Women’s National Team coach Pete Steinberg hasn’t seen his players since mid-August but he’ll touch base with the majority of his newly selected Eagle pool tomorrow and Sunday at the Women’s Premier League championship.
Last year, Steinberg spent the tournament checking in with players before heading off to Italy and France for a three-game series, but there will be no fall tour this year.
“Last year, [fall] tour was good but it doesn’t work in our cycle,” Steinberg explained. “It was really hard to go right from the WPL final and then go abroad. [International] teams don’t really want to play in December; they want to play in November. So unfortunately our club structure doesn’t really allow it. That’s why we ended up playing France in the summer, not the fall [this year].”
A couple of Eagle Training Centers will be held in early December, followed by a players camp a month later, and that assembly will mark the official kickoff to the World Cup year. Ideally, the Eagles will play Canada in the spring, England in the summer, and work France in there somewhere, too. A lot of necessary fixtures on the horizon, but Steinberg is not limiting his upcoming selections to the current 50-player pool.
“About 60% of the squad plays in the WPL, so we’re just checking in, watching them play,” Steinberg said of the weekend agenda. “And we’re on the constant lookout to bring someone into the pool. So if someone performs well, then we’ll certainly look to bring them in.”
Steinberg ensures there are no “tiers” of players, ones who are guaranteed spots on the Women's Rugby World Cup squad and those who are in the pool to simply challenge them – which is good news for anyone who gets noticed this weekend.
“We certainly provide different levels of support based on what we think we can get out of the players,” Steinberg said. “Anyone in the pool has the opportunity to be selected and can go to the World Cup. We’ve had a number of players if, had you asked me a year ago, [I’d have said,] absolutely they’re going to the World Cup. And now I don’t know if they are.”
The squad heading to France in August may be far from selected, but there is one certainty: The USA has drawn a tough pool. Included are the reigning two-time champion, the current Six Nations champion, and a developing nation that is anything but a gimme-win.
“If you look at our pool, we have to hit the ground running,” Steinberg said. “We can’t have a poor performance in any of our pool games if we want any chance of going through. The way we guarantee going through is if we go 3-0 and beat New Zealand, Ireland and Kazakhstan. Obviously that’s going to be a tall order. Only one second-place [pool] team goes through to the semifinal. If you look at some of the other teams, they have much easier games, and they’re going to rack up points and bonus points. We have to be better prepared than we’ve ever been to have a chance of the semifinals.”
We'll keep our collective eye on the Eagle pool players this weekend as they vye for the fifth WPL title.