The London Olympics are over. The games were fantastic and London deserves a lot of praise for hosting a wonderful tournament. However, for rugby fans, the end of the games couldn’t have come quick enough. As soon as the Games officially ended, rugby became an official olympic sport. That is absolutely monumental for every rugby country around the world, especially Tier II countries like the U.S., Canada, Portugal, Russia, etc. Already under-resourced, these countries will now have new funding opportunities open to them. As a result, they will be able to attract more top quality players and play in more difficult tournaments. Bright things are definitely ahead for 7’s and for rugby.
So what does the road to the Olympics for the U.S. look like? In many ways it has already begun in that the resources that accompany an Olympic sport in the U.S. are already apparent. Last year the team was able to put a dozen players under contract for the first time, and while it may not have been a lot of money, the players now had the opportunity to train full-time, get the medical care that they need, and to solely be able to focus on rugby.
Even in its infancy this program has already paid dividends. The Eagles performance on the IRB Sevens Series improved in quality at the end of last year (not necessarily in results) and they have only gotten stronger since. Over the last weekend the team was able to beat the invitational Samurai club and an all-star team made up of Ben Gollings, Santiago Gomez Cora, and Waisale Serevi to take the Serevi RugbyTown Sevens. In the near future the team will have the opportunity to qualify for the last edition of the 7’s World Cup.
Additionally, rugby is booming around the country. Every year more and more kids are playing rugby and high school programs are multiplying. 7’s has also become more organized with more players taking to the game in a serious way. There is now a High School All-Americans 7’s team, a college team, as well as a whole college season devoted to 7’s.
Still, even with the vast improvements in the country, qualifying for the Olympics and earning a medal is going to be difficult. However, before the Eagles can even begin to think about qualifying for the Olympics they need to focus on improving now and that begins by qualifying for the Sevens World Cup in Russia next Summer.
From now until next June, the Eagles will be playing in 12 official tournaments (11 if they don’t qualify for the World Cup). Up first in two weeks in the NACRA qualifiers for the 7’s World Cup. The U.S. and Canada are expected to easily qualify but it nevertheless will necessitate the Eagles full attention. One slip up could see them pitted against Canada in a semi-final or worse. Failing to qualify for the World Cup would be absolutely devastating for the program, especially at the beginning of the Olympic cycle. Why would the U.S. Olympic Committee pump money into the team if they can’t even be the top two in the region? Fans shouldn’t stress though. Alex Magleby has his team well prepared and they should qualify with ease.
After World Cup qualifying comes the IRB Sevens Series. The Series has expanded to 10 stops this year with the addition of Argentina. Those 10 tournaments represent and opportunity for the Eagles to learn and grow from one another. Still, they need to be cautious. The U.S. took a step backwards results wise last year and could have been kicked off the Series as a core member if the IRB hadn’t decided to expand the number of core teams to 15. The U.S. can ill-afford another year like last year. Relegation would be absolute disaster for the team. There would no longer be reason to keep the players under contract and the U.S. Olympic Committee would absolutely withdraw much of their support. The team must win now.
The season culminates in the last edition of the Sevens World Cup. Barring a miracle the U.S. isn’t going to win the tournament, but it’s a perfect opportunity to show growth over a long year. A Cup Quarterfinal appearance would be a great accomplishment. Even without, knowing that they can play tough will be excellent motivations going forward.
Even though the team is very much win now, at the same time, they must continue to develop talent. The maturation of the Collegiate Rugby Championships, the U.S.A. Rugby College 7’s Championship, and the College All-American 7’s program are perfect steps for creating a pathway to the Eagles. Already there are players coming through that could be big parts of the team in Rio.
Overall, even though there are things to be cautious about, the 7’s team is headed in a bright direction. Magleby has a distinct vision for the team and will not tolerate poor results. Further, he has the players buying into his system. More and more players are entering the program and improving the quality of the team. This year, Taylor Mokate is for sure to join the team while a player like Luke Hume could play as well. Couple this with potential up and comers like Don Pati, JP Eloff, and others, the team has the players to succeed.
One of the biggest factors going for the team is the number of hard-working individuals that want to see the team succeed. Magleby has gone out and found programs that want to develop players. That is going to be crucial moving forward. It’s the love the sport that is driving these organizers forward and their continued dedication will only improve the sport. It’s not out of the question that by 2016 there will be many teams around the country developing strong players for the national team.
The Olympics have finally given the 7’s team a goal to work around, and with the way things are going, 2016 could be a very fun year for the U.S. rugby fans.
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The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
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