Schoolboys of World Rugby Educated by “Australian” All Blacks

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984168_10152722450113140_4449542057918929214_n-750x277CAPE TOWN, S.A. – There is a story about Moses and Jesus playing golf. Moses hits a nice tee-shot into the middle of the fairway and turns around satisfied with his effort. Jesus steps up and smashes his ball into the bushes Moses starts laughing. Jesus closes his eyes and the ball rolls down out of the bushes into the small stream nearby, where a fish catches it in its mouth and swims to near the green. From there a squirrel comes along takes the ball and places it into the hole. Jesus turns around smiling. Moses replies “You want to play golf, or you want to **** about?”

Why this story? Simple. The U.S.A Eagles vs New Zealand All Blacks game was a masterful piece of marketing! It filled an American Football stadium and took rugby union to whole new marketing heights. The rugby audiences of America got to see the mighty All Blacks in all their awe-inspiring brilliance. Oh yes, and did I mention the U.S Eagles got completely and utterly destroyed! Not beaten. Embarrassed! This experiment worked beautifully in every way, except the one that should have mattered, the rugby. Anybody worked out who Jesus is in this little story yet?

I am a rugby coach, I am not going to focus on the specific names selected, some will argue that there was favouritism in regards to coaches picking their own players (Seattle Saracens and the distinct New York connection). I really am not bothered about the specific selected players, they were selected to do a job they did not, as I am about to explain.

The problems, unfortunately, did not start with the players. I have been asked countless times when a team is doing poorly whether it is the players or the coaches’ fault? My answer is simple if the strategy and tactics are poor or non-existent then it is the coaches’ fault, they have to pick a side to play a way they design. If the on field decision-making and efforts are poor then it is the players’ fault. Yes there is an argument that the coach must mentally prepare players, but a coach is not needed for you to make a simple tackle, the fact you are wearing an international jersey should do that.

On the basis that theUSA-v-New-Zealand-7haEBoQ6BZNl aim of the game is to score tries we shall start with the Eagles attempts at attack. The All Blacks were a model in the simplicities of attack, using all the simple attacking strands of rugby they were able to construct simple and devastating tries, oh yes that and the horrendous defence by the Eagles, but more of that later. The Eagles? They were just simple. They went left to right and then right to left, almost expecting that space would open up because they had been taught that if you hold the ball and keep stretching the defence it will. Except this is international rugby. Nobody ran an inside line, nobody truly ran with purpose into space, only into swarming black-shirted bodies. The All Blacks call their defence the Black Plague and rightly so, the Eagles were choked. They were linear and basic, Mike Petri was not the buzzing presence around the base of the ruck that his college coach Dom Farrell would have you believe he is. Adam Siddall seemed content to ship the ball out to his big centres hoping they would make some hard yards up the middle (running into SBW). The forwards ran with directness but they cannot be expected to score tries, more lay a platform. The coaches had clearly not worked out any specific strategy to hoodwink or place the All Blacks in compromising decision-making positions. There was not even an original set play that maybe, by some miracle, would have bagged them a try. This was high school stuff (in fact in some countries it’s pre-school), pass the ball from one side to the other and when you get stuck smash it up and ruck, and hope they get tired or leave a gap. This is the All Blacks Messrs Tolkin and Osborne, good luck with that!

Now for defence, the simplest concept to approach because ultimately it boils down to two things, blitz off the gain line as a line and smash your opponent. This Eagles side seemed content to let Israel Dagg wander through their line at will to set up tries and score his try (passing three alleged tacklers). Corey Jane breezed through for his tries (again with three tacklers scrambling in his slipstream). Patrick Tuipolutu strolled past some lost Eagles for his. Sam Cane managed to go through three men who were tight and aware of the danger to score his. And the crowning glory was Ryan Crotty’s meandering run to set up Sonny Bill Williams for his first try on his return to the All Blacks. The cardinal sin for any rugby player is not making your tackles, and for this the Eagles players should be deeply embarrassed. Their defensive lift was poor and unorganized, with individual tacklers flying out of the line, or huge doglegs out wide allowing the All Blacks to exploit the space.Unknown

The scrum got annihilated. A clear case is Julian Savea’s first try. There was no rhythm, no cadence in the shove, everybody pushing independently against an opposition that drove in sync as a team. This is not even a case of bad selection in the front row (although believe me I’m not discounting that as an argument), this was a case of a scrum that did not believe they could win, this was a case of a scrum that if they had been coached what to do, had clearly forgotten it.

