USA Rugby last week announced their High Performance Player Pathway.
The Pathway was announced to try to clarify how talented players get to the national teams.
“As the popularity of rugby surges across America, USA Rugby plays the leading role in efforts to increase access, improve quality and expand rugby opportunities for rugby athletes wanting to maximize their potential as elite rugby players,” USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer and President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville said in the announcement.
The announcement tried to spell out how players move to the elite levels as competitors:
Post-high school players move either directly into college rugby or find work. USA Rugby caters to both categories for both men and women with nearly 900 college rugby programs playing in conferences at Division I, II, III and IV levels. Each level has a national championship match with multiple rounds of playoffs, including the College 7s National Championship with more than 48 men’s and women’s teams.
Post-high school, non-college players graduate into the USA Rugby club program, in which more than 700 clubs regularly run teams and compete for a national championship at the Division I, II and III levels. In the elite club category, the Elite Cup represents the highest level of competition for men and the Women’s Premier League for women.
USA Rugby also runs the Men’s and Women’s Junior All-Americans, the national U20 teams. The MJAAs compete annually in either the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy – which was won on home soil in 2012 – or the IRB Junior World Championship, while the WJAAs play two to three international matches each year.
Players who excel at the college level may be invited to play in an increasing number of college conference all-star teams being developed in 2014. In 2015, it is planned to coordinate completion for college all-star teams to provide All-American college selectors with an opportunity to attend the All-American combine camps and selection for the AIG Men’s and Women’s Collegiate All-American teams.
The Men’s Collegiate All-Americans play three fixtures each year during the summer, alternating between an overseas tour and domestic competition. The MCAA Sevens team competes in sevens rugby events during the summer, as well. The Women’s Collegiate All-Americans (WCAAs) team is an evolving program with plans to develop an annual fixture list similar to that of the MCAAs.
During the next few years, the club game for men and women will be a focus of USA Rugby’s efforts to retain college and high school players in the game of rugby. This will be achieved by improving the level of competition and continuing to improve facilities and the quality of the “club rugby experience” for men and women.
Newly-formed Geographical Unions (GUs) are developing and raising the levels of administration of the game at the local level and are encouraged to develop all-star teams to play in a national tournament. In 2014, there will be a number of GU all-star teams playing games within their respective regions and hosting teams from outside of the area. USA Rugby national team selectors will have representation at these games and players identified as potential Eagles will be invited to attend future Eagles camps or perhaps participate in the Eagles Stars v. Stripes Games.
Men’s Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin is developing a 2014 Stars v. Stripes Elite Camp, to which the country’s best domestic players will be invited to play in a tryout match. Successful players will be invited to join the Eagles Select squad, which represents USA Rugby in the Americas Rugby Championship.
Men’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Matt Hawkins also selects a Falcons Sevens team each summer to compete in a small number of sevens tournaments against top domestic and international competition around the world.
The USA Rugby national teams, for men and women in both 15- and seven-a-side rugby sevens styles of play, are called the Eagles. Each team has a comprehensive playing schedule that includes the IRB Rugby World Cup (15s and sevens), the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series (men), the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series, Pan Am Games (sevens men and women) and Olympics (sevens men and women).
This announcement is essentially a nod to the fact that USA Rugby eliminated the national all-star championships in college and among men's clubs.
But there needs to be a step between club or college and the All Americans or the National Team. If this plan is followed, then maybe there's a new era of development of national team players.
This plan gives at least a cursory nod to club players. It does commit to a trial match for the USA Selects. But the chart has to have some heft behind it. The message from USA Rugby is, they won't provide that heft.
And I quote:
Newly-formed Geographical Unions (GUs) are developing and raising the levels of administration of the game at the local level and are encouraged to develop all-star teams to play in a national tournament.
Translation: We made a chart that includes GU all-star teams, but we know there is no championship for them. We figure they'll just put it together, and if they don't, it's not our fault!
So it's a plan of sorts, but one full of holes. It's a pathway, but it still doesn't address how the individual players are developed ... maybe we'll see that later.