NEW YORK, NY – Yesterday, we gave you the Rugby Wrap Up 2016 USA Rugby Players To Watch – as compiled by yours truly, with the patience and help of RWU contributors Jake Frechette, Grant Cole of This Is Texas Rugby, Wendy Young of Your Scrumhalf Connection and Wil Snape; former Northampton Saints player, Head Coach for NYRC Women and Head Coach of USA Rugby Women’s Junior All-Americans… This is our fifth edition of this list so it should be clear but lets have a reminder, anyway. We are presenting these awards, not for their 2015 achievements – but for what we expect them to achieve in 2016. That said, here are our 2016 USA Rugby Coaches, Clubs and Administrators to Watch:
WOMEN: Life University is our Women’s College Program of the Year. Life University has a long and proud rugby history. With former USA Rugby assistant coach, Dan Payne, moving from being the university’s head coach to Athletic Director, the fact that they soon after started a woman’s program didn’t make any great waves. The program started in the fall of 2014 and has already made huge strides in a year and a half. They have chosen a very difficult list of opponents to play for such a young program but with the quality recruits they have been able to bring into the program, their results are no surprise. They played well but lost to 2014 program of the year, Quinnipiac and have already beaten Army and Lindewood. They are a spring season team so from January to June, you will hear a lot about this program. Expect them to go far in the USA Rugby Women’s Collegiate National Championship D1 (Division 1) playoffs as well as the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s (CRC7s) Invitational.
MEN: Delaware University is our Men’s College Club of the Year. Like Lazarus rising from the dead, so too has Delaware Rugby. After unjustly being suspended for 5 years for an out of control party in September 2013, that they were supposedly connected withy and though the club denied it, they suspension held until fall of 2015. Through the hard work of team captain Chris Mattina (who never left despite the suspension), the program is back. Prior to being struck down, they were becoming a force and appearing at the CRC7s, so it won’t be easy to bounce back. However, this program was counted out and they came back, we expect an okay spring but they will likely get a solid 2016 incoming class and expect them to be a force in the fall and into next spring in 7s.
WOMEN: Seattle Saracens are our Women’s Senior Club of the Year. The club is making a name for itself. As we mentioned yesterday there were able to have players breakthrough to the USA national team, which is a feat considering most of the team is made up of elite college players and players from the Women’s Premier League (WPL). Last season they won the USA Rugby Women’s Club National Championship D1 title. They will likely only go from strength to strength as they are only competing with Oregon Sports Union (ORSU) Rugby for cream of the crop in the Northwest. One of the reasons they have come so far is that they also play in the BC (British Columbia) Premier league, which is arguably the top league in Canada. Whether they join the WPL or not, they are going to create a lot of distance between themselves and some of the other D1 sides.
MEN: Life West is our Men’s Senior Club of the Year. About 3 years back, Life University’s Hayward, California campus, aka Life West, started its rugby program. The Life University brand name is strong so people knew this program would be good one day, no one expected it in year one. In their first year, they made it to the final of USA Rugby Men’s Club National Championship D3. After that success they were promoted to D2, where they went on to win the National Championship, in their first year in D2, second year in existence. So are we late to the party? Not by a long shot. This team still has plenty of room to get better. They will easily make the D1 sweet sixteen this year, they may at some point play the original Life, they could very well be the first team to make the final in every division consecutively. Part of the reason for their success is that, they do not charge dues and allows non-students to play for them. This has led to at a definite 4 but maybe more players from PRP (Pacific Rugby Premiership) clubs coming over. Their recruiting is so impressive, their 18 year old center Mose Fuala’au was scouted by ASM Clermont Auvergne of France’s Top 14 and signed an Academy contract with the club. They will find more guys like him and be a real force in D1.
WOMEN: Jules McCoy is our Women’s Coach of the Year. Ric Suggit, the former USA Women’s 7s head coach took a lot of heat from fans. They seemed somewhat annoyed that a Canadian was chosen instead of an American and that he seemed too fascinated with converting non-rugby players, athletes from other sports, into 7s players. So when Suggit’s contract ended and former Eagle Jules McCoy was named head coach, USA rugby fans rejoiced. Here was a product of the American rugby system and she runs a recognized USA Rugby academy, the American Pro Rugby Training Center in Little Rock, Arkansas so people were excited. However, as the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for. In her first tournament in charge of Women’s Eagles 7s, in Dubai, they had shock losses to Ireland and Fiji and their 1 win, all tournament helped them finish 11th out of 12. The amount of pressure she was under as the coach leading the team into Rio was a lot, after that horrible display in Dubai, she is under enough pressure to break an elephant’s back. A poor 7s series and she may not make it to Rio.
MEN: John Mitchell is our Men’s Coach of the Year. This was an easy choice to make. The new head coach of the USA Men’s team is already coming under pressure. Fans wanted a coach with international experience, which on a USA Rugby budget is not easy to get. So they get the often-maligned Mitchell. Nothing has stuck despite loads of allegations and rumors when he was coaching the All Blacks, the Western Force and the Lions in Super Rugby. However, that is the thing with allegations in the court of public opinion, nothing ever has to be proven. Cleared of wrong doing or not and known for a bad relationship with the media, Mitchell is coming into the position with people already taking shots at him. However, this may be a match made in heaven for the USA. They have a coach looking to re-build his reputation so he will hungry and looking to make a difference. The men’s team could definitely use a tough talking coach of his caliber and the fact that he is a hard taskmaster will probably not bother the USA as he will be no different than a lot of HS football coaches in America.
COLLEGE COACH: Shaun Potgieter is our College Coach of the Year. Up until midway through 2015, NeMani Delaibatiki was the coach at Arkansas State University, assisted by Shaun Potgieter. Then some kind of fallout occurred between Delaibatiki and the university, the final result was Potgieter ended up being named as head coach. Potgieter played for A-State and in his time there, he received All-American honors while playing with the 2011 15s team against visiting universities from New Zealand, the 15s team in 2012 that toured Ireland, and twice in 2013 with the 15s team that toured New Zealand and the 7s team that won the Serevi Rugbytown tournament at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. In addition, as a team captain, he helped A-State to capture two back-to-back 7s national championships in 2012 and 2013. He also represented Arkansas State on the 2014 All-American team and was an honorable mention selection for the All-Americans in 2010. Now the South African born coach has to find a way to keep the constant progress of A-State going as they are now part of the Varsity Cup, continue to recruit and bring some stability to the program. As a player, Potgeiter played under four different coaches in his five years and he definitely wouldn’t wish that on his players.
PRO Rugby: We could have nominated the CEO of PRO or even its Director of Rugby Operations but we decided to nominate the whole league. This is allegedly going to be the first fully pro league in the USA. There are loads of questions and even larger loads of doubt around it. However, there are also equivalent amounts of optimism for PRO rugby. The key is they have a 3 year plan, they have 6 teams to start, they have stadiums committed to the project and they are guaranteed to expand in 2017. So the most important thing is that the first year is respectable. It is a neophyte of a league and if it can keep itself afloat and keep interest high, it can build on that for its second year. The key word is If. We will all be watching carefully with baited breathe.
Lucy Zugschwert: Lucy is the head of USA Rugby Membership. It has been an incredibly thankless job. The CIPP process and the new software has caused incredible headaches and the system to crash at times. However, she has made incredible gains on the project. She has tirelessly worked to improve it and and has really made the CIPP pains less painful. We believe the proof will show when the new falls season starts and people remark on how less complicated and fluid the process is. When that dawns on you, remember to send Lucy a thank you note.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.