The Women’s National All-Star Championships kicks off Friday, and a most interested observer will be USA 15s WNT Head Coach Pete Steinberg.
Fresh off coaching Penn State to another national championship, Steinberg is now scouting players to push for a national team place.
In July, he will bring in about 72 players to a week-long camp that will provide the foundation for the player pool leading into the 2014 World Cup. Those 72-odd players will be split into three teams which will, along with the Collegiate All Americans, play each other during a long training and scouting camp that will tell Steinberg much about what he has.
As many as 55 players are already on Steinberg’s invitation list, but he is still hiring, and that’s what he will be doing in Pittsburgh this weekend.
Are their areas of need? Yes and no.
“We are looking for players of qualify at any position,” Steinberg told RUGBYMag.com. “Anyone who steps up. However, we do have some issues of depth at prop and lock.”
Up front Steinberg will be looking for power. Players who are not quite fit enough or strong enough – he can make them better there. But he needs players who know where to be, know how to play, and have the heart to play.
At lock, the need is somewhat different. He can load up on heart and dedication – all Eagles need that – and he can make players fitter and stronger, but he can’t make someone taller.
“We are still looking for players of international size,” said Steinberg, who points to players like Stacey Bridges, a player who really should be a powerful blindside flanker, but is plays lock for the USA because there’s no one else. “We’re still putting out players who are 5-8, 5-9, 5-10, when we should be finding players around 6-2.”
There are tall second rows out there, said Steinberg. But those tall second rows will have to put a ton of work in to get to the international level. The coach will look at their play this weekend, and then show them the type of work commitment they will have to put in to get to the international level.
“The thing is, we can help them get there,” said Steinberg. “That’s what the Eagle 365 program is al about. It’s designed so players aren’t on their own; they have support.”
Eagle 365 is a program that helps players adjust their workouts, preparation, and nutrition to become Eagles. They work at and away from training centers placed around the country, usually at college campuses.
If he gets better tight five talent, Steinberg will be able to exert pressure in set pieces once the international test matches roll around.
“Women’s rugby at the highest levels is very territorial,” he said. “Field position and set piece control are extremely important. So if we can put pressure on the opposition in set piece and defensively, we’ll be in a better position. Having players of international size will help us.”
What will also help is a good kicking game. Kicking from the hand is also an area that needs improvement in the USA. This might seem odd given how many players grow up playing soccer.
“The fact that kids grow up playing soccer but our kicking game remains a weakness tells me it’s a technical issue,” he said. “We have to work on that. Not only out flyhalf, but our deep three have to be able to catch kicks and return kicks. In the past we’ve had deep three backs who are very quick and can run. We need to do more.”
Steinberg and his staff will be studying and evaluating players all weekend. Even those who are on the camp invitee list already will have their games coded and will receive a report on their play. If they fall off, they will know it, and know what they need to do to get better.
Meanwhile, Steinberg is also in touch with the other national coaches – Ric Suggitt, Bryn Chivers, and Martha Daines. He already has some of their players set for the camp (all the contracted 7s players are to be invited, and won’t be at this weekend’s NASC). Communication, said Steinberg, is crucial.
And communication with the players is crucial, too. Steinberg wants athletes who can play rugby. And he wants rugby players who are athletes. If you aren’t there physically now, he can live with it if you are prepared to put in the astounding level of work successful international rugby players put in.
“I am excited about the players we’re about to see,” said Steinberg. “I hope to see a player I don’t know much about really step it up.”