A professional game of rugby is still a professional game of rugby no matter what marketing tools are used. The Eagles were made to look like schoolboys. I have said I do not believe it is entirely the players’ fault. Of course a large amount of the blame has to fall at their feet. But the lack of direction in attack, the shocking organization in defence and the agony that was their scrum showed a serious problem with their coaching staff. Mike Tolkin may well be a very good coach, he was certainly an exceptional high school coach, but that does not mean you are allowed to walk into a national side, no matter how amateurish they may be. It may not meet with approval but to truly professionalize the game at the level the Eagles are at a professional coaching staff is required, coaches that have coached in the Super 15, Premiership, Top 14 or Pro12. This current staff is simply not good enough. This is exarcebated by the huge lack of talent scouts within the U.S, nobody is out in Colorado or Texas looking for the next great star, they rely on going to Cal, LIFE, Kutztown, NYAC and Old Blue matches. That is not an acceptable way to prepare or recruit for an international side. The only bright spots were Blaine Scully and Samu Manoa (Professionals!)

I am sorry America, but its going to be a long time before you can even claim you compete with the big teams if the current systems are allowed to continue. Stop messing about with everything else and worry about the rugby.

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About the Author ()

Jamie Loyd hails from London but has traveled the globe playing, watching and covering rugby - especially Rugby League. He's quick-witted, smart and has exceptional elbows.
  • Derrick

    While I agree that the Eagles missed far too many tackles and their plan of attack was school boyish, but what can you expect with a team that was together for 4-5 training sessions beforehand? USA rugby does not have the resources or structure in place to be professional especially when most of the staff is getting payed part time pay for full time work. I’m not excusing anyone, but the game ended up the way it did because the coaches and players are operating in a system that is crippling their ability to be successful or grow.

    • Junoir Blaber

      Well put Derrick.

    • pro

      USA Rugby does not have the resources to be professional so they should get out of the way. There is money out their to develop professionally rugby in the US but USA Rugby insists on controlling everything. Investors require ownership equity in a pro league. MLS doesn’t make sense on a yearly cash flow basis but it makes a lot of sense when teams initially valued at $5 million are now worth $100 million. Investors need to be assured that if they invest they can get a return. Nigel is not trusted and he is scaring away capital. With a professional pathway more money will come into rugby and the Eagles can develop a much larger elite players pool which will translate to better on the field performance. Underpaid players and staff and volunteers can only take the game so far. Until more money comes into the game, the US will go nowhere in rugby

  • Junoir Blaber

    Great piece. Some points valid some unnecessarily harsh. USA does not have the bankroll or a pro league. If you don’t have the ability to be on the same playing field off the field, then you are screwed on it.

  • Steve Roper

    This is spot on, and frankly are we not tired of the same old excuses we make every time we play? Because its like a broken record Missing tackles( I think there were about 27), yet all of you keep saying we are not pros, we just got together, they played to rough. Its hear mate or in this case lack of, tackling is about pride commitment and technique, all of this was missing and the lack of a game plan was very evident, kick the ball to Dagg, how did that work out for you!
    .Disastrous, and for the captain not to Say” dont kick the f—ng ball” unless you start tackling just show how completely off track the team really is.

    • See our response to Dr. Jim and Pompous Englishman (redundant?)… We watched the match again and frankly, the USA didn’t kick the ball a lot. When they did, however, it wasn’t covered or went directly to the back three, uncontested. That’s not the game-plan – that’s execution, or lack thereof, by a fullback playing flyhalf. And you cannot question the USA’s heart. They left everything on the field. We were there.

