The world is waiting for USA Rugby to catch up. The commonly used phrase “sleeping giant of world Rugby” is making the likes of England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa casually look over their shoulder albeit more to see if they can pilfer some of the raw talent rather than really worry about actually being beaten by a USA Rugby. Maybe more nervous are the out of form France and Scotland or tiny nations like Fiji and Samoa. On a good day the current US 15’s side could cause these countries some trouble. The reality USA Rugby is still considered in the same league as Japan, Canada and the likes. The underlying feeling if you speak to an honest Rugby aficionado from leading Rugby nations tends to be “I hope they don’t figure out how to play this game” and “The athletes and infrastructure is there. We’re in trouble if the American athletes start playing seriously and USAR actually get their act together.”
Many people feel the lack of continuity and team work on the national team comes down to the sheer size of the Country. It’s just too big. Club team’s travel and play in a national league or players travel individually to play on a regional or national select team. Furthermore, as everything is still amateur, teams are funded by player’s dues and the occasional local sponsorship by a restaurant or bar. If a player makes some progress and gets picked for a state team or a 1st division team the money would be coming out of his or her own pocket for the away games through out a season. This alone hugely reduces the numbers of talented lads and lasses being exposed to higher levels of the game and in many cases simply turns them off completely. Many very good players stop playing the game for no other reason than the uphill battle is just too steep and their pockets aren’t deep enough.
Obviously, this would be resolved if the numbers of teams increased. Big cities like the densely populated New York only have five teams. The very expansive Miami only has two. In contrast, if you go to England you’ll find 100’s of clubs, professional and amateur, in tiny London alone. The standard increases dramatically when you have a multitude of clubs with in a couple of metro stops or 10 minute drive. It means less expense, less reasons to cancel a game, more competitive games, more festivals and of course more reason to come together and celebrate this most beautiful and brutal of sports, its social aspect and all the fun that comes with it. Regionalizing the sport as the Irish do so well would surely solve a few of these issues? Clubs with in a county play with-in the region and the cream of the crop are asked to trial at the likes of Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster. If successful they’re offered contracts to play in the Pro 12 and top European competitions. It’s always difficult for those small clubs to say goodbye to talent that they have developed, but I’m sure they never begrudge talented lads a chance to take their game to the next level. The opposite in fact, I’m sure they are proud they can brag about producing another representative of region and in many cases country.
To further compound that point, here in the USA Rugby community many clubs complain that it’s difficult to gather a consistent group of players year after year. Most clubs have a core of 10-15 guys for many years and they usually persuade a fresh set of 10 newbies each year. These newbies turn up to “Try out that CRAZY sport”. There’s nothing worse for a coach trying to teach a twenty-something a complex game such as Rugby Union from scratch in a short preseason. The reality is you probably need thirty players to cover for those days that people are working, can’t travel, are in bed with a hangover or simply tried but can’t get their head around it and just disappear mid-season. 7’s Rugby is a good way to start a club as you don’t have to have as many players. It’s a little simpler and players don’t have to commit for long periods of time. Many clubs only get together for 1 or 2 specific weekend competitions a year for fun, charity or something of that sort. However, the simple answer to most of my ramblings in this article can be solved by youth development. Youth Development. YOUTH DEVELOPMENT!!!! Can anyone here me?
The USA Rugby organization has been trying to build Rugby from the top down with Men’s clubs. College teams have always been around and now they are beginning to focus on High-school but when you get to a national level and you pit a 25 year old “professional” from America who started playing in College at 18 against an Australian of the same age we can almost guarantee the Australian will have 10 years more experience. You can have the best 15 athletes in the world on your team but if they don’t react in a “second nature” manner to something in the heat of ruck or a split second decision to pass or go to ground because of years of practicing at the highest possible level you will not win too many world cups and test matches. To this day most men’s clubs don’t have a youth system. You can expect to wait 10 years minimum from the day you start a youth club to reap the rewards at the adult level. If a 10 year old starts playing in a fun environment, plays 4 years at a youth level, then starts to get a little serious at JV/U17 then Varsity/U19, after that half will go to college and maybe come back in their mid-twenties. So, if a club wants to replace those 10 “newbies” you have to collect every year to add to your 10-15 core players you’re going to need to start TODAY with an Under 10 team. If you don’t start today don’t expect the USA to be winning anything anytime soon. I’d love to be eating my words at this year’s world cup or even in 2019 but I don’t think I’ll be too worried then either. Get to work Old Boys. They say you never take off your boots once you start playing Rugby. Well this is your chance to compound that old adage. Go make yourself a youth team and build from the bottom up.