of the constituentcy. In the business world, for example, executives compensated in shares of company stock often act to increase share price, at risk of missteps that could jeopardize the firm #39;s longer-term health.
There is no practical, regular occasion for American rugby #39;s dues-paying members to influence the board #39;s agenda, to ask for public accounting of the opportunity costs of hosting the 7s World Cup, or to evaluate the next-best investment opportunity. By design, members do not elect directors and cannot remove them. The five-person committee which nominates board members comprises one director, two recent directors, and two members of the union #39;s congress, itself unelected by membership.
In addition to working with the pro franchises, USARFU also is eager to create inventory for IMG, the sports event management and marketing group with whom Boulder signed a 10-year pact last October.
In the instances of the Games and soccer #39;s World Cup, enthusiasts point to economic studies which purport to show these events improve the brand of the host city and country while helping the locals turn a profit. Zimbalist shows the flawed basis of pre-event analysis, owing in part to failure to account for the economic effects of substitution and displacement. For example, business travelers often postpone trips while the sporting events are underway.
Further, candidates cities jostling with one another are contending for a monopolized products. In this respect, World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board) is like the International Olympic Committee and International Federational of Association Football (FIFA) in seeking to maximize guaranteed income, which is redistributed globally. #0160;
In the past 30 years, only Barcelona 1992, which Zimbalist describes as fitting the Summer Games into the city #39;s long-term, post-Franco trajectory, has emerged without substantial debt and white elephant facilities. So it is that public opposition to the World Cup and Summer Games has sprung up in Rio de Janeiro, while Bostonians are protesting the possibility of bidding for the 2024 Games. Popular opinion in democratic societies is turning against the opportunity costs.
USARFU has never publicly detailed the economic performance of the 2012 Junior World Rugby Trophy championship, staged in Murray, Utah, and rumored to have made a loss. Apparently at the behest of World Rugby, it put money into field and grandstand improvements. The stand was torn down in 2013.
Kurt Oeler on 12 May 2015 | Permalink
Comments (5)
04 May 2015
Brigham Young 30 California 27 (halftime: BYU 17-3)
As BYU-Cal games go, Saturday #39;s #0160;down-to-the-wire, 30-27 match, which earned the Cougars their fourth straight US collegiate crown and fifth overall, was no more than middling and not less than the American game of the year.
Twice the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championship looked to gotten away from the Bears, BYU #39;s second try at 24 minutes establishing a 17-3 lead and a third at the hour mark making the contest 27-12. Despite struggling with possession, however, the visitors willed their way to 4 second-half 5-pointers. The difference may have been the Cal #39;s decision to #0160;ignore an easy penalty goal just before intermission.
So went the 2015 edition. With respect to St. Mary #39;s, the rivalry stands above all else, is measured against itself. In a white-hot series that has settled the national championship nine of the last ten seasons, among the best are Cal #39;s 29-26 win in 2006, BYU #39;s 25-22 breakthough title in 2008, Cal #39;s 21-14 win in 2011, and BYU #39;s 27-24 championship in 2013. #0160;
Little wonder that Kyle Sumsion, the senior flanker who announced himself two years ago in the Provo decider, left the USA #39;A #39; tour to #0160;South America early to play Saturday in Salt Lake City. BYU and Cal are programs which build character and loyalty in players, #0160;alumni, and #0160;fans.
Everyone else benchmarks against the duo. Many rise and fall with a given class of players, whereas the Bears and Cougars have developed and sustained models for producing successive generations of elite rugby athletes. #0160;
It #39;s often said that Cal #39;gets #39; better players, a charge also now leveled at BYU. This has become more of a left-handed compliment to the high school coaches of northern California and Utah. All over the country there are athletes arriving on campus with four, five, six years of experience -- sometimes in programs that are better-run than the university side.
Nor is it meaningful to point to international students. Skill players such as BYU #39;s Jon Linehan or Cal #39;s Russell Webb obviously help, but as the rise and decline of Arkansas State demonstrates, it takes 30-odd players to make a team, and the team has to be completely remade every four to five years. #0160;
Recruiting is no more than a component of the model. #0160;The heart of the matter is how college teams better their troops.
Player development can be seen as self-reliance, and it extends beyond technical systems to administration, event management, and commerce. It #39;s not surprising that business interests such as Penn Mutual coalesce around the engines of college rugby.
Sumison claimed MVP honors, though Linehan #39;s 15 points on 6-of-6 goalkicking, as well as a deft crossfield kick assisting Jared Whippy #39;s 60th-minute try, would have put the flyhalf in contention. #0160;
Brigham Young 30 California 27 (halftime: BYU 17-3)
Brigham Young Univ.Tries: Seki KofeConversions: Jon Linehan (3)Penalties: Jon Linehan (3)
Ryan Blaser (Jared Whippy); #0160;Joshua Anderson (Tua Laei), #0160;Joshua Whippy, Seki Kofe (Calvin Whiting), Jordan Lowry; Jon Linehan, Luke Mocke; Ryker Haddock (Zane Mendenhall, Steve Livingston), Alex Vorster, Kody Thompson, Kyle Lontine, Dan Hubert (Nic Purcell), Kyle Sumsion (captain), Ara Elkington (Win Elkington), Joe Pikula
Univ. of CaliforniaTries: Paul Bosco, Jake Anderson, Michael Bush, Anthony SalaberConversions: Jake Anderson (2)
Jake Anderson (captain); Andrew Battaglia, Harry Adolphus, Anthony Salaber, Miles Honens; Russell Webb, Paul Bosco (Nick Boyer); Scott Walsh, Michael Bush, George Vrame #0160;(Kevin Sullivan), James Kondrat, Sione Sina (Tomas Zerbino), Carl Hendrickson (Edward Tandy), Drew Gaffney (Tandy), Alec Gletzer, Connor Sweet
Referee: Kurt Weaver (Eastern Rockies)Attendance: 9,033
Related: Who is Jason Lee and why is he important?
