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Yesterday we talked about what happened in an immediate sense – who wasn’t there, who was there, what the preparation was like.
This time, we talk about more ongoing issues endemic to the game.
Back to preparation time.
Getting a team together to play in the spring is hard on everyone. The players are hopping between club and country. The clubs lose players, or lose games. There is no set regular assembly. Picture a world where all the rugby players in America were in one fictional state – let’s call this state “Colorado” – and played their club rugby there.
Players could relatively easily assemble for the national team once or twice a week in and around their normal club activity. You wouldn’t have to disrupt anything. Colorado, by the way, is twice the size of England, and 361 times the size of Tonga. Japan is bigger than Colorado, but not by much.
We can’t do anything about the geography. The players live and play where the players live and play. But we can do something about the schedule. USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville has hinted that he will push for a somewhat more favorable schedule for 2014. In this, he must be diligent, because playing a little in May, then squeezing in games in June, with a Tier I tour as well, never, ever puts the USA in their best light.
In addition, while it is right and good to move the team around to play in different areas, it also makes sense for the players to have a central training headquarters. Personally I think we should have our first test match on the second weekend of June (unless the first Saturday of June falls on June 6 or 7), and play into the July 4th weekend.
Then we should always, ALWAYS, play Canada on the July 4th/Canada Day weekend.
In the fall, it’s been somewhat easier. Plenty of players don’t play club rugby in the fall – they play enough to stay match fit, but have a lot more time for Eagles-specific training.
Now … will all this change? The new club structure will make no difference for some regions – expect MARFU to stay as it is, and California also. But it will require more fall play for some regions, especially in the West, some teams in the Northeast, and maybe Texas.
I hope the ARC doesn’t disrupt this, and I hope the club season doesn’t disrupt the ARC. But it’s likely something like that will happen.
Regardless, the big, big problem is that the current American domestic schedule is not enough to prepare elite players for the next level.
Good players, hard players, players who work tirelessly, still are shocked at what international rugby is like. The level of intensity, the level of physicality, and the speed (especially in how quickly you have to get up from the ground and back in the fray) of the game is something you have to experience before you can understand it.
That’s why we see players make errors of decision-making (even in tough
games they have more time to assess their options than in a test match),
and we see players out of position. We see players who are used to
barreling through defenses get stopped – stymied – and we see them drop the
ball in contact.
It takes years to learn the level if you are only playing a few internationals each season. If you are playing in a high-level professional situation, you can log five of six years’ worth of experience in one season.
The solution? Well there was supposed to be one. The ARC was supposed to
have four provincial teams playing into a championship. Canada managed it.
The USA didn’t. Fielding a single ARC team is better than nothing. Life
University’s Elite Training Squad, which plays whatever high-level teams it
can find, and NYAC and SFGG looking across borders for games, are doing
what they can. But even then, it’s not enough.
OK, so simply put, in my opinion, the USA lost to Japan because their scrum was under enormous pressure, they knocked the ball on in contact too often, and they made too many turnovers. That’s it. The bad call on the one forward pass isn’t an issue if the USA scrum is solid. Same with almost the entire second half.
The comeback actually happens if the Eagles understand completely the
intensity of the situation, and protect the ball.
That’s it. Three things. All the other factors – tackling, chasing on kicks, quick ball from rucks – flow from those first issues. And those three factors – scrum, turnovers, and drops – are fixed by a higher level of play in domestic rugby in March, April and May.