Archives for June 2013

Day 2 – Moscow RWC 2013 – Dreams Lost, Won, & Still Alive

If the referee had only called the USA Men  v New Zealand match 3 and a half minutes early, the USA would have defeated the All Blacks for the first time in history, but as the saying goes, “If my aunt had balls, she would be my uncle.”  The Eagles started the match playing fiercely like they had nothing to lose. Midway through the second half, leading 19-5, the men became indecisive as it dawned on them  they had the match and their moment in history  to lose. A penalty try and 2 other Kiwi tries in the last 3 minutes and the final score was 26-19.

Earlier in the day the Eagles added another loss (15-14) to Canada to extend the losing streak to 4 … I think.

The dream that is still alive is that the Eagles area  relatively young side and were in with a good chance in both their losses in a tough pool.

On Day 3 the men start their quest for the plate  against Argentina.

The US Women, after shaky starts against both Fiji and Spain, ended up easily winning both matches to finish top of their pool. Their cup quarterfinal against Ireland is a relatively easy match, but the women’s form and defense are shaky at times. They  need to reach another level if they are to progress past quarterfinals, and if they don’t bring at least their B game Ireland ‘s hard charging women will squash world champion dreams and send  the Eagles to compete for the plate. The US Women show a strong tendency on defense to not trust the inside player to make the tackle. If they get past Ireland , their semi-final will probably be against New Zealand.  Kiwi star winger (Portia Woodman) makes quick work of teams that give her a little space. To keep the dream alive the women will need to bring a level of play to the knock-out stages  that they didn’t show  in the pool stages. Weirdly after 6 months in the Olympic Training Center conditioning seems to be an issue for some players in the Moscow heat. Eagles Jillion Potter and Kelly Griffin’s work rate is outstanding , though, and Vanesha McGee’s ability to raise the tempo and intensity at just the right moment is inspiring.

Wales kept their dream of back to back world cup championships alive with an exciting hard fought win over Fiji (12-7).

Russians’ dream of a world championship on home soil were kept alive when the Russian women defeated  England in the last match of the day to put the Russians through as the top team in their pool.

Sadly and weirdly my personal dream to have a nice cool Russian beer while watching the US play in the Luzhniki  Olympic stadium is dead . No alcohol is allowed in the stadium or in the Olympic complex grounds.

 

2013 Rugby World Cup Moscow Day 1 … USA Men a Good 4 Minutes

Like a bowl of weak borsch that once you scoop the few bits of cabbage and meat out there is nothing tasty left for the second part of the soup, the USA men went scoreless in the second half while Georgia scored 2 tries (one converted). Fortunately the men led 26-7 at the end of the first half. Matt Hawkins (Eagles’ captain) started the match orchestrating a new style … passing before contact, switching and looping and finding space. Colin Hawley scored the first try under the post 40 seconds into the match. The Eagles’  second try was truly  brilliant. Multiple players handled the ball before Zach Test scored and no Eagle player even came close to being touched.  But then the magic disappeared. It was like the players decided, ‘ OK, we can play like this. Now let’s go back to how we used to do it … run the ball into contact and dig it out. ‘  Refs were very good all day  at calling players for off their feet in rucks, and strong  Eagle advances several times resulted in a penalty to Georgia.  New Zealand dissected Canada 31-12 in the other match between teams in the USA pool. With probably only one team going through to the cup quarterfinals from this pool, the Eagles seem to have little chance against New Zealand and unless they can find the first 4 minute magic against Canada they’ll  be battling for the bowl on Sunday.

Day one saw a few other surprises. In the opening match Zimbabwe lost by only a try and were winning 14-7 at half against  perennial power Samoa.  England defeated Portugal fairly easily 21-7 which was not a surprise. The surprise was how long they took between scoring a try and restarting. After  England’s first try they took so long that I began to time them. Over a minute on each of the 3 next tries. It was like they had no idea that from the 6 pools of 4 teams,  if you don’t win the pool,  only 2 other teams will go through to the cup quarterfinals and those 2 teams will be decided on point differentials. The other power in England’s pool  (Argentina) understands this. They beat Hong Kong 47-7 and after one try they kicked the conversion and would have  restarted  in 15 seconds if the ref hadn’t made the Pumas wait for Hong Kong to get ready.