Kurt Oeler on 04 May 2015 | Permalink
Comments (0)
26 February 2015
Friday's Eagles aiming at mental toughness
To hear Mike Friday describe his learning curve in America, you might think the 7s Eagles were languishing.
#39;Every state is like a European country #39;, he observes. #39;I #39;d learned the geography in school, but I #39;d no idea the cultures would be different #39;.
Culture is a primary topic with the first-year coach, one of four stepping stones in the USA #39;s climb to a heady 7th place in the 7s World Series standings.
The 42-year-old, who played scrumhalf for USARFU chief executive Nigel Melville at London #39;s Wasps and captained #0160;England 7s before going on to coach England and then Kenya, talks of a preseason squad of individuals with little sense #0160;of teamwork. Along with revising the team #39;s strength and conditioning, he first moved to instill his view that winning teams comprise players making selfless decisions.
He is chiefly concerned to know: #39;what does [the #0160;player] do to make the team better? #39; Then he turns the question on himself, asking how coaching helps players solve technical and tactical problems, a refreshing change from the many -- foreign and domestic alike -- who have lamented American players #39; lack of skills, experience, and so on. #39; quot;They #39;re not good players quot; is not an excuse for a good coach #39;, he says.
The next steps are improved decision making at the breakdown, and better passing and tackling technique, both of which he expects to become habits. Taken together, the objective is to reduce the mental energy demanded by anticipatable, controllable facets of the game.
This leads to a fourth stage: mental resilience. Any US team which executes that which it can control should be good enough to challenge the 7s giants every time, Friday says, acknowledging this compentency is #39;embryonic #39;. Getting shut out by South Africa in the Cup consolation final at Las Vegas rankles.
Friday, who doubles as coach of the London Scottish, is realistic about vaulting over England and Argentina to finish fourth on the 7s World Series, which would confer automatic qualification for the 2016 Summer Games. With June #39;s NACRA 7s expected to amount to a winner-take-all showdown with Canada, mental toughness becomes the more important.
Other imported coaches have made a fast start in qualifying years. In 2006, Peter Thorburn #39;s XV ran Ireland #39;A #39; 28-13, a much-touted result, before conceding a record 49-point World Cup loss to Canada. The team never recovered, in 2007 posting a first-ever winless season.
It #39;s clear the abbreviated code now fuels rugby #39;s trajectory in the US. In the past decades, not only the learning curve has grown. #0160;
Vancouver has been awarded a Sevens World Series tournament and will be paired with Las Vegas, which will move to March and widen its field to 64 meters from 58, nearer to the World Rugby standard of 68. The change mitigates the event #39;s cost of transporting teams from Wellington, New Zealand, but may also siphon Canadian fans.
Kurt Oeler on 26 February 2015 | Permalink
Comments (1)
19 February 2015
On American innovation and opportunity
Few would suggest Americans are among the world #39;s technical leaders.
Why not? Our heritage and aptitude extends from investing the spin pass and modern throw-in to the tackling doctrine of the NFL #39;s best defensive team.
One reason is shortage of opportunity. The ballyhooed growth in playing numbers has not been matched by a new generation of representative and international coaches.
Succeed or fail, a domestic coach #39;s plans for and responses to overseas competition make it possible for erstwhile rivals to participate vicariously, on the basis of shared local experience. It #39;s harder to connect with foreign approaches, for lack of established bonds and since communication is stunted by dialect as well as the pressure of events.
With the goal of promoting innovation in America, the objective is not jobs for locals, but establishing a hothouse environment. #0160;Over the past decade, however, representative competition has all but died, and with it coaching slots. Meanwhile, although USARFU has had to detail its rationale for every foreign hire to the INS, the union hasn #39;t troubled to consolidate its views into a public policy. #0160;
Fewer games and no yardsticks on the way to international coaching berths: by consequence, America is deprived of the bracing, win-or-else stimulus that validates inventiveness.
In describing the work of a compatriot filmmaker confronting cultural imperialism, the political economist Amartya Sen observed that #39;[Satyajit Ray] never fashioned his creation to cater to what the West may expect from India, but nor did he refuse to enjoy and learn from what Western and other cultures offered #39;.
Substituting Commonwealth and America for the West and India, one perceives a useful model of equilibrium for coaching opportunities and technical inspiration alike. It remains for Boulder to convert policy to action.
Related: Malifa, Millard more of the same for US coaches
Kurt Oeler on 19 February 2015 | Permalink
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