Rugby Magazine.com’s Ed Hagerty recently conducted a wide-ranging interview with US National 7s Coach Al Caravelli. Coach Caravelli fills us in on the team’s status, his perspective on the National Club and All Star 7s Championships, and his plans in preparation for the Pan American 7s and Olympic 7s.
Here is Part 1.
RUGBY: How many events has the US 7s team competed in so far this year?
Al Caravelli: We’ve competed in eight World Series Tournaments during the 2010-11 7s season and six this calendar year. For the rest of this year, which will be the start of the 2011-12 season, we will go to three IRB Tournaments and to the Pan Am Games in October.
We’re hoping to raise sufficient funds prior to the Pan Am Games to play in a tune-up tournament in Australia. A tune-up will really help us to prepare for the Pan Am Games, as regards building cohesiveness and serving as a bonding experience for the players.
RUGBY: How would you rate the performance of the US 7s team this year?
Caravelli: Looking at our won-lost record, we were very inconsistent, but still improved in the fundamental parts of the game. So we just need to put it all together.
For example, we’re the #1 scrumaging team in the world as ranked by IRB 7s World Series, winning 98% of our scrums. We were the only team to take away scrums from South Africa, and New Zealand. That’s a big feather in our players’ caps considering the changes we made in the forwards, where we lost three of our starters to injury. So we moved guys who traditionally played in the backs, to forward positions and they did a very good job.
Overall it was an up and down season, where we took a slight step back. We tried some things that didn’t work, so were going back to the way we did them in the past. I know we’ll right the ship and get back on track this coming season.
RUGBY: What must the US 7s team do to improve?
Caravelli: Getting more time to train together as a squad is probably our #1 objective. The other items we have control of are focusing on detail and being the best players we can be 100% of the time.
To seriously compete against the world class international athletes we face, the US needs to continue recruiting better athletes.
People tell me all the time, “You don’t need better athletes to get to the top of the world, you need better rugby players.”
But what we actually need is getting good athletes to play rugby. We need world class athletes; powerful guys with rugby skills who can run sub-10 second 100 meters. We need the whole package if we hope to reach the Olympic podium in 2016. That’s what people have to realize.
We are headed in the right direction. Every year our collegiate players are better than the former crop. And that’s what we need to keep breeding in America.
If I had to pick one key factor, it would be more time together. We need to be fulltime as soon as possible.
RUGBY: What are you planning for the US 7s Team this summer?
Caravelli: We don’t really have anything planned. I will be encouraging as many players as possible, current players as well as prospects, to keep playing in our domestic competitions. We need to continue to strengthen our domestic competitions by having our top players playing in it.
Along with my staff, I’ll be at the National Club and All Star 7s Championships scouting for talent.
The National All Star Championship will be very important this year; more important than it’s ever been. Playing in the National All Star Championship will be one of the requirements for making the US 7s Team that will compete in this year’s Pan American Games and the Sevens World Series.
So the requirements to make the US National Sevens Team for the Pan Am Games and the Sevens World Series are to play in our domestic competitions and in the National All Star 7s Championship. We’ve had great responses and support from the Territorial Unions, where they’re holding open trials and combines, and I’ve been invited to those.
There was an open try-out in the Midwest RFU in Chicago on June 19th, where they did fitness testing in the morning and skill acumen appraisals in the afternoon.
We had very positive Mid-Atlantic RFU tryouts in Wilmington, Delaware on the June 26th, with close to 100+ athletes in attendance. Many of the attendees were 16-17 year-old, three-sport HS athletes that have now started to play rugby.
Our scouts attended the South RFU try-outs the week of July 1st; held in conjunction with the Cape Fear 7s Tournament.
The Northeast RFU tryouts will be held in NYC in conjunction with the NRU 7s Championships the 3rd week in July.
The West RFU tryouts took place in Denver, Colorado at Dicks Sporting Goods Park on July 24th.
The Southern California RFU’s will take place at UCLA on the12th or 13th of August.
The Pacific Coast’s are TBD.
Our thanks go out to hard working individuals listed below who organized the Territorial Union tryouts:
Northeast RFU – Sean Horan & the Village Lions
Mid-Atlantic – Chris Harvey, Steve Siano, Bjorn Haglid, Marcus Respus, Keith McLean, Vince Granger, Emilio Signes & the Wilmington RFC
South – Jules McCoy
Midwest – Aaron Manheimer & the Chicago Lions
West – David McPhail, Gregg Jarvis & Andre Snyman
Pacific Coast – John Tyler
Southern California – Jeremy Ognall, James Walker, Craig Hartley & Scott Stewart.