  • Grant A Cole

    The USA is not a rugby playing nation. That’s not to say it cannot be. It just is not.

    The Eagles played this match exactly as anyone should expect the national team of a non-rugby playing nation to play against the national team of the BEST rugby playing nation on record.

  • 2up1togo

    Finally an article by somebody that knows a bit about rugby! BRAVO. Couldn’t agree more with everything stated. As an American living in NZ for going on 15 years I was totally embarrassed by the complete lack of skill and direction shown by the Eagles. They performed like a bunch of crossover gridiron players coached by a high school rugby instructor, which is basically what they are.
    I have lost all excitement in terms of following this team towards RWC2015. They should just pill the pin right now and devote every ounce of energy towards developing rugby players from the age of 10 onwards. Find a way to get them to drop the pads and Pop Warner football and get them out on the paddock playing rugby right now. Then maybe in 15 years time those kids will have some semblance of a chance at a rugby world cup.
    Instead of listing the number of caps these posuers have they need to start listing the age they first picked up a rugby ball and the number of years they have played the game as their primary contact sport with proper rugby coaching. For the AB’s I guarantee those numbers would average about 5 and 20. For the Eagles those numbers would be more like 16 and 5, although I am very dubious of the coaching credentials over there after seeing what Mike Tolkin has produced. My sons 1st XV rugby coach would be a better fit.
    Honestly, if that Eagles outfit played in the u20 rugby world cup that was played here in NZ this year they would easily get beaten by the England, South Africa and NZ u20 teams. So please forget about RWC2015 and set your sights towards 2027, thats how long its going to take.

  • Jake Frechette

    Fair enough. I did go back and watch the match again, but it took me several tries to get through it because I kept throwing the remote around in frustration.

  • You can blame the coach all you like (I agree that the gameplan was flawed at best and non-existent at worst), but it’s up to the players to show a bit of heart and initiative while wearing their national jersey.

    Some of the tackling was atrocious and can be put down to guys simply giving up because they’d already lost the game in their heads before kick-off. You had 61,000 of your country travel from far and wide to support you, if that wasn’t motivation to put some of the All Blacks on their asses then who knows what is.

    This image pretty much sums up what I’m talking about, I know the team is called the Eagles but that doesn’t mean you need to do an impression of one when someone is running at you:

  • You can blame the coach all you like (I agree that the gameplan was flawed at best and non-existent at worst), but it’s up to the players to show a bit of heart and initiative while wearing their national jersey.

    Some of the tackling was atrocious and can be put down to guys simply giving up because they’d already lost the game in their heads before kick-off. You had 61,000 of your country travel from far and wide to support you, if that wasn’t motivation to put some of the All Blacks on their asses then who knows what is.

    This image pretty much sums up what I’m talking about, I know the team is called the Eagles but that doesn’t mean you need to do an impression of one when someone is running at you:

  • Scheens

    Why stick the knife in to what was, essentially, an exhibition match for the game? Yes, from an American point of view the result was catastrophic, but as a reasonably unbiased observer, even I can see the bigger picture. Sport in America – just like everywhere else – needs an audience. When you have that and can prove it in a big way, then comes the money. This match, as painful as it might seem for the US setup, will have achieved more in those 80 minutes than can ever be imagined. The fact we’re all still talking about it means it’s made an impact – for good or ill – and that can only be a good thing. In this case, and it is a special one, I’d focus on the thousands of people who came, were seduced and WILL tell their friends all about rugby. That will make advertisers sit up and take notice, hopefully bringing the financial wherewithal to the US game that it so clearly needs. Tearing into team USA side and pointing out the flaws in a side that even on their very best day would still have been utterly mullered by the All Blacks (as has just about everyone else) to me seems harsh and a bit shortsighted.

