USA Rugby: Desperately Seeking Coaching

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and all the ships at sea. This urgent telegraph message just in from USA Rugby:

USA Eagles men’s coach Eddie O’Sullivan has decided to call it a day in the U.S. and won’t be continuing his coaching career on this side of the pond – possibly wanting to explore professional opportunities in Europe.

O’Sullivan came to the Eagles in 2009, after his resignation as head coach of his home nation of Ireland, having led the green-and-white to three triple crowns (beating the other three British Isles rugby teams – Wales, Scotland and England) and finishing as high as second place in the Six Nations Championship. During his tenure Ireland also rose to as high as third in the IRB World Rankings.

O’Sullivan’s Ireland teams had diminished in stature near the end of his Ireland term of service, with poor performances against lesser nations Georgia and Namibia, as well as a lackluster 2007 Rugby World Cup, with the Irish unable to advance from pool play for the second time since the World Cup’s start in 1987. A premature online petition called for his resignation, which he gave in March 2008 after Ireland finished the Six Nations in fourth place.

(Note: O’Sullivan is considered the most successful Ireland coach in the “modern era” and Ireland has dropped from that high of third in the world to currently resting in sixth in the IRB World Rankings, thanks in large part to an inspired Rugby World Cup where the Irish beat #2 Australia in pool play)

O’Sullivan’s tenure in the United States was a little rockier, with the lack of attention for a sport like rugby throughout the U.S. O’Sullivan was limited by an inability to muster his players for more than a few weeks at a time before international test matches or training camps. In response to this, O’Sullivan began a policy to exclude players from the national team if they were unable to make a commitment due to professional obligations.  Some of the highlights from O’Sullivan’s coaching time with the Eagles include:

the team’s recent 2011 Rugby World Cup results, racking up the third Eagles win in the Rugby World Cup (against Russia) and with strong showings against Ireland and Italy in pool play, a 2011 Churchill Cup Bowl Championship victory (again against Russia) and a 32-9 loss to the England Saxons in the 2010 Churchill Cup

And some of the lowlights include:

An 87-8 loss to the England Saxons in the 2011 Churchill Cup, a 44-13 loss to the Tongans in 2011 (dropping the U.S. from 16 to 17 in the World Rankings), back to back losses to Canada in preparation for the 2011 Rugby World Cup (dropping the U.S. another slot to 18th in the world) and an overall 1-5 record in 2011 before entering the Rugby World Cup.

This was O’Sullivan’s second tour of duty with the Eagles, having been involved in USA Rugby coaching development in the 1990s and serving as an assistant coach in the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

The question to be asked now is, where does USA Rugby want to go from here? While the usual suspects will demand that all USA Rugby relocate to Berkeley again, or possibly Boston, the bigger question is “How does the US want to allocate its resources?”

(It’s amazing to me how these people now demanding additional money go into the youth and grassroots programs were very much against any money being diverted from the national team and coaching staff when that staff was located at the University of California in Berkeley. Just putting that out there.)

There has been a very definitive lack of funding for the Olympic Rugby program for many years, and Al Caravelli has done a great deal of good for Olympic Rugby in the U.S. and internationally. Plus with the USA Sevens being televised on NBC, Olympic Rugby has a solid foundation in the U.S.

DSSOf course, you can’t not represent in the full 15-a-side rugby world, that is still where much of the international love lies, especially for Commonwealth nations where Rugby is such a powerful presence. Should the U.S. try to go after another top flight coach? Or should they look for a coach closer to home? Possibly sticking with one of the Premier League team coaches, or the U-21 coaches? And then try to use any money saved on hiring additional coaches, or looking for new funding sources to keep more homegrown talent in the States, training together as a team more often (which might provide a more stable, and successful team in the long run.) How desperate is the U.S. when it comes to bringing in a splashy name in the Rugby World to come coach at Boulder? That was originally what the O’Sullivan experiment was all about.

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