NEW YORK, NY – Happy Election Day!! Last week USA Rugby announced the touring side for their Autumn Internationals. The side appears to be a mixed bag and reminds fans just how far we have to go as a union. What stands out about this tour is the Travel, Roster and Availability of players and management.
New Zealand Maori All Blacks – Philadelphia, Penn. – Nov. 9 – 7 P.M. ET
Georgia – Tbilisi, Georgia – Nov. 16 – 5 A.M. ET
Russia – London, England – Nov. 23 – 10 A.M. ET
If only we could get Team USA frequent flyer miles! First, the one-off home game in Philadelphia in front of a near-capacity crowd at PPL Park… Then they fly all the way to Tbilisi, Georgia to play Georgia… Then it’s off to London to play Russia. This match is in London and was pushed for last year by USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville. His hope is that it will connect with USA ex-pats and draw more casual interest. We hope he’s right. But we also like Mike Holzman’s idea of having a match in Germany near a US military base. It’s something to be considered.
Players like Shaun Davies and Tim Maupin, standout performers from the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC), have been brought into the squad. That shows that ARC matches have more meaning than some may have believed. However, there are players missing from the ARC squad that makes one wonder. For instance, Max De Archaval and Trevor Cassidy were part of the ARC squad but left off. De Archaval is a long-time borderline player was never given substantial playing time and Cassidy was in the last 2 team pools but got little action in the ARC, which begs questioning of his inclusion on that squad. Cassidy is a versatile big man – he can cover 6-8 and play lock. Considering the injuries at these positions, more time in Vancouver would have made sense.
Then there are players who were hopelessly out of form in the summer but were now given the nod. Toby L’Strange is back at 10. He got a confidence boost playing against lesser sides, so maybe he will finally find his fly-half stride… Mike Petri is back but was the poor summer a dip in form or has age become a question? Then there are players that may simply not be ready. Some say the likes of Seamus Kelly, John Cullen or Kyle Sumison may still be too raw.
Depth issues obviously factor in, but it is interesting that veteran players that were not considered recently are now back in the mix. Guys like Inaki Basauri (whom we love), Blake Burdette coming out of retirement and Graham Harriman. It will be interesting to see how Coach Tolkin brings these guys out from the cold.
Players: When you look at the roster availability, it becomes clear why there is such a large touring party for 3 games. Significant European-based players will not be available for the Maori match, so domestic-based players will fill-in. It will be a great experience for the players but not so much the fans, as it will hinder the USA in the fight in Philly… The trip to Georgia sees most of the remaining European-based players join up with the squad, which should allow them to win against Georgia… The final test in London sees a chunk of the USA-based players heading back to their day jobs.
This situation is no one’s fault as players have to focus on their primary income source. It is incredibly frustrating as fans, though, because we may never see our best side. This makes it tough for Tier 2 coaches like Mike Tolkin to somehow make it work in the face of such restrictions, but it has been done by other smaller nations like Samoa and Canada. It is what it is.
Now let’s Look at the Management Availability.
Mike Tolkin – Head Coach
William (Billy) Millard – Assistant Coach/ Backs and Attack
Justin Fitzpatrick – Assistant Coach/ Forwards and Scrum
Phil Bailey – Assistant Coach/Defense
Dave Williams – Assistant Coach/Strength and Conditioning
Chris O’Brien – Kicking Coach
Paul Goulding – Video Analyst
Matt Schmitz – Doctor (v Georgia, v Russia)
Marc Kowalsky – Doctor (v Maori All Blacks)
Richard Quincy – Physio
Zach Vyhananek – Physio (v Georgia, v Russia)
Rob Wassilak – Physio (v Maori All Blacks)
John O’Donnell – Physio (v Maori All Blacks)
Sarah Sall – Massage Therapist (v Maori All Blacks)
Tristan Lewis – Manager
This is where one can empathize with a Tier 2 head coach. While you often get a group of dedicated staff members, it is not easy finding them and when you do, you’re restricted by their availability. In this case, Coach Tolkin’s staff is made up of guys that have to show full-time dedication to the National Team at part-time pay. They juggle their full-time jobs, work schedules and personal lives. Simply look at the way the physio and doctor teams change from game to game. This is no small thing – ask yourself how important is it to you that your doctor knows and understands you. Also, he has expanded his coaching staff, which took no small amount of work… Indeed, Billy Millard is the second choice as Attacking Coach; his first choice, Brett Taylor, had to pull out due to a work commitment.
That’s it for Part 1, please be on the lookout for Part 2 later this week. In the meantime feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.