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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Opinion: ARP, PRP Could Be Key For All-Star Teams

One of the biggest obstacles facing players and national team selectors in the U.S. is that we are a large country geographically. It would take a lot of man hours and resources that we don't have to cover everybody and find all the gems hidden in various clubs. There are some things being done to mitigate that, including National Tracking Camps, which have already produced results (i.e. Matai Leuta), ODAs like in Glendale, Seattle, and Tiger Rugby, and elite competitions like the PRP and ARP. In comparison to where we were four years ago each of those things listed have helped create a deeper playing pool.

All that said, there are still players falling through the gaps. Identifying players in one thing but it's nurturing those players that is even more important. It's very rare that you are going to find a player at a National Tracking Camp that is immediately ready to play for a national team. Alex Magleby will talk your ear off stressing that players identified need to go to places where they can learn proper nutrition, gain rugby skills, and be tracked by national team staff more easily. Development can't happen in a vacuum.

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At the same time, it's more than just tracking players and getting them in good places, they need game time as well. That's were the ARP and PRP have been successful. Those competitions, along with Seattle in the BC competitions, have consistently delivered a larger amount of high-level matches than has been seen in the recent past. It's no surprise that many of the domestic players that play for the Eagles have played in one of those competitions.

In terms of PRO Rugby, Director of Rugby Operations Steve Lewis said the organization identified a couple of players that weren't on their radar last weekend at their combine. Those players could be offered contracts and time on a professional team. At the same time, if those players had more high-level matches under their belts before being identified they would enter PRO Rugby at a higher level. They also might not have needed to combine to get on the radar. PRO Rugby is going to take a lot of their players from the ARP and PRP so if a player isn't on one of those teams they may not be on the radar.

When a player is identified at a National Tracking Camp they are encouraged to go to a place where they can get more training. However, not every player is able to move or will they be ready to move to an elevated environment right away. So how can these players be helped? In our opinion, one thing that would help players in under-served regions (in terms of elite club play) is to extend all-star play to have those teams compete in the ARP or PRP.

Over the last few years there has been a rise in representative play. Spurred by the success of the South Panthers in NACRA, several other regions have been expanding their efforts. NorCal and SoCal played to a great series of matches a few weekends ago. Texas has been very active at the LVI in recent years. The Capital Selects recently played the South Panthers and the Empire Selects. These teams should be utilized more to get players that may need higher level playing time exactly what they need.

It's not that there aren't great clubs not in the ARP or PRP. If we're honest, teams like Kansas City, Metropolis, the Chicago Lions, the Austin Blacks, and Dallas Reds could step in and compete against any team in the ARP or PRP. The Blacks took NYAC to the wire in last year's DI final and they have a consistent record of beating PRP teams. However, what competitions lack outside of the PRP or ARP is the depth in competition among other teams in their divisions. There are blowout scores in both the ARP and PRP but not to the same degree as in other divisions when top teams face weaker sides. What top teams not in the ARP or PRP need more high-level playing time.

The Rugby Gold Cup is addressing this for Midwest and Red River teams but for other areas like Utah, Arizona, the South, and the Mid-Atlantic there is a gap. If those teams were to use their all-star teams to play in the ARP and PRP it would be a huge advantage. Imagine a PRP that includes the seven sides that currently make up the competition along with all-star teams from Arizona, Utah, and a potential U-20 or U-23 residency team. Suddenly that becomes a very, very strong competition. The ARP would be enhanced with a Capital Selects side and a South Panthers team.

It's not as simple as plugging these teams in and playing. Once again it comes down to cost. All-Star play is not cheap. Often it's players that are shouldering the bulk of their own expenses. It costs the South Panthers players to go to the Caribbean (which is actually cheaper that traveling to other parts of the United States at times). Without the support of a club there isn't an organization that can step in and pay the bills other than U.S.A. Rugby and they are stretched thin with funds in the first place. One option is to have clubs in the region support the all-star team, like is done in New Zealand, but it would be hard to ask clubs to take away their best players without much in return.

In the end it comes down to the same reason why there aren't more players in Eagles 7s residency, why we don't have a national U-20 academy, and why clubs don't have the own clubhouses, etc.: money. We think that clubs and administrators out there should feel proud of the way they have managed their resources so far. We have a great club scene in this country thanks to the hard work of many. So it's up to the rest of us to come up with a way to pay for everything we want. If we can find the resources and we can put teams like the Arizona, Capital, or South All-Stars then we're going to increase the level of rugby in this country, make PRO Rugby better, produce a better national team, and drive the overall growth of rugby.


  1. I think you have to look at the player pool as a pyramid with the Eagles at the apex. The next level would be Pro Rugby; which in my mind should be supported directly by the ARP / PRP. From there you would have D 1 clubs and top college programs. In some cases players could go directly from college to Pro Rugby though I would think that the top colleges would want a year or possible two at ARP / PRP. You could have All Star competitions at all levels in order to get players additional quality play time and put the best player in front of selectors in order to facilitate player movement through the various levels of competition. I think that the mechanism is in place if PRO Rugby is able to deliver - getting the right players in the right place is the challenge.

  2. Adding the South and Capitol All Stars might be good in the long run, but they will get creamed in the short term. The South gets waxed by about 10 converted tries when they play life. Factor into the fact that the South beat Capitol and you have a recipe for adding two very low quality teams to the ARP. Yes, all star play is important, but it needs to be done right and should present a higher level. Really, as a rugby player living in North Carolina and familiar with the South Rugby Union, it has potential but we need more clubs and we need a D1 club structure. When the highest level of play for such a region is D2, that isn't good enough. We can say that the NACRA tourney is higher than D2 club Rugby in the US, but I'm not convinced of that when other D2 clubs have beaten NACRA teams.

  3. "Unknown" calling the Capital low quality is a bit harsh after just 1 loss. This is only the second match in about 10 years for them so they are just getting started identifying players and getting systems in place. They had 1 training prior to this match and they did not have all their players available (which is not an excuse but it is what it is). I think after a bit of time together this side will find the talent required and get organized to compete with all of the big teams in the country. I'm not saying they should or should not join the ARP just that they will be a better side then they showed in the last match. They are playing the Stars club on Jan 31st in DC so that should be a better representation of what the Union can put together.

  4. Interesting idea. You hit on the crux of why this isn't happening. Money. The South has the talent, but with football being so very important in the region, (much more so than other regions of the country) we have much less support than other regions. Hence the lower number of clubs and no D1 or Premiership level clubs outside of Life and NOLA. A really really simple way to boost growth in the South is to put a couple PRO teams in the South. They can then do the lion's share of talent scouting for players in the clubs and colleges in the area. Splitting the cost, time, and responsibilities between the different regions in PRO lightens the work load, and gets more coverage of the map besides just the same old clubs and colleges getting the only looks.