    • Dr. Jim Louro

      Well said Scheens! The authors pompous diatribe never even considered the economic impact a game so well publicized and attended had on the local Chicago businesses. This type of event repeated 6 to 8 times yearly with other powerhouse Nations will only grow Rugby in this country. Take the Pumas of Argentina for example. Who would ever have thought they would be playing and competing in the former Tri-Nations. They have lifted there game by leaps and bounds and if the USA Rugby could tap into that type of competition on a regular basis they would truly learn what it takes to compete with the best. The authors pre-revolutionary mentality in his critique of the US Team and Coaches was shortsighted and dumb witted at best. Open up that English tunnel vision my friend and realize that a fully funded USA Rugby program will draw the best High School & Collegiate athletes that will compete on an International level.

      • Pompousnarrowmindedenglishman

        Unfortunately I was simply referring to the rugby………Enough has been said about the impact off the rugby pitch and rightly so. It was massive for growing the game and the financial impacts. But from a solely RUGBY point of view the performance was dire. What is worrying is the lack of some very basic skills, what is the use of having a fully funded USA Rugby program if your National side can’t make tackles?

        A top down USA Rugby program will help but the investment has to come from the bottom and work its way up, so that generations of players are brought through. It is working well at a collegiate level, but there has to be more encouragement for US college players going abroad to play their rugby during holidays or off seasons (to South Africa for instance to the club rugby scene there). Exchange programs need to be used to develop these players.

        Rugby has been seriously played in Argentina since 1899, this means that there is a hard core of foundation clubs that play (granted in one main area) high level, physical rugby despite it being amateur. This simply shows Argentina have a very high level of amateur rugby, something that the U.S does not have unfortunately. But it also shows that actually investment does not necessarily mean success. Argentine children are brought up from a very young age playing rugby………You talk about my narrow minded views but the simple fact is what is the use of chatting a big game, making all this investment, when your team can’t make simple first up tackles?

        • Dr. Jim Louro

          Weak response at best! You are supposed to be someone who writes about Rugby for a living. You finish with tackles each time but what you are really tackling is the core of America Rugby. There you are clearly shortsighted. Your emphasis needs to stay in the areas that you brush over briefly. The development of Amateur Rugby In the USA is an ongoing process. Kids are not growing up yet with a Rugby ball in their hand. They are picking it up earlier and earlier and high school Rugby is another area of growth but still not a sole emphasis and very underdeveloped. College is generally the first time a lot of former US football players begin their rugby careers. The basic skill levels that someone might have dribbling a basketball since they were in the 2nd or 3rd grade are not there on the Rugby pitch. This is so evident on the international level. Tackling while I agree with you wholeheartedly was painfully absent against the All Blacks has been something the US has done since they were schoolboys and is generally not the area needed to emphasize. Again your point there is well taken, but going back to my original issue is a Grand event like this will only help the developmental process of a young boy or girl watching this game and saying I want to one day represent my country playing Rugby on National TV and in a stadium like Soldier Field. That’s where that youngster goes outside and starts kicking and passing a Rugby ball with their friends. Great weekend and great event for the development of USA Rugby! Case closed!

          • PompousEnglishman

            Again, I was referring to the on pitch rugby. I am a rugby coach….actually. And it is not hard to coach a defensive line lift, tackling, solid unified scrummaging (if not perfect), and more than a basic attacking format.

            These men are meant to be the best in the country, which means regardless of the grassroots levels they should be capable of doing these basic things would you not say?

          • Look, we got to go down to the pitch for this match. We saw both teams up close. The missed tackles – a lot of them anyway – were the result of much-better players forcing misses. Heck, 9-15 could tell us where the ball was going and still make us miss. Don’t forget, this isn’t that different than the USA team that tackled the snot out of Ireland in the RWC. They know how to tackle. They played their rugby balls off. Their heart shouldn’t be questioned. They were, simply, outclassed by a wide margin. This All Blacks team laid 51 points on Australia. Granted McCaw was in that match, but great googly moogly, we’re missing the point if we dismiss just how good NZ is.

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