Archives for May 2016

May 28, 2016 Pete Steinberg on 7s, 15s, & Pathways to Future

Following the USA Women 7s’ team first two pool matches at the Clermont 7s Tournament (26-7 loss to England & 12-10 loss to Spain), DSR.net spoke with Pete Steinberg who is USA Women’ 7s’ assistant coach & head coach for USA Women 15s.

DSR.net: What are you saying to the team now?

Steinberg: In terms of the actual tournament it probably isn’t going to be a huge difference as long as we come as one of the top third place teams; because, if we had won that game (vs Spain) and beat Kenya, we would play Australia, and now we’ll probably, if we can get the points against Kenya, end up playing New Zealand.
(Note: USA ended up the second best third place team and played England in the quarterfinal. England won 21-12.)
So in terms of the outcome of the tournament not a huge difference for us; however, in terms of our growth as a team with a new coach, there was a lot of learning that happened in that game.

DSR.net: Learning in what respect?

Steinberg: When the team was really able to execute our structures and how we want to play, we play both on offense and defense and play really good rugby.The team is still trying to work on those structures with a new coach. Unlike every other team here that has had years to implement them, we’re still inconsistent. It is just a question of building up the consistency and understanding of what Richie wants from the players.

DSR.net: We seemed to just be getting the ball straight out and passing letting us down?

Steinberg: Yeah, what we would say is that we want to stretch the field, and we want to stretch the field a couple of times to really stretch the defense before we really attack. We are just being a little bit too eager. You see we try to stretch the field once and then we try something else. We need to have a bit more patience, playing with width again, and then looking to go an attack.
The conditions aren’t great and some of the passing is again a different alignment that Richie wants the team to have, and that is new to them, and that causes timing and depth issues.
When we scored our try, especially in the second half, we moved the ball wide, attacked hard, won the ball, moved it wide, – we scored. That was really good.

DSR.net: The speed on the outside? Excluding when Lilly Durbin scored her first try, the outside backs are getting caught?

Steinberg: Yeah, we are o.k. with that. The try came from Vix (Victoria Folayan) taking the outside, running hard, bringing the defenders in, to create space all the way on the other wing when Lilly scored. So we are o.k. with that, but we need to do that a few more times. We just need a little more patience straight through three or four phases to really break down some of the better defenses, a defense like England’s. It takes that sort of time for us to be able to disorganize them.

DSR.net: Can I ask a 15s question?

Steinberg: Sure.

DSR.net: For the Paris World Cup in 2014 there were some issues getting 7s players to play with the USA team. Is that going to be an ongoing problem?

Steinberg: What we always want to do is put the players and their careers first. In the discussions I have had both with Richie and Alex Maglesby, I’ve expressed that having 7s players available will be important for the performance of the 15s’ team, and I think you saw that. In Paris we were basically the top ranked team that didn’t have 7s players available. Both us and Australia struggled to get our 7s players available.
From an organizational perspective there is an understanding that we are now into this cycle. The year after the Olympics is going to be a focus on Women’s 15s going to the World Cup. Then the focus will move back to 7s with the 7s World Cup in San Francisco.
It will be interesting, but it is the players’ call.
If Richie continues, he is a great believer in people need to play rugby. You take someone like Richelle Stephens. She is a great player, but Richelle will make ten tackles here this weekend … total. There are only five tournaments. Someone like her, who is 19/20 or Lilly, they just need to play more rugby.

DSR.net: I saw in 2013 there was this development plan designed so players would be brought along to peak at 27 or 28 years old. Now this squad is all over the place. Lilly is 17, and Carmen Farmer is 35. New Zealand they are all around 27 and Australia is even younger?

Steinberg: The difference we have had is that the USA hasn’t had a defined pathway up until last year. Last year the pathway was unified. There is now a collegiate 7s program. There is now the high school, U-20s, and Collegiate All-Americans all aligned with the Eagles and 7s teams. We can now do that. That is something that has always been in place in traditional rugby nations. That allows us to now identify that future.
Before we had no defined pathway, so we didn’t know who the 17-18-19 year olds were who we should be developing for 2020. Now we do.
We already have a list of players identified for 2020. We didn’t have that in 2013.

DSR.net: Is the vision now toward 2020 more than 2016?

Steinberg: No, No. No! You can’t only work on four year cycles.
From Richie’s perspective he is focused on 2016. This team is focused on 2016.
If you look at like my role because I also do the pathways stuff, we’re the people, like Tam Breckenridge and Alex Maglesby, we are saying, ‘While Richie is focused on 2016, what is the group look like for 2020.’ We are building those structures, and I think we have them pretty much in place.
I think we are going to be in good shape. Richie has only been on the ground for two months and has two more months, so he is only half through.
I think we are in pretty good shape for the culture he wants to develop and the game he wants to play.

