U.S.A. Competitive Advantages
On the field of play there are certain aspects of the game of rugby that the United States simply cannot outperform some other nations within the next four years. However, there are many areas of the game that the United States can reach international average standards, and more importantly, there are a few key areas where the United States can become the world leader and find international rugby success because of it in the medium-term.
Potential Competitive Advantages
The United States will dominate kickoff restarts in Sevens, and subsequently, will have athletes who can learn to dictate a pressure, possession kicking game in XVs.
We have a plethora of international caliber athletes in the United States who spend much of their LTAD playing sports catching objects under pressure above their head (football, basketball, baseball, soccer goalies, and volleyball to an extent).
American Rugby Model connection: athletes should play multiple sports growing up, for many reasons, but inclusive of aerial abilities. Athletes coming to rugby late in their LTAD should be able to quickly transfer their aerial abilities to Rugby 7s and XVs with focused coaching.
The United States will dominate the horizontal plain of rugby XVs with athletes who are physically more powerful than the opposition, who can get lower to the ground and who can deliver force at that level.
We have a plethora of international caliber athletes in the United States who spend much of their LTAD playing sports that require leverage, force application at low center of mass, and that require quality footwork, agility, and balance (wrestling, football, MMA, gymnastics, alpine skiing).
American Rugby Model connection: athletes should play multiple sports growing up, for many reasons, but inclusive of the sports listed above. As important, during rugby specific seasons and training years their needs to be a coaching emphasis on dominating the “ground” game, winning the 1 on 1, 1 v 2, 2 v 2, contests on the “floor”, with low-center of gravity, “lowest player [with form] wins” mindset.
Areas of Immediate Concern
The Eagles have struggled to keep pace with international standards in the scrum set-piece. It is imperative we create stable attack platforms to launch from, and scrums are typically the most common set-piece in XVs. Beyond this, with an aerial game emphasis, many of these “high-ball” kicks will end in knock-ons. A dominate scrum can become a critical tool in the United States chase for international success.
American Rugby Model connection: prioritize identification of athletes at the late high-school age that have the physical attributes and as important, mind-set, to succeed as high-performance tight-five players. Ensure these athletes are given quality repetitions, with clarity, feedback, monitoring, and competition.
Create small-sided games to emphasis tight-five set-piece development: for example, Tight-Five Sevens for increased contacts at scrum (5 v 5) and touches of the ball under pressure (limited width).
Action Item: average age of a World Cup prop is mid to late 20s. Today, that prop then is 20 to 22 years old. It is vital that we urgently identify, commit, develop world-class prop and lock forwards--female and male.
Exiting: Kick & Kick Chase
The national senior and age-grade teams have struggled in international competition with clearly delivering territorial pressure through reliable and consistent kick technique, kick decision-making, and simple counter defense efficacy.
The U.S. high-school game, and to some extent the collegiate game, is not producing highly skilled kickers nor backline / loose forward units adept at counter defense pressure, as the incentives for this focus at the 16 to 18 year old range is not present in the majority of competitions--vast majority of teams are able to "win" at the high school level simply with more athletic players who run better with ball-in-hand than the opposition can tackle.
American Rugby Model connection: without compromising the prioritization of ball-movement and defending ball movement rugby throughout the youth and high school levels, layer in speciality skill work for 9, 10, 12, 15s in the early high school ages. Pick up the volume of kick training post-puberty growth spike at U17 to U19 ages.
Emphasize small-sided games that promote kick accuracy and counter-defense connectivity and line-speed.
Connecting Advantages and Concerns
it is imperative the ball can be connected from the 2 areas we will look to win: dominating the contests in the air (Aerial game – restarts and possession kicking) and dominating the contests on the ground (ruck, vertical game, physical presence). We will need to rapidly move the ball from each of these contests, having the ability to change the point of attack with alacrity.
American Rugby Model connection: emphasis on technical perfection in the various catch and pass skills. Create standard tests to measure and monitor improvements in these skills at pace.
Defensive shape is often not practiced correctly or at all at the early and middle stages of LTAD in the United States. Many times athletes come out of high-school, collegiate, and club programs into national camps with little understand of the basics of most modern defensive systems.
American Rugby Model connection: Ball movement and defending ball movement key focuses from U19s on down. We need coach education focused on implementing defensive principles within constrained training environments with limited practice opportunities (some clubs train only twice per week, for example).
We cannot fail defensively because of lack of information. Defensive principles, including tracking / tackling, need to be ingrained in every rugby training session in the United States at all levels of the LTAD.