TOKYO, JAPAN: We were extremely fortunate to have Eagles Coach Eddie O’Sullivan take a quick moment out of his very hectic schedule to actually sit down and type answers from his room in Japan.
RWU: Coach, will there be professional rugby in the United States by 2016? If not, then how about 2020 – when we’ll be seeing things clearer?
E.O.: To launch “professional rugby” in the USA will require a huge financial investment over a number of years with very little initial return. I think getting to that point is a slow burn process. We are making small gains in public awareness every year, so it will be a while before we achieve enough traction in the sports market to trigger the necessary investment to launch professional rugby.
RWU: What are the obvious differences and not-so-obvious differences between coaching Team USA and Ireland?
E.O.: The obvious difference is that most players are not full time professionals and those that are professionals are based overseas. It is extremely difficult for amateur players to develop and compete at a high level in the professional arena that international rugby has become.
RWU: If the money was available, could the Eagles be a salaried squad? American rugby fans aren’t clear on what’s what. Right now, most of your guys have day jobs.
E.O.: Paying the Eagles would make it easier for players to compete but would not do anything to improve the overall standard within the domestic game. Improving the standard of the domestic game through professional domestic competition is the most reliable way to consistently develop the game over time.
RWU: Does the role of underdog help you relax more in this World Cup as opposed to 2007 when you were leading an Irish squad with such high expectations?
E.O: We are not relaxed about RWC. We want to go to NZ and give the performance of our lives and see where that leads us. All the players, and particularly the domestic home based players in the squad, want to perform at the top of their game and potentially create opportunities for themselves as professional rugby players overseas after RWC.
RWU: What was the greatest lesson learned from the 2007 World Cup that you have been able to apply to coaching Team USA?
E.O.: You learn lots of lessons at every RWC as I have in 1991, 1999, 2003 & 2007 was not any different.
RWU: In your time with the Eagles, what has been biggest surprise in terms of team development?
E.O.: There have been no major surprises. Because I worked with the Eagles from 1997 – 1999 I was well aware of the challenges involved with the job. The same challenges that have every previous Eagles Head Coach has had to deal with.
RWU: Biggest disappointment?
E.O.: No major disappointments other than the usual ups and downs of playing test rugby [international matches].
RWU: If college rugby in the United States was sanctioned by the NCAA, how would that effect the Eagles?
E.O.: College rugby is still growing in the USA and consistently provides a rich vein of talent for the Eagles. If Rugby were to become an NCAA sport it would accelerate the development of the game dramatically throughout the country.
RWU: Will 7s and its NBC/Universal deal coupled with the Olympics render 15s a fond memory of the not-too-distant past – like land-lines?
E.O.: An over-emphasis on 7’s Rugby would ultimately have a negative impact on the 15’s game. It happened in Fiji during the late 1980’s and Fiji 15’s suffered as a consequence in the early 1990’s. The depth of playing talent in the USA is not sufficient at this point in time to justify a prioritizing of 7’s over 15’s or visa versa.
RWU: When will the silliness in Ireland end about not having a 7s team?
E.O.: The IRFU’s strategic planning regarding the development of the game is best left to them. They have done a very good job with it for the past 15 years.
RWU: What would be a successful World Cup result for the USA?
E.O.: Beating Russia would constitute a good RWC for the Eagles.
RWU: Thanks, Coach. May the road rise to meet you and the Eagles.
E.O.: Thank you.
Be sure to see RWU’s Johnathan Wicklow Barberie’s interview with Japanese Head Coach, John Kirwan, the former All Blacks standout. You can see the interview by CLICKING THIS.