You are here
Through 2000, Super League teams played in DI as well. Several teams at the time thought that was a bit too much, and maybe it was, but the resulting split between Super League and DI has seen a dramatic drop in the number of tough league games good players play.
Through 2007 USA Rugby operated a National All-Star Championship. I, personally, never loved the competition because it was just two games over one weekend, and many players found it a hardship and didn’t participate. However, it had two things going for it: it helped players from the middle of nowhere (speaking in terms of geography or rugby) to get seen by national team coaches, and it was better than nothing.
The NASC was eliminated because it was going to be replaced with something better, potentially funded by IRB High Performance money. That never happened, and its absence will be felt in the near future. Players on the Eagles today, such as John van der Giessen, Nic Johnson, and Taku Ngwenya, would not have made the Eagles if they were coming up now, because of the lack of a national all-star competition; who are we missing now?
The USA Men National 15s Team, which used to pay for itself and give funds to USA Rugby and help fund and kit out the Women’s Eagles and U19s, now has less money and fewer games than they did less than ten years ago. From 1997-2003 the MNT played in 65 test matches, or 9.3 a year. From 2004-2010 they played 50 matches (tests and non-cap games) or 7.1 a year. Even giving the modern team the benefit of counting non-cap games (in previous years the Eagles often played non-cap matches on tour), we’re losing over 2 games a year.
Think the World Cup affects those numbers? Take the World Cup and World Cup qualifiers out of the equation. For 1997-2003, the USA played 18 World Cup-related matches. So now we’re looking at 47 non RWC test matches. For the previous seven years, the total is 40. One game a year less, even if we count Munster and Clermont-Auvergne in 2007 and 2008, but we don’t count Russia in 2003, Cross Keys in 2000, or New South Wales in 1998.
So two fewer international matches a year, two to four fewer all-star games a year, and a club season now reduced, in most places, to six to eight games.
Why am I harping on this? Because we still, still, have to figure out why we’re here. Most rugby players I know at the higher levels want to play because they love it, and they love a challenge. Once they realize they are good at something they love, and enjoy being part of a team, they want to see how good they are; they want to play against the best. That’s how championships and all-star teams get started. That’s why we have a national team.
Now there are also a lot of rugby players who don’t want that. They enjoy rugby because it’s fun, keeps them in shape, and they get to be part of a team. But while they enjoy winning, they aren’t looking to play at the very highest level. In my own personal playing days, I was one of these people. I didn’t pretend to be an all-star, and didn’t play, or train, like it. I am sure had I worked at it I could have been a better player, but I had other priorities at the time, and I was fine with that.
So if we divide the players into those two groups: Competitive-Elite and Competitive-Recreational, we realize we have to do something for both groups. For the Competitive-Elite, I think we are currently dropping the ball. They don’t play enough tough games – the kind they enjoy – to get better in a short period of time. Coaches are forced to go with tried and true, picking a 35-year-old Australian flyhalf over a 23-year-old untested American because he knows what he’ll get and one loss in a six-game season is a disaster.
I have asked every Super League coach whether they want more league games, fewer, or the same. Only one has said the status quo is preferable. Everyone else wants more games – more games for the development of their players. Even that one dissenter wants a return to select side play.
We need to find a way to restore a schedule to helps good players attain their goals, and makes sure that the teams we put out internationally perform at their best.
We should restructure DI and the Super League to bring more teams in (I think we can create five conference of six teams that make sense) and create a schedule that makes travel less onerous on players.
We should restructure DII so that DI/RSL clubs can compete as well if they wish. It should not be hard to create a policy that divides the 1st and 2nd squads without hurting anyone.
We should stop worrying about not playing during times the Eagles are active. Clubs should figure out a way to handle the absence of key personnel … AND … we should have the regular season run longer, again not worrying about the Eagles. Why? Because in the long run it will help the national team. If the Competitive-Elite season ran from March through Mid-June, we could have a 10-week season, still have playoffs, and work in what the National Team really needs, a mid-season weekend camp for domestic players. Clubs lose players NOW. If we lengthen the season, those absences will be felt less harshly.
We should reinstate some form of NASC in November or December – possibly based around Competitive Regions or Conferences, rather than territories. I personally would like to see more than one weekend with this, but understand if that’s not possible. However, the stated charter of this competition must be that it’s not compulsory for selection. It’s a voluntary championship. The confusion about whether it’s a compulsory selection vehicle or not just hurt the event.
I would like to see such a schedule that gave all Competitive-Elite players time off after the summer, and over most of December-February.
In summary, I’d like to see something change, where players who want to test themselves can do it, see a way to aspire to the highest level, and not go broke. And I’d like to see our best players playing the number of challenging games they did ten years ago.