By Richard Anderson
When USA Rugby sit down and go about the laborious process of whittling down the national team Head Coach applications down to one, they would do well to take a look at a bigger picture and go into that meeting with an open mind.
Few will deny that Eddie O'Sullivan's brief tenure, ultimately, was a success. Coaches are judged on Rugby World Cups and four-year cycles these days and while O'Sullivan's results leading up to the Rugby World Cup weren't the best, at the tournament the Eagles contributed some of their most intense and accurate rugby. And, of course, they beat Russia.
O'Sullivan, and Scott Johnson before him, both went extensively on record about the immense sacrifices many of the domestic-based players had to make to ply their trade. You hear talk of players spending up to $500 on a weekend for an away game in the Super League, a game for which they leave work early on Friday and get back just in time to sleep on Sunday night before they go to work next day. You hear stories of unpaid leave to be able to attend team camps, small fortunes spent on hotels, life savings blown on learning stints playing abroad. Sadly, you hear of players who also just can't afford to chase their dreams and get lost to the game. Good players.
--- Get in the Gear of the U.S.A Eagles at the World Rugby Shop. The WRS has the best selection of official U.S. rugby jerseys and other official rugby gear of the team. ---
Both O'Sullivan and Johnson were successful in managing to get their elite players mostly overseas into more friendly playing conditions. Of the last Rugby World Cup squad of 30, 16 were based abroad. More are likely to follow in time.
That's not an ideal situation by any means, and nor is the fact that there are quite a few distinctly un-American accents in the national team. There are, in spite of the success, many mutterings among the sidelines of the need to develop local players over importing them. But into what structure here is a national team player expected to develop? The six matches (ok, eight this year) that is the Super League calendar?
Could this situation be resolved? Not overnight. But neither O'Sullivan or Johnson looked likely to hang around for any longer than a couple of years at most, so looking at the domestic playing structure was the least of their concerns.
When it comes to looking at the national coach, USA will need to address three key criteria: longevity of the coach's appointment, locality of the coach's appointment and a thorough re-examination of the local playing structure.
While the third is undoubtedly overdue in the wake of the ongoing shrinkage of the number of Super League teams, the first two will ultimately decide whether the second be effective or even take place.
Fact is, after a healthy injection of overseas expertise and methodology the past few years, America now needs an American coach, who has played/coached professionally, who has played in America, who knows the American network, who will identify with and represent American rugby through to his core. You need a coach whose tentacles of contact spread through the club game from top to bottom, who will hang around for at least four years - USA Rugby would not be mistaken in aiming for eight - and bring through a whole generation of new players as well as the necessary domestic structure changes.
It is important for those with the power to appoint to recognize that - especially in a country where the coach as a concept is so revered - the next Eagles coach will have a remit farther-reaching than your common or garden professional national coach. He has a more ambassadorial role to the fans and to the localities, a duty to appear all over the nation and look for players instead of just sourcing them from a few channels, a duty to be known to all the clubs and to be able to impart a national team philosophy and identity that the clubs will want to aspire to. He needs to appreciate the place sevens has in the game and to be able to promote fifteens without that being at the expense of sevens. He needs to be able to control his own domestic game so that he can best create the feeder channels he feels to be the most effective.
It's a significantly more Director of Rugby-type of role than might have been previously envisaged, and doubtless there might need to be a bigger staff to cover those long road trips. But USA Rugby has to recognize that the national team faces geographical and financial challenges like no other country in the world. If our rugby organization can find the man to fit this role, if the powers that be can find it within themselves to help create the vision rather than dictate, USA will at least have a long-term vision. Right now, however effective, it's been short-term fixes. They look good, but the old problems still lurk underneath.
HAVE YOUR SAY…
Who should USA Rugby be looking at to hire as the new head coach? Should we be looking overseas for a coach? Talk about this and all rugby issues on the Rugby Rugby facebook page.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.