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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Q&A: Answers To Your Questions

We had a great group of questions once again from our readers. A lot of questions about the Eagles and what to do next. We tried our best to answer so have a read!

Brian Jackson: Another winless RWC has come and gone for the Eagles and given the progress made by Tier 2 countries like Georgia, and Japan it seems to be high time that the entire USA Rugby organization is subject to a full and public Performance Review by a creditable independent organization to include the executive, administrative, financial and coaching areas of the organization. Is this likely to happen?

TIAR: It's doubtful. One important thing to remember is that for U.S.A. Rugby the Eagles are a big part of the organization but not the only part of the organization. They still have the Eagles 7s, the Women Eagles, age-grade programs, Rookie Rugby, college rugby, club rugby, and more under their belts. Will there be a review of the Eagles after the World Cup? Certainly but that happens after every cycle.
Take the jump to read more.
John Wallace: What steps are or can be taken to "standardize" evaluations of players aspiring to play at the Eagles level of competition so they know how they match up, how far they need to go [thus providing a realistic assessment of whether or not they have what it takes, at least on paper, to play at this level], and at the same time get away from a system overly dependent upon one coach touting his “favorite” over another team’s superior player who’s coach is not as aggressive in this regard or simply doesn’t know the “right” people to call and lobby? Related: How can the national selection process be made more "transparent" and access to it better publicized?

TIAR: To be fair to Tolkin and his staff they've made it very clear what you need to do to be on the Eagles. All along they've said that if you want to play for the Eagles you need to be playing at a high-level club environment. For some that is overseas either in a professional competition or a competition like the All-Ireland League. All you have to do is look at the number of aspiring Eagles that head to Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand looking to get that experience to see players taking that message to heart.

Domestically Tolkin and his staff has said all along that if you want to be seen you need to move to a club like Seattle or an ARP or PRP team. The simple fact is that there is only so much time for the coaching staff to get a look at a player. The ARP and PRP both record their matches that Tolkin watches. He sees as much of a player as possible. There may be a player around the country, even playing for a DI side, but unless they can be seen regularly it's hard for them to get noticed. Plus, things change when you take a step up in play. We asked Tolkin how much film he watches per week and he said it takes most of his time. Also, the Eagles have done a better job this cycle at holding domestic camps. They've probably had close to 75-100 players have a look in camp. 

Not to make this answer go on too long (it probably already has) but you do have a valid point about players needing to be seen. When we asked coach Tolkin says he'll watch any film that's sent to him so that's a start for a player wanting to be noticed. Also, players should make sure the highlight film is good, not just video of them playing random plays. 

warriorsrugby: When will an announcement on Tolkin's status be made? 

Payton Sanders: I know it's early. But any whispers about a coaching change for the Eagles?

TIAR: His contract doesn't expire until the end of the year and with no matches coming up until the Americas Six Nations next Spring I wouldn't count on anything happening in the next month or so. As we've seen with the last two coaching changes for the U.S. 7s teams they likely won't announce a change until they have someone else lined up and that wouldn't happen until the dust settles from the World Cup.

All that said, it's not a guarantee that Tolkin is gone. The reality is that despite losing all four of their matches at the World Cup (as the rankings foretold) the Eagles have improved dramatically over the last four years and a lot of that is due to Tolkin and his coaches. They had their first non-losing season in years under his tenure, won a European test match season, played well against some (but obviously not all) Tier I teams, and had a competitive World Cup. He also has the team beating Canada regularly. It's the same problem the U.S. endured in 7s for a couple of years. They improved dramatically but so did the rest of the competition. The U.S. have been better under Tolkin but Japan, Georgia, and the Pacific Islands nations have all improved. 

Scrum Jumbie: Assuming USA Rugby opts not to retain Tolkin, what kind of budget can we expect for a new coach? Any names starting to pop up?

TIAR: Don't expect the budget to be too large but one that is larger that what it was four years ago. Probably enough to get a solid foreign coach but not a star foreign coach. No names yet. 

G Ha: USA Rugby is a mess. Infighting with Varsity Cup, no television contract. USA Rugby has no constituency to answer to. The question is: How can the current organization structure of USA Rugby be demolished and a new one created that has a board to answer to?

TIAR: I assume you are not a lawyer or that question would be stuck down as leading (maybe you are...)! If you are really unhappy with U.S.A. Rugby you can always not CIPP. That said, it should be pointed out that there are good people working for U.S.A. Rugby, good people stuck in a bureaucratic mess. If you want to change an organization it almost certainly starts with the top. 

WM: Can we expect any new professional contracts overseas for any Eagles? Sounds like we have a lot of fringe players at semi professional clubs in Ireland. Do you see any of them moving upward in Ireland or elsewhere?

TIAR: Well, we already saw that AJ MacGinty was snapped up by Connacht. The other big name that should get a look is Seamus Kelly. He's already had a sniff with Gloucester and it wouldn't surprise us to see him get another offer. However, we haven't heard anything definitive. Al McFarland, John Quill, and Niku Kruger are other players that could land overseas at some point. 

One option that should be mentioned when it comes to contracts is the 7s team. At this point it would be very odd to see a player like Danny Barrett, Andrew Durutalo, or Zack Test walk away from the 7s team for a European contract. They've worked too hard to make it to Rio and they wouldn't want to jeopardize their chance. If anything, it's more likely that a player like Kelly (we don't want to start rumors, just giving an example) would join the team. 

Evan: Can you give an honest, inside account to how the players are feeling? We have heard and can predict the company line from USA rugby, but I really want to know how the players are feeling. Are they frustrated, are they angry, do they see progress? Do they want a change? I feel that usa rugby does a good job of keeping any news from filtering out and any real opinions pushed down. It would be good to have an inside account.

