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USA fans didn't see an awful lot of Kevin Swiryn running with the ball this past USA tour of Europe. Defenses and whistle-happy referees made running rugby a chore.
Still Swiryn had a hand on some positive work for the Eagles, and came out of the tour feeling the same way a lot of players are feeling: encouraged.
"Playing with the Eagles is always a pleasure and honor," Swiryn told RUGBYMag.com. "It ended up being a great tour but with a bit of a bad aftertaste - that loss is still lingering. But I truly believe [Coach] Eddie [O'Sulilvan] has a plan for this team, and the systems we've been developing over time are putting us in a position to succeed. Those systems aren't fully functional yet, but really started looking good at the end of November. The biggest thing is for everyone to buy into it; if we all play our role, some games there will be lots of ball for the outside backs, and in some there may not be any. But what the systems allow us to do is adapt as athletes on the field, and that gives us a better chance of winning, which we are all in favor of: coaches, players, fans, and media alike."
Running with the ball in space is what all the outside backs want, and as O'Sullivan said on the recent RuggaMatrix Podcast here, the key to that is precision. Players need to be precise in their passing, as well as their ball presentation to give the backs room to run. Sometimes the Eagles accomplished that, and sometimes they didn't.
It is often a function of how much a team is together. At Agen, where Swiryn started at wing last weekend and scored a try, the players have spent much more time together and as a result know how to put their teammates into a position to score.
"I finished a nice break that was started off by our center off of phase play in about the 75th minute," Swiryn said of the try. "He made a nice inside step and broke through nearly untouched. He was off to the races with our other center outside, and me outside him. With the fullback in front of him and a defender chasing the other center, he made a long skip pass to me; in which I ran about 10 meters before the wing tried to knock me in to touch, but I finished in the corner.
"It was definitely good getting back on the field for Agen, but not only that, it was good because I played well. It seems I'm in a good old fashioned battle for playing time right now, a challenge I wholeheartedly desire. And the great thing is this is the first time in a long time, maybe since high school football, I come in as an unknown commodity and the underdog. It makes it that much more of a challenge, and I wouldn't be here in the first place if I didn't know I was going to win it."
Confidence is building then for Swiryn, who was captain of St. Mary's, the All Americans and the USA 7s team before joining Agen. He is building confidence off the field, too.
"My French is coming along quite well," he said. "It's a slow process, as the French language is pretty difficult, but I'm at least able to understand some of what the coaches are saying."
Swiryn is playing in the heart of the one of the most historically interesting parts of France, where the Cathars, a Christian sect, grew in popularity in the 11th and 12th centuries before being virtually wiped out in a crusade in the early part of the 13th Century. The town of Agen was at the center of that, and, coincidentally, Swiryn's uncle Robert has written a book about the Cathars titled The Secret of the Tarot.
"I'm into the history," said Swiryn. "It's nice to travel around to some of the small villages and see these amazing chateaus and picturesque scenery all over France."