Written by Alex Goff    Thursday, 13 June 2013 16:20    PDF Print Write e-mail
Eagle Eye: This Time You Can Say I Didn't Warn You
Columns - Eagle Eye

So it's time to confess something - I am not an impartial journalist.

You can still win on Pride. Martin Seras Lima photo.
Martin Seras Lima photo
Martin Seras Lima photo
Martin Seras Lima photo
Martin Seras Lima photo

For many, this would be no surprise to hear, but while you might assume I have certain biases, you will probably be wrong in that assumption. What I mean when I say I am not an impartial journalist is that I care deeply about this sport and what it means, and I care deeply about our national teams, especially the youngsters.

I was fully aware that the USA U20s were going to be thrashed in the Junior World Championships. I didn't say as much - I said it would be a "monumental challenge" or some other crap like that, but what I meant was, the USA will get demolished. But saying so before the game would be unkind. It would have put the players in a poor frame of mind for little or no good reason.

So we just waited. 97-0. 45-3. 109-0.

Now the USA will face Scotland in the 9th-12th bracket, likely lose to them, and then hope to beat Samoa or Fiji. That will be a tall order - doable (really, I mean it, doable) but hugely difficult. Why?

Well, let's count the ways:
USA Rugby did not sign on their new Head Coach in a timely manner, meaning the program was always playing catchup.

USA Rugby, in a 7s World Cup year and a 15s World Cup Qualifier year cut the U20 budget.

The USA coaching staff lost the services of Scott Lawrence. While Jason Kelly is a fine man and a fine coach, Lawrence's organizational skills are unmatched, and he is one of the best defense coaches in the USA.

The USA moved up from the Junior World Rugby Trophy (JWRT) having seen many of the top players from that team age out.

Their opposition changed. Instead of playing teams made up of college, high school, and a few academy kids from mostly Tier II nations, the USA was now playing against full-time professionals. Players a year, or months, away from a Super Rugby or Aviva Premiership or Top 14 contract.

Even against Fiji or Samoa, they might not be playing against academy pros (although Samoa has several of those), they are still playing against the best athletes of those countries, who have played rugby since they could walk. They are playing against teams that have been assembling and training constantly.

The USA is always up against it because of geography and, not to denigrate the effort or ability of the USA U20 players, but many of our top rugby athletes in high school are now playing football in college. That's just a fact.

So with all that said, what do we get out of this? Well I look back on the disastrous England tour of the Southern Hemisphere in 1998, that produced a series of blowout losses, and helped develop players who won a World Cup in 2003. Losing like this can actually be a lesson, if you do it right.

I think, despite their fractured defense and frustrating errors that hurt their rare scoring chances, these kids did right for the USA. They did not stop playing. They might have been out of position, but they were trying to make their tackles, they were trying to win rucks, they were still trying to play a pattern.

At this point, I think that's worth something. I think, as you see the abject disappointment on the players' faces in the photos, that they don't feel too good about it all. But this could be, could be, a great learning experience.

And while I urge you as fans to get angry that we didn't put enough behind this team to help it, spare a private ovation for these young men. They had to live it. They had to keep their heads up while being blown out in front of everyone. They feel terrible, and we should still be proud of them.