The players have a very busy summer playing 7s, as do myself and the 7s coaching staff in getting around the country attending tournaments, tryouts and combines.
RUGBY: When will the National 7s Team be assembled?
Caravelli: The 2011 US National Sevens team will be selected following the National All Star 7s Championship, which takes place on August 26-28 at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. All seven Territorial Union All Star Teams, plus the Collegiate All Americans, will be putting on their best performances to earn invites to the National 7s Camp.
On Saturday night the Territorial Union coaches and I will select Possible - Probable Teams that will play on Sunday. Two days later we will announce the pool of players that will represent the US at the Pan–Am Games.
To summarize, our selection format requires that the players:
- Work with their Territorial Union coaches,
- Go to a Territorial Union combine tryout,
- Play well and make their TU squad,
- Compete in the National All Star 7s Championship for the opportunity to make the US 7s Team.
We’re not going to select our National 7s Team players based on one-off tournament performances during the summer 7s season; you must go through the above format.
In addition to our own belief in the above selection system, it’s a process that the US Olympic Committee has requested. They also require that we make public the pathways to the US National Sevens Team.
RUGBY: How important are the National Club7s and National All Star 7s Championships as regards the development of 7s, the discovery of new talent, and the improvement of the US National Team?
Caravelli: We want everyone playing in the National Club and All Star 7s Championships.
We have a World Cup 15s Championship this year and many of our 7s guys have been named by Coach Eddie O’Sullivan to the 50-player National 15s Squad. If it wasn’t a World Cup Year, all of those guys would be playing in domestic 7s tournaments and would be on show.
The presence of current National Team players at the National Club and National All Star 7s Championships is important to show our newer prospects the proficiency level necessary to make the National 7s Team.
The National All Star 7s Championship is even more important than the National Club 7s.
The National Club 7s is limited to just 16 club teams, with some Territorial Unions limited to just two club teams. The National All Star Championship, on the other hand, gives all of the top players in each of the seven Territorial Unions an equal opportunity to make the US National Sevens Team.
You can’t play as an individual at the NASC. You must work together so we can see which individuals can make their teammates better players; who can adapt quickly to new players, situations, game plans or patterns placed upon them by the TU coaching staff.
RUGBY: The Vancouver 7s Tournament, which includes teams from Canada, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Guyana, Mexico & Argentina, takes place in Canada on July 16th. Why isn’t the US attending?
Caravelli: A lack of funding. All of the countries mentioned have received funding through their National Olympic Committees, but Olympic funding for the US Sevens Team doesn’t kick in until after the 2012 Olympics. Since Vancouver wasn’t in our current budget, we couldn’t put together a team to go.
RUGBY: Would there be any benefit to having a second US Team, with either you or another coach taking them to 2nd-tier international tournaments?
Caravelli: Emphatically, yes!
It would be ideal to have a pool of 15 athletes playing on the HSBC SWS 7s circuit, where they’re getting international experience, plus a second pool of 15 players travelling to 8-9 satellite tournaments. Such a two-team setup would allow us to develop our top players, with assistant coaches, skills coaches, and video coaches giving them a pathway to the senior team.
Having two teams gives us much more depth in both our player pool and professional coaching areas.
RUGBY: Would it be necessary to professionalize the 7s team to accomplish this?
We know the two-team system works, but to pull it off we’d have to professionalize both teams.
One of the top players currently competing on the World 7s Circuit is Springbok Cecil Afrika. Prior to making the Springbok 7s Team, he spent three years on South Africa’s Developmental Squad before graduating to the Springboks and the World 7s Circuit.
RUGBY: What is the current pathway for players aspiring to make the US National 7s Team?
Caravelli: The current pathway is for a player to make one of the seven Territorial Union All Star Teams, or the Collegiate All Americans, and for that player to compete in the National All Star 7s Championship.
RUGBY: What are you looking for in National 7s Team candidates?
Caravelli: We’re looking for speed, power, physical size, good footwork, good running lines, and a good vertical leap. Kicking ability, the ability to pass right and left-handed under pressure and the ability to put teammates away are important.
We look for the “X-Factor”, the ability for athletes to beat people one-on-one under pressure. We also look at such intangibles as a good work ethic and players who can put themselves into a professional environment.
As regards fitness, each player has 100% control over fitness and there are no excuses. We have minimum, measured fitness standards that all players are expected to meet or exceed. Meeting the minimum standard says that a player is “average”, and we’re seeking “world-class”. We’re looking for athletes committed to putting long, hard hours into their training.