After Day 1 New Zealand, Fiji, and South Africa look very strong. Kenya , Argentina, Australia,  & Wales  look like they could pull off an upset in the knock-out stages, and  Samoa can never be ignored.

June 23, 2013 One Week to New World Champ

In a week’s time the new Rugby World Cup 7s (RWC 7s) champs will be crowned in Moscow. They will reign as World Champs until the next RWC 7s in 2018. There was the possibility the winner would be the last RWC 7s champ ever, and then on  June 13th the IRB announced that the World Cup 7s would continue and be integrated into the Olympic cycle. The tossing about of the future of this tournament is (of course) because of rugby 7s being included in the Olympics. The international 7s series has also sapped some of the importance of winning the RWC 7s. Every year you now have 9 men’s and 4 women’s international tournaments.  Seldom do the same teams finish in the top 3 positions.

For the nine men’s tournaments in the 2012-13 season the final point standings were New Zealand (173), South Africa (132), & Fiji (121). South Africa finished first in 3 tournaments, and New Zealand and Fiji each won two. Samoa & England each won a tournament. What does that indicate about who would win the gold if this was the Olympic year & RWC 7s was the Olympic games? Very hard to say because the level of motivation will definitely escalate. For small countries like Fiji and Samoa where rugby could be the only sport in which they might medal and there is strong national pride in the rugby team, their level of commitment to the win could be the factor.  New Zealand and South Africa would be high hurdles to get past and too often the matches can hinge on refereeing, but a Fiji vs Samoa final would be a spectacle in Moscow and Rio and serious cause to ponder Olympic Training Centers and development of the game from the South Pacific perspective … which the USA seems to be doing with Serevi Camps.

For the USA this RWC 7s is to show that they deserve a spot in Rio. Unfortunately they are in a tough pool with New Zealand, Canada, & Georgia. The Eagles’ record against NZ & Canada was pretty poor this past HSBC 7s World Series season. The Eagles faced NZ four times and lost everytime. Combined points for 41 against 79. Against Canada the Eagles were one for four with 79 points for and 84 against. Georgia is a bit of an unknown. If their 15 aside play is an indicator they will be big and hard and it can be imagined they will have a partisan crowd in Moscow.

For the US Women they remain our best hope for a medal. The final legs of the Women’s series did little to change what was written about them in March  http://www.deepsouthrugby.net/rugby-sevens-7s-rio-olympics/march-gladness-or-sadness/ . They need to find a team will to win (at least akin to Canada’s) and the ability to perform with precision in crucial games, or they will be shut out of the gold, silver, or bronze in Moscow and in 3 years in Rio. In Moscow the Eagles have an easy pool and should come out to face either Australia, South Africa, or an emerging Irish side in the quarter-final. From there they will face one of their nemeses … Canada, England, or New Zealand and recent European champs Russia in the iconic Luzhnicki (sp?) Stadium with an expected huge home crowd advantage should not be dismissed.

I’ll try to Twitter from Moscow @deepsouthrugby  Wheels up 6 pm EST on June 25th.

Jerry Gallion & True South Geographic Union’s Evolution and Representation

From USA Rugby: ‘Effective with the opening of the 2011-2012 Competitive Season, the USA Rugby Board named four Geographic Unions (GUs) as part of a pilot program to review a new streamlined union structure to support anticipated growth in the game and to provide increased member services in the local areas. Geographic Unions (larger than typical Local Area Unions and smaller than current Territorial Unions) are defined based upon a combination of club density in an area and natural geographical boundaries.’ The total process was projected to take approximately 4‐5 years to complete. True South was not one of the original 4 geographical unions.  For the 2012-12 season the Deep South and Mid South Local Area Unions joined to form the True South Geographic Union.

