The USA Junior All Americans beat Canada’s Under 20s Wednesday, but talk to the two coaches and you’re not going to hear much difference in tone.
Canada coach Mike Shelley said he got what he wanted out of the game – he got to see some players and how they work together; he got to test some players in an international. Win or lose? Not so much an issue.
“I think the same thing,” said USA Coach Scott Lawrence. “I had the same goals as Mike did - have a look at specific players for selection. I think we both ticked that box.”
Lawrence and his staff spent Wednesday night analyzing game film and putting together individual player reports. They have precious little time to rebound and play another game on Saturday, so sleep is out the window.
“We picked out some pretty glaring things we need to correct,” said Lawrence. “They are mostly technical things, which is fine. We can correct those. One of the things we really try to do is get the team culture and the aggression levels right, so we will be working on that.”
The aggression level is an interesting one. Lawrence doesn’t want players to just show up at rucks or tackles, he wants aggression controlled, but thorough.
“In the past, particular up front, our guys have had it taken it to us,” said the coach. “When you’re tackling someone, you need to finish a guy off. If you’re the second guy in, you need to finish it off. In this game we started to see tackles go from even contests to ones where we had more control. And at the rucks, we put pressure on them every time, and that was good.”
Out in the backs, cohesion isn’t perfect. The Junior All Americans have some talented players upon which to rely – Kingsley McGowan is fast and difficult to tackle, and he scored three tries; Tanner Barnes is just hard to line up to hit; Pase Iosia is a guy who can make anyone miss in close quarters; Madison Hughes picks smart lines. But …
“We made a lot of our line breaks came on first phase,” said Lawrence. “But we’ve got some work to do in terms of connection. We came into camp pretty dinged up so it was tough to work on the backs and I think we made some mistakes there. But our backs are dynamic and we do have talent there, and from an attacking perspective our backs are improving.”
The players and coaches were very happy to win. Beating Canada in Canada at any level is a big deal. But this is just the first game of a season that will soon move to the Junior World Rugby Trophy in Utah.
“We know that this isn’t the end result,” said Lawrence. “The players don’t have any illusions along those lines, either. They are getting it and getting the culture – they are starting to think, ‘what can I do to get better?’”
Thursday will be a light day on the field but still a busy one. The players will go through recovery in the morning followed by a morning film session. After lunch, more film, and then some fun activities to lighten the mood.
Studying film isn’t always easy, but it’s crucial in a short turnaround, said Lawrence. The players played Wednesday, and really only have Friday to do any on-field work before playing against Saturday.
“The most important thing now is to absorb the film and get fresh legs,” said Lawrence.
The Junior All Americans will make changes for Saturday, mostly to see other players in action but also to make a few changes on performance. Lawrence is looking to cut this squad in time for the JWRT.
That’s all serious business, but perhaps over breakfast, the players can bask a little bit, too. They did, after all, beat the Canadians on their own turf, and that is always fun.