TIAR: From what we've heard that players are frustrated but not so much with U.S.A. Rugby as they are with the fact that they were in positions to win matches and couldn't deliver. They know they are playing well and they wanted more out of the World Cup. To let matches like the Scotland match slip away have to hurt. One of the frustrations is that they love rugby so much and that they want to have it as their full time job. They want to be professionals and they want more matches and time together like Tier I nations. Over and over players talk about how the more time they have together the better they play. This year, with the number of warm-up matches, certainly helped in that department. 

Payton Sanders: I'm sure you may be saving for an article or giving as much info as you can, but id love to hear as much as possible about this domestic pro league.

TIAR: All in due time. From what we hear and from what others have reported (Americas Rugby News does a great job) the competition will start either in Spring 2016 or Spring 2017 and will feature six teams around the country (including a possible team in Canada). All players will be paid but not every player will be able to make a living playing in the competition. That's all we can reveal for now!

Eli: Looking for some info on the Women's 7s program -- Who are the players currently on contract at the OTC? Will there be pre-tournament camps similar to the men's 7s team? and if so, which players are being brought in to join the residents for camp? Will the team be competing in any tournaments in addition to the Women's 7s world series? If so, which ones?  Are there any additional coaching changes besides McCoy in for Suggitt, or will the coaching and management teams remain the same?  Any early predictions on how the team will fare on the series circuit? In Rio?

TIAR: Great questions and a lot to cover. As we saw from the camp announcement not only is coach McCoy looking at a lot of players but there are a lot of players down at the OTC. There should be a few pre-tournament camps similar to the one they have now. Look for players to continue to parachute in to those camps. Also, expect a warm-up tournament or two. 

As for how the team will fare, we think they'll do well. They have a chance of breaking into the top four given how they played at the end of the year but that is a tough group to break into. If they can find more players like Alev Kelter they will be in business. We think that Kelter will be one of the best players on the Series next year. In Rio we think they medal! 


  1. It's insulting to the intelligence of the rugby community to say that the Eagles have improved over the last four years. They lost EVERY match at this world cup. They were an error strewn mess against Samoa and Japan, they were completely dominated by both Scotland and South Africa in the 2nd half of those matches combined 83 points to 3 I believe). This team has had more time to prepare than any other team leading up to the WC as we were often reminded over the summer. Tolkin has built NO depth within the team as witnessed by the inability of the 2nd XV to perform against Tonga, Harlequins or South Africa. For no real reason he dropped one of the best players the US has produced then didn't bother to call him back into the squad when another valuable member of the side went down with injury. Was Clever's crime so great that he couldn't even be brought back after Lavalla went out? The fact is that USA rugby's self serving statements and Tolkin's laughable statements about this being the best Eagle team are ridiculous. Admitting failure is not exactly beneficial to Sir Nigel or Tolkins is it? The Eagles have performed better against against top class teams in this competition every other year they have been in the tournament. The excuse making needs to come to an end. Mike Friday grabbed the 7's program by the scruff of the neck, provided excellent coaching and leadership, made the players accountable and has gained results. Can the same be said of Tolkin? The same leadership team that has perpetually underfunded rugby in the US, cannot manage to get more than a handful of games on a backwater cable TV station for this tournament now wants us to buy into a professional league that - as stated above - will not even pay the players a living wage. Lovely.

    1. You seem really quite angry. I'm quite pleased with how we've done recently, actually. Of course the World Cup wasn't great, but:

      In the last 24 months, the US has not lost to a team below them in the world rankings. 4 times we've beaten teams above us (Georgia, Romania, Canada and Japan).

      We've beaten Canada 3 times in a row, something that has never happened in the history of USA Rugby.

      We found a flyhalf! Haven't had a consistent one since Hercus, and now MacGinty has signed a professional contract. That is a huge deal going forward, having a professional at the most important position on the field.

      We've actually been competitive with Tier 1 nations for the first time. Yes, we ended up getting outplayed in the second half against Australia, Scotland and South Africa, but in the past those games have been blowouts from the start. Of course there are fitness differences between us and Tier 1 nations, which will hopefully get better with time.

      And now there is talk of a professional league starting, and you are disappointed in the rumored salaries? Take a look at some of the strides the team has made instead of this cynical, pessimistic view. Not everything is perfect, of course, but the team has made genuine strides recently.

    2. Yes it is insulting to say the Eagles have improved. All the talk about leading Scotland at halftime, hanging in against South Africa in the first half go beyond looking at the glass half full. The halftime scores were as much a result of the opponents making unforced errors, knock ons, etc. as it was the Eagles playing well. The Scots had several easy line breaks that were foiled by their own poor execution, not great Eagle play. The second half of the South Africa game was an embarassment. While it may have been a second string lineup playing, there is no excuse for lack of effort. In the second half the Eagles quit, so many times no line speed on defense, just standing still, waiting for the Springboks to run through half hearted tackle attempts. There is still a divide with the Varsity Cup and USA rugby national championships, two different 7's competition (with the one getting tv exposure filled with a bunch of patsy teams from the East Coast), no television contract (not one station would televise the fastest growing sport in the country over a Spongebob or other cartoon re-run?) This starts at the top with USA Rugby and Nigel Melville. Whatever the divide is between USA Rugby and Jack Clark's ego figure it out. And then to say a priority is to start a professional league in the states, you've got to be joking. A more realistic scenario is to get funding from the IRB, some private investors from the US and Canada and have a combined "pro team", represented by Eagle pool and Canadian national team members into the Aviva Premiership or Guiness Pro12. Put the effort and money into getting our players into the pro leagues in Europe. That's the only way we'll be able to compete, our players in a professional environment. That means not only game competition but nutrition, weight training year round.