 

In October, 2012, DeepSouthRugby.net published an email exchange in which Jerry Gallion (representative to the True South Geographic Union) answered questions about the evolving True South structure and dues implications. http://www.deepsouthrugby.net/2012-2013-deep-sotuy-rugby-articles/deep-south-merges-to-become-true-south-related-issues/  That email exchange was in response to one of the evolutionary issues encountered by youth and high school rugby clubs with the simultaneous advance of USA Rugby’s shift to state-based governance for the youth and high school game. State Rugby Organizations (SROs) have now been established in most states to govern youth and high school rugby. http://www.usarugby.org/sro

 

As the Geographic Union pilot plan was beginning, colleges and universities were starting to go their own way and form their own competitive leagues or conferences. The Div. 1 universities formed the SEC Rugby Conference http://www.secrugby.com/   and area Div 2 & small colleges formed the Deep South Collegiate Rugby Conference http://www.deepsouthrugbyconference.com/

 

 At the January 2013 USA Rugby Congress meeting, it was approved that the GU structure would no longer be considered a pilot program and would be fully adopted as the local governance model for Club Rugby moving forward.

 

The following is a link to the teams that currently participate in the True South Union https://www.allplayers.com/g/true_south_geographic_union-80302/

 

Prior to the USA v Ireland match (June 8, 2013) members of the USA Rugby Congress and Board of Directors met in Houston with USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville to address appropriate revisions to the USA Rugby by-laws resulting from the intentional division of the administration of the sport in the USA, described above.  The following are Jerry Gallion’s observations on issues facing the emerging True South Geographic Union –

 

The current by-laws, which include how Congress representatives are chosen, reflect the old Territorial Union governance model, one which has now been overtaken by events. The current by-laws provide that Congress is made up of three representatives from each of the seven Territorial Unions, plus a 20% contingent of international athletes to comply with USOC requirements. But the recent separation of the youth and high school (SROs), college (conferences), and senior club rugby into three separate “silos” left the Congress made up of representatives only from senior clubs. That, combined with the evolution of the governance model from the two-level Territorial Union/Local Area Union structure to the single-layer Geographic Union structure, resulted in no representation on the Congress for youth and high school rugby or college rugby or from the GUs directly. The challenge for the Congress was to settle on a fair and reasonable mechanism to ensure appropriate representation by youth and high school, college, and senior club rugby interests.

 

After a long and lively debate by the Congress members, a compromise was reached in which youth and high school rugby interests would have ten representatives, college rugby interests would have ten representatives, and senior club rugby interests would have sixteen representatives, which, when combined with the requisite number of international athletes (nine) would result in a Congress of 45 members. The by-laws committee of the Congress will draft and propose revisions, including the mechanisms for each “silo” to select or elect its Congress members, and it is likely that the current Congress will approve them later this year.  The Youth and High School Committee and the College Management Council have already determined how their representatives will be selected. The sixteen senior club representatives will be elected geographically, two from each Competitive Region under the new Club Competitions Structure that becomes effective on September 1, 2013.  For the True South GU, that primarily means that its representation will come from individuals elected in National Competitive Region 2 (NCR2), geographically very similar to the old USA Rugby South Territorial Union, although some of the True South GU’s actual geography now lies in the American Competitive Region 4 (ACR4, a/k/a Red River Rugby Conference) to the West.

 

A significant challenge facing the True South GU, and all of its counterparts across the country, is retention of the players  who are being introduced to rugby and developed through the youth and high school and college “silos,” by the senior clubs within the union. Current statistics, although primitive, indicate that only a small percentage find their way into the club game. In my view, that is directly related to the maturity and effectiveness of administration at the senior club level. Every club with aspirations earnestly wants to improve its infrastructure, its management, its coaching, its level of play, its ability to recruit and retain quality players and administrators, its relationships with its home community,  the visibility of rugby and its local “brand” or image, its sponsorship and financial stability, its plan for the future.  Most need help finding and using the right tools to do that. USA Rugby has recently appointed a Club Director (Jim Snyder), charged with developing a plan to address the retention issue. This is a big challenge, and I have told him that I believe it is directly linked to the vitality of the individual clubs. Giving them tools, best practices, the benefit of the experiences of others, simply a leg up, is critical to achieving  retention of young folks who are now learning the game.

