Here’s what USA Coach Mike Tolkin said after the loss

Your faithful reporter missed the post-game media conferences after the U.S. loss to Japan. The game ended at 21:35 (as they say over here), and the last train to Oxford and the apartment left at 21:59. So there wasn’t really any choice about it unless Kathy and I wanted to sleep in the Gloucester streets overnight.

She didn’t.

We rushed to the train station.

So the quotes here of what was said at the media conference come from the Rugby World Cup media site.

You will see that USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin is optimistic to the end, which may not sit well with some readers. I have said in earlier posts that I was skeptical about such optimism and whether it was justified given that the Eagles did not win a game or earn a bonus point in the Rugby World Cup standings. U.S. rugby fans keep being told to look ahead four years to the next World Cup, and judging from Facebook comments on earlier posts quoting Tolkin, that is no longer satisfactory.

I report here the quotes from the Rugby World Cup. That doesn’t mean I agree with them, as seems to have been the impression of an earlier post.

On where the match was lost:

“It was pretty clear we made some simple errors,” Tolkin said, “and whenever we scored we allowed Japan straight back into the game. We had momentum and then let it slip at critical times which was disappointing today.”

On the development of tier-two nations:

“I think it’s certainly a big stepping stone; the margins of victory have been far lower than previous tournaments. There haven’t been the massive blowouts in certain games and every game has been tough, so I think it will be interesting to see what happens in 2019 with tier-two teams.”

On his team’s World Cup performance:

“I think it has been the best we’ve ever performed. We have been consistent in every game and showed moments of brilliance and periods of good play, unfortunately our game management and other areas let us down.”

I thought Chris Wyles, the team captain against Japan, had a more realistic and pragmatic outlook. Here are his quotes from the Rugby World Cup media site:

On the team’s performance against Japan and the tournament overall:

“It came down to consistency, which is the story of our World Cup. Playing some good rugby, but not for the full 80. Credit to Japan, it shows what you can do if you have four years to prepare.

“We were in it against Samoa, good first half against Scotland, and showed some glimpses tonight against Japan. Disclpline throughout has been an issue for us, pushing the boundaries when we need to stay composed.

“No excuses, but it’s difficult with some of our guys playing domestic rugby in the States, and we need to find a way to get everyone on to a level playing field.”

On the ability of USA to compete at a higher level in future:

“There is a lot of talk about our potential, and it is up to us to find the formula to make that happen. We haven’t come away with a win, and we had one win at the last World Cup. So we have to find that formula.”

On being involved in the first try against Japan, and scoring a try himself:

“Any time you play in a World Cup it’s an amazing experience – until you’ve played in one you won’t understand it. But you want to win, not just take to the pitch and lose games against the top teams. So we’ve got four years in front of us to prepare for the next one.”

So now it is on to the quarter finals with Australia and Wales from Pool A meeting South Africa and Scotland from Pool B; New Zealand and Argentina from Pool C meeting Ireland and France from Pool D. Should be some good games in there. We will be at six of them.

Fulfilling promise of U.S. rugby could start today with win over Japan

Today would be a good day to start on fulfilling the promise of U.S. rugby.

With the last game the Eagles will play in the Rugby World Cup 2015 only a few hours away, it’s worth taking a further look at what the Eagles coaching staff has said about the future of the game in the United States.

Mike Tolkin
Mike Tolkin (USA Rugby photo)

After the 64-0 loss to South Africa on Wednesday, head coach Mike Tolkin said, “At this World Cup you don’t get any 80, 90, or 100-point scores. They (players) played against a full Springboks side. In four years’ time it will be really interesting to see what happens. It would have been interesting to see what a full (USA) side would have done against the Springboks.”

No one at the post-game media conference followed up on what Tolkin meant by a “full” side. The players he rested for today’s game against Japan? The players that Tolkin sees in the future?

And he does see better U.S. sides in the future, as does the rest of his coaching staff.

Before the game against the Springboks, Chris O’Brien was quoted on the Rugby World Cup media site saying the USA would become more powerful in future World Cups. The kicking and special teams coach said, “I think we’ve competed already at a higher level than we have at previous World Cups. The wins and losses don’t show it but we’ve become a better rugby nation, that’s shown through the first half against Scotland and Samoa.

