Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eagles 7s Need To Pick Best Players, Not Positions

Unless you've been under a rock the last two weeks you know that the Eagles 7s team struggled in both Dubai and Port Elizabeth. Throughout the two tournaments they only won one match while dropping nine. They were also outscored 320 to 105. There were a lot of things that went wrong for the team--defense, poor passing, poor tackling, lack of conversions, etc.--but trying to fix what ails the team is tricky.

The more apparent reason for their struggles is a lack of depth and experience. Going into Dubai the team averaged 10.83 tournaments per player. However, if you take out Zack Test and his 37 tournaments that drops to 8.45. Now, compare that to London last spring. Heading into that tournament the team averaged 17.4 tournaments per player. Only five players had less than 10 tournaments in London. Three had over thirty tournaments. There is no question that the team misses the experience of players like now head coach Matt Hawkins, Colin Hawley, and Blaine Scully.

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But it is not just experience alone that is contributing to the teams struggles. Since taking over as head coach Hawkins has tried to do two main things. First, he's tried to rely more on players that are playing and training at the Olympic Training Center. Second, he's implemented an offensive system that relies on only one halfback. You can understand why Hawkins would make both of those decisions. Getting players on the same page and training in a full-time environment will make them better rugby players. Also, you want to reward the guys that are putting in the hard work under your system. The change to the offensive system makes a lot of sense as well. One play-maker with three options on either side of him could open up a lot of the field. However, both will take time to implement and as we've mentioned earlier there may not be enough time to get everything right before World Cup qualifying.

Yet another difference between last year's teams and this year's teams has been in the type of players selected. Last year in London the team was forward heavy with Andrew Durutalo, Test, Hawkins, Pila Taufa, Scully, Hawley, and Brett Thompson all capable of playing the position. However, a lot of those players were used as in-between players that could be used in the forwards but also out on the wing. The underlying principle behind each of their selections was that they all had rugby brains. They may have all been capable of playing the same position but because they were smart enough and had enough experience they could make the shift. The position played in 7s is not nearly as important as in 15s.

If you look at the squad taken to Dubai and Port Elizabeth you also see a lot of players that are capable of playing forward although it had balance. The difference between the London team and last week's was that most of the forwards with the experience have left. Instead, the U.S. is now experience heavy in the backs, especially at halfback. Under Hawkins's new system the team is only playing with one halfback. That has meant that players like Shalom Suniula, who has over 30 tournaments under his belt, Nate Augspurger, and Mike Teo have all been left at home. By taking players based on position rather than ability the U.S. has robbed itself of some good rugby players. We're not saying that the new players brought into the team don't have rugby brains, but in terms of experience they don't nearly have the savvy as a player like Suniula.

Suniula has had his ups and downs over the last year and has not been in his best form. However, it's hard to argue that he wouldn't be an improvement over some of the players taken to Dubai and Port Elizabeth. Augspurger had a fantastic summer with the New York City 7s team at the Club World Cup but hasn't even had a sniff with the Eagles since then. The same can be said of Mike Teo. All three players would have been valuable assets to the team.

To be sure, Hawkins is still learning as a coach and deserves the benefit of the doubt. Plus, it's easy for us to Monday morning quarterback when we aren't the ones training with the team everyday. Hopefully the last two weeks serve some sort of lesson. We think that lesson is that the best players, regardless of position (obviously you can't take a team of all forwards) should be selected. Suniula is a veteran hand on the Series, you don't think he can't play somewhere else on the pitch? The same goes for Augspurger and Teo. You can understand wanting to get more players experience but time is running out and the Eagles need wins now. Maybe Hawkins feels he has selected the best players, but from an outside perspective it doesn't look that way. Fielding a team with the most capable rugby players is the best short-term option for steadying the ship.


  1. The combination of player turnover and a coach learning on the job with little prior coaching experience is proving to be a disaster. USAR needs to get someone in there with more experience to advise/help Hawkins ASAP.

  2. Hawkins was a poor decision considering Olympic qualification is on the line and this is not just another national team coaching appointment. USA Rugby can afford to be the village idiots of world rugby in the 15 a side game and hire a HS teacher, but the USOC's influence and NBC's Olympic broadcast deal make the USA a major player in shaping the Olympic games for the entire world. If you don't thinks so, consider that NBC had the power to reschedule swimming in the 2008 games into 2 segments in the evening and the early morning to fit their broadcast desires. USA Rugby's failure to qualify for Rio will have a backlash. Be it NBC no longer televising the poor quality college invitational and/or the IRB circuit stop in Vegas to NBC petitioning the IOC and the Olympic Committees of voting countries to return baseball / softball to the games because they can recoup their huge broadcast rights payments by marketing those games to the audience in the USA. Money talks and Hawkins should walk. Not qualifying for the Olympics would be the biggest failure in the history of USA Rugby who have a long history of mediocrity and blunders as a national governing body of rugby.