 

 

 

History of New Orleans Halfmoons – A Beginning

History of the Origins of the New Orleans Women’s Rugby Club (Halfmoons)

Below is the beginning of the story as Kris Franz related to me during halftime in a match at the 7s in Vegas in 2103. Please read and comment. There are questions below. Feel free to pass around to others who might have information about the history. Send additions and comments to deepsouthrugby@hotmail.com

In 1978 Jenna Meeks, Laura Roberts, Kris Franz, and Leslie Brandt while gathered at a bar in the French Quarter began to discuss forming a women’s rugby club in New Orleans. Three of the people present had played at LSU. Leslie Brandt (who had not played at LSU) had recently attended a meeting of the West RFU. The plan which was discussed and later enacted was to become an associate member of the West RFU.

Players came to the club in many different ways. Some had played in college but many had an athletic interest in the sport sparked just by watching the women practice or play. Tracy Moens (who went on to play representative rugby for the national side) was jogging on the batcher (levee) one day when she saw the Halfmoons practicing. She came out to her first practice which included a scrimmage. Kris Franz tackled her and looked her in the eyes and said, “ If you want to play rugby and you can take that, you’re in.” Tracy brushed herself off and said, “I want to play.”

In the early days the Halfmoons traveled to either Texas or Florida for matches. Florida State University was the competition in Tallahassee, and Houston had 2 sides (The Hearts and the Boars) and the Dallas Debutants would would come to Houston to make a round robin tournament out of New Orleans visit to the Lone Star State.

For the first 3 to 5 years the Halfmoons were awful. The team was excited just to score a try. The idea that the team might win a game was almost laughable. After George Henderson began to coach the team they began to steadily improve and recruit  serious athletes.

Questions:

Is there a history out there we can add to? Kris, you seemed to indicate during our far too brief chat that there is a history that says the club began in 1979, but you think that is incorrect because you were out  of LSU in 1978 and playing rugby in New Orleans for a New Orleans club. Right?

How did the name Halfmoon arise?

What year did George Henderson  arrive? He came on NORFC tour to Bahamas in 1981 and he was coaching Halfmoons then, I think.

What  was the highest “ranking” the Halfmoons achieved and when was that?

Everybody add what you like and please correct my spelling of names.

June 8, 2013 Little Ventured, Nothing Gained

Ultimately what will this match mean to either country? The favorite  Ireland extended its winning streak against the USA to 8. The narrow winning margin will be dismissed because of Ireland’s top players either being away with the Lions or resting from injury.  The meaning will need to come from what the sides ultimately learn about themselves.

USA Rugby hopefully learned that Houston is THE PLACE  to hold an international match. Over 20,000 fans showed up to set a new  USA  record.

Both Ireland and USA looked hesitant in attack. USA scrumhalf, Mike  Petri,  took critical fractions of seconds while he waited for players to be in  the right position. Possibly this was necessary as US handling was not good, and knock-ons led to the Eagles greatest failing – scrums.  Penalties from scrums resulted in several penalties. Two were converted.  Others left the USA deep in their own territory.

Fortunately Ireland floundered with line-outs. Unfortunately the USA could do little more than kick the stolen possession away.

The Eagles delivered several ‘big hits”, but the result was often Ireland cycling the ball out quickly and making one of the few line breaks of the evening.

The match was exciting to watch because it was close, but not for the quality of rugby. Lots of time was spent in scrums. When USA captain, Todd Clever, was yellow carded following an accidental late hit that gave Ireland 3 points and a one man advantage,  Chris Wyles expertly  slowed the match down milking every second  before Clever returned. Todd’s work rate was once again outstanding, but where is the emerging replacement for the 30 year-old Clever. The professional backrow of LaValla (Stade Francais), Manoa (Northampton), and Clever (NTT Shining Arc) were a strong defensive force, but they haven’t jelled as an offensive unit providing the quick offload to a ready backline. The backline was good in defense but often were flat and except for Hume and Ngwenya showed little strike potential.