Chris O'Brien (USA Rugby photo)
Chris O’Brien
(USA Rugby photo)

Absolutely the game is growing. It’s the fastest growing sport in the country right now and you’re seeing that. When we travel we see kids playing. They start at five or six years old. You’ll see in the next two World Cups where that’s really going to show.”

O’Brien went on to talk about something that could provide a big boost to the game in America: Sevens in next summer’s Olympics. Assuming it gets prime time television coverage, it could spur more interest in the game, especially when the rest of America finds out their country has been the defending rugby Olympic champions for 90 years.

O’Brien led up to the sevens game in his answer to whether professional rugby will develop in the U.S.:

“I honestly can’t answer that. I’ve heard about it for the last 15, 20 years but it hasn’t happened; there’s always talk. In the States all of our big sports pay so much money. In one sense I can get an NFL player to come and play rugby, but it’s so hard to teach the sport and they want something. They’re used to being in a different environment so it’s pretty tough. That’s why it’s building the foundations from youth all the way up and getting these guys through.

“The dream of an American is to play in the NFL, the NBA, major league baseball. Now you also want to be an Olympian. You can teach someone sevens (rugby) quicker than 15s.”

Probably all this talk about how good it will be in future World Cups won’t satisfy those who have been hearing it for so long. And a reduction in runaway scores from 100 points down to 64 seems like being on a nearly never-ending diet before reaching the goal of a win or two.

But a win today in Gloucester would help make believable something Lou Stanfill, a Seattle Saracen player who has more than 50 caps for the U.S., said earlier this week:

“The direction things are going, future World Cups hold huge amounts of promise for us and America intends to fulfill that promise.”

Today would be a good time to start.

United States has one last chance to show improvement and win a game

The United State rugby team gets its last chance to win a game in the 2015 Rugby World Cup when they take on Japan at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester on Sunday.

For Japan, a win would make their third place finish in Pool B look a bit healthier, but even with a five-point bonus win they would fall a point short of taking the runner-up spot from Scotland.

It could have been much more meaningful if on Saturday Samoa had defeated Scotland. Then a win by Japan over the United States would have put Japan through to the quarter finals. Or, the U.S. Eagles could have played spoiler to Japan and helped the Scots through. But Samoa couldn’t quite get it done, losing 36-33.

In the quarter finals, Scotland will play Australia, the winner of Pool A after defeating Wales Saturday 15-9. South Africa gets Wales in the quarter finals.

New Zealand and Argentina advance from Pool C, but won’t know their quarter final opponents until after the Franc-Ireland game on Sunday.

A win by the Eagles on Sunday would do a lot to restore some belief in the outlook by U.S. Coach Mike Tolkin that things are headed in the right direction for U.S. rugby. After the 64-0 drubbing by South Africa, fans could rightfully be skeptical of Tolkin’s optimism.

As he says in the video above, the U.S. did pretty well in the first half (as they did against Samoa and Scotland), holding a full Springbok team to 14 points from two tries that came only after they had to “work their way down the field.” Then, as he says, South Africa got going in the second half, scoring 50 points.

Tolkin sees the problem correctly — many young players in the lineup with little experience at the international or World Cup level. He saw good performance by individuals but not as a team.

For the game on Sunday, Tolkin is starting 13 players who were not in the South Africa starting 15. Only Samu Manoa at No. 8 and Zack Test, a winger, remain from the game played on Wednesday.

Tolkin said he was also frustrated with the four-day turnaround between the two matches and said he “was not alone in that.”

“I’m sure the Rugby World Cup will look at that.”

As for U.S. rugby, he says things will get better.

“Four years down the road, it will be interesting to see what happens in the game,” Tolkin said in calling for international rugby to continue investing in “tier two” nations.

As he said after the Scotland game, the U.S. side would improve with more professional experience.

“Half my guys will have to go to work on Monday,” Tolkin said, and that will not mean going back to play on professional teams in top tier nations. It will mean resuming jobs as plumbers, fitness trainers, etc.

But Tolkin says he thinks that is about to change and predicted professional rugby union competition in the Untied States “soon.”

I like the idea, but I remain skeptical.

Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu's record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).
Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu’s record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).