  3. USA Rugby current leadership doesn't have the respect of its members nor their confidence. The time for a USA Rugby's leadership to be removed has long past and at that this point, I wonder if that is even possible.

    USAR has insulated itself from the American rugby community in a way where we really have no say.

    1. I absolutely agree with this statement.
      Most of the moves I've seen made by USAR and the local unions over the past 2 years have been absolutely crippling to, at least our, local rugby scene. I'm left wondering how exactly this group benefits us. The only true progress I've seen is through the play of the 15's side. This has come at a cost of bleeding out a SIGNIFICANT amount of lower level players through the structure blunders of schedules. This is especially true in the NorthEast. Did you know the NRU essentially doubled player dues in ONE single season?? There's been no more catastrophic player bleed in my history playing rugby than that which resulted from this astronomically boneheaded move.
      Ok, maybe we could justify that with some bullshitting but here's where that becomes impossible... the NRU and USAR are so damn poor with communication that we couldn't even CIPP our damn players until a week before our first scheduled match. What difference does that make? Well, although our players are flexible, the local park and rec dept is NOT. We very nearly lost our permits because we we couldn't provide our insurance info. We couldn't provide that because we weren't in compliance. We weren't in compliance because we didn't have 15 CIPP'd players; capiche? When I called USAR about the issue they suggested that we CIPP anyways because we shouldn't be held responsible for our union's shortcomings; essentially wedging us between the union and USAR. How does that benefit the club, the team, the players, or the sport. Short answer: IT DOESN'T.
      To add to that, I'm not familiar with a union that schedules referees, but we pay both the union and the referees in order to be able to schedule one. Why would the union be involved in the affairs of the referees and vice versa if there's no concrete connection between the two? ie: if we don't pay union dues referees will not honor our scheduled matches and the other way around.
      Another great tidbit from the NorthEast is that NERRS (the ref society) charged an additional $25 per match this season. I'm the president of my club (top of the damn food chain) and neither myself, my VP, director, NERRS rep, or match secretary were informed of an increase prior to the start of the season even though our names, positions, and contact info is CLEARLY listed on our website.
      On top of all of that, we have been fighting an uphill god damn battle to get our info through the union updated since 2010. 3 god damn years ago we made a good faith attempt to do as simple a task as update our god damn contact info and the bozos couldn't even get that right. We make an attempt twice annually to do so. It's been the running joke of the club. 6 attempts, 0 results. ha frigging ha
      USAR and the NRU are sinking ships right now; that's a fact.

  4. Tolkin may have been a high school teacher, but he also coached that high school to 3 national championships. He even won a national championship as a player. But thats high school. So lets talk about the highest level of competition in the US. As a coach, Tolkin lead NYAC to 3 Super League titles from 2005-2010 and coached several Eagles. But thats just domestic. So lets talk about international competition. Tolkin was the defensive coach during the last Rugby World Cup. Even though they lost to Ireland, many analyst, commentators, experts, etc. said the US had one if its best defensive games against Ireland and that the team's defense throughout the tournament was something to be taken note of by other countries. So ... what's your point again about a high school teacher coaching the US national side?

  5. Three tournaments and it seems the knives are out for Matt Hawkins already! He is a sound player and after seeing the results of his coaching at club and college level I think he had the necessary qualities to make the leap from player to coach. Matt knows the game at the world level and needs the USA rugby community behind him to gets the best out of the players available to him. Given that the USA players available to Hawkins do not grow up in the same rugby environment which exits in New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji or any of the other more developed rugby nations you could put Gordon Tietjens, Ben Ryan, or any of the other gurus in charge and the results would be the same. Hawkins is a coach not a magician and needs time to develop his long term game plan.

    1. Disagree. Ryan, Tietjens or any other coach with experience would do better. Caraveli & Magelby made big strides. Hawkins is declining. He should not be slipping. At this stage we are getting worse.

    2. What did Hawkins do at the college level? Nothing that seems significant to me. Did he even coach SDSU for more than a year?