In the 62nd minute Ngwenya made a break and kicked ahead. He reached the ball just as an Irish player knocked-on close to the try line. The USA was unable to take advantage of either the knock-on or the ensuing scrum and after several phases ended up settling for a penalty which ended the scoring at 15-12.

This section is devoted to the World Cup and the USA’s involvement in this pinnacle (to quote  Paul Emerick) tournament of rugby 15s. When Mike Tolkin (USA coach) was asked at the pep rally prior to the Ireland match how much was he thinking about 2015, he indicated very little by holding his thumb and forefinger slightly separated. This match will have little bearing on World Cup qualification or future World Cup success unless Canada picked up some ideas on how to exploit the USA’s weaknesses. It was a nice evening out in Houston, a great rugby hosting town, with little ventured and nothing gained …. unless the USA learns from mistakes.

June 2, 2013 An Opportunity for the Future – USA v Ireland

Ireland vs USA – An Opportunity for the Future

                Plenty has been written  about the illusion of a depleted Irish side.  The 28 Irish players coming to Houston bring a total 215 caps in comparison to the 320 caps collected by the 28 Eagles selected to possibly represent the USA  on June 8, 2013. (Cap count for Irish players from the Ireland website &  for the USA  from Wikipedia.) The Irish have  18 tourists with 5 or fewer caps and six will be looking for their first cap. The USA has 13 players with 5 or fewer caps and 4 looking for their first cap.  (FYI – The 10 Irish players touring with the British & Irish Lions have a total of 552 caps.)

Although the cap count favors the USA, the imaginary scale that weighs the importance of this match to each individual player is tilted to the Irish. To find a spot  on the Irish side after  the Irish  Lions return from Australia will necessitate nothing less than  an outstanding performance against a tier 2 side.  For the Eagles the match  ultimately means little. Few pundits give the Eagles much of a chance. A major upset over an Irish side will only be  a temporary lift. Media will downplay the victory because the Irish stars are absent . A critical injury to a  key USA player  will call into question the wisdom of playing a star before important world cup qualifying matches against Canada, especially if it is a professional player just returning from the European season via  a BaaBaa’s match in Hong Kong.

This section of the www.deepsouthrugby.net  website  focuses on the Eagles’ world  cup efforts. In England in 2015 I would love to see the Eagles make it to the quarterfinals  for the first time in what would be their  7th world cup appearance.   The best chance for this to happen is to defeat Canada home and away in August and end up America #1 in Pool D with France, Ireland, Italy, & Europe 2 (probably Russia or Georgia). The other qualification options are Pool B as America #2 against South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, and  Asia 1 (probably Japan).  This pool is not much  more difficult than Pool D, but if by an unlucky ball bounce we  lose the home and away series against the South American winner (Uruguay or Chile), we would be  thrown  into a qualification battle for a spot in Pool A with Australia, England, Wales, and Oceania #1 (Tonga or Fiji).

When I started this article this morning, the lovely Yorkshire lass I call my wife reminded me of how rarely I have pulled on the coach’s cleats. With that warning well in mind, I humbly submit the following as  an approach to the Ireland match with a view to future world cup success … play the youngest players.  None of the men suggested below will be over 30 in 2015.

Sample  starting line-up with age:

15 Blaine Scully  25

14 Luke Hume  25

13 Seamus Kelly  22

12 Toby L’Estrange  24

11 James Patteron  26

10 Adam Sidall  24

9 Will Holder  22

8 John Quill  23

7 Cameron Dolan  23

6 Liam Murphy  24

5 Scott LaValla  24

4 Graham Harrison  26

3 Shawn Pittman  25

2 Zach Fenoglio  23

1 Nick Wallace  23

Mentoring from the bench and ready to come on if things go  wanky: Clever, Wyles, Ngwenya, Petri, Suniula, Fry, Biller, Manoa,  Stanfill … oops, two too many, but you get the idea.