DSR.net:Thanks.

Steinberg: No problem. Enjoy France.

May 29, 2016 Clermont 7s Day 2 & Beyond

The USA Women’s 22-19 loss in the plate final of the Clermont 7s to host country France placed the USA in 6th place in the tournament. Unless miracles happen in the next two months, this is the likely place the USA ladies will find themselves on August 9th in Rio. Against any well coached, experienced international side the Eagle women struggled. England eclipsed them 26-7 in pool play and then again 21-12 in the cup quarterfinal. The USA’s 2 victories in the tournament (31-0 vs Kenya, 14-12 vs Fiji) were over sides with considerably less experience in top level international tournament play, and the narrow victory over Fiji was a sad indicator that the USA is losing ground against emerging sides. The nation of Fiji has a population about the same as the city of Jacksonville.

Canada defeated series winning Australia in the cup final. Australia, who had already claimed the first ever tournament series championship for an Australian team with their quarterfinal (35-0) victory over Spain, battered through arch-rival New Zealand 14-5 in the semi-final. Canada had a relatively easy semi-final after a few easy try opportunities in their 31-10 win over England. It is hard to believe that beyond these 4 teams (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, & England/Great Britain) there is another team that will be competitive for medals in Rio. This tournament was also a good reminder that initial seeding and resulting placement in the knock-out round will be crucial to making it to the gold medal match with the right condition and attitude to carry the day.

As mentioned when I started these articles on the London 7s and Clermont 7s, this is the end of DeepSouthRugby.net’s coverage of international 7s. As I look around media centers, I see that not only is the sport for the young, but the reporting on the sport seems to also be for the youngish. Recently as we struggled to convince USA Rugby that we were deserving of press accreditation to events, we were told that media services (like the game itself) is becoming more professional. DSR.net has never accepted advertisement. Fran & I began the website to fill a gap for providing information and record the history of a rugby union that has since been dissolved into the True South Union. Our extension of this mission to cover the USA’s national teams’ achievements in international play will hopefully continue with articles on the USA Women and Men’s 15s and their path to World Cup success while continuing our coverage of rugby in the region once described as the Deep South (Louisiana. Mississippi, Alabama, & the Florida Panhandle).

In my previous article on Day 1 of Clermont 7s, “Horror & Hope”, I took some comments by assistant coach Peter Steinberg out of context and with a bit of tongue-in-cheek tried to make the USA’s poor performance on Day 1 seem like a coach’s sly strategy. Over the next few days I will transcribe the very thoughtful and sincere answers that Peter gave to my questions as I think they give a nice vision of where USA women’s rugby finds itself today and where it hopes to be by 2020. image

May 28, 2016 Clermont 7s Day 1: Horror & Hope

It was a warm and partly cloudy day as New Zealand and Russia kicked-off the Clermont7s. Kayla McAlister announced her return with the first try of the tournament. The New Zealand machine was truly impressive with McAlister, Woodman, Manuel, and Goss all back and in good form.

The Eagles seemed almost desperate in their opening 26-7 loss to an English side which was resting leading try scorer Joanne Watmore. If there was a bright spot for the Eagles it was the play of Leyla Alev Kelter. Her work rate, intensity, and individual effort led to her scoring the USA’s only try. The USA’s passing was dreadful. The English side drove the Eagles off loose ball. Careless mistakes handed over possession in penalties. Coach Walker sent on Jessica Javelet and Katherine Johnson with 3 minutes to go. If the intent was to have fresh legs to make an impact, there was a brief break by Javelet which quickly ended when possession was kicked away. The Eagles’ play (excluding Kelter) was mundane at best and very sloppy at its worst. The Eagles’ single try and final 22 point differential was a definite wake-up call for the tremendous gap that needs to be filled if this side is to be competitive in Rio in a little over 2 months.

The USA lost their second pool match 12-10 to Spain. From the knock-on at the kick-off to Spain’s tying try before their winning conversion, the Eagle performance was fraught with errors and failure to create enough space outside for anyone until 17 year-old Lily Durbin put the Eagles briefly ahead late in the second half. Her taking the pass at pace and cruising easily in for a try is promising of good things to come.

USA assistant 7s coach Peter Steinberg in a post-match interview explained the USA’s strategy as attempting to develop a side that can quickly stretch defenses wide. Excuses were made for the short length of time Coach Walker has had to work with the side. He is two months on the job with two months to go before the Olympics. For most rugby players the strategy and skills involved in getting the ball quickly to the outside is a basic you work on from your first practice.

As far as this tournament goes Coach Steinberg was reasonably comfortable that the USA would qualify for the cup knock-out round by finishing as one of the two best third place sides out of the pool matches. Perhaps this is a strategy the Eagles are working on for the Olympics. They play a deceptively simple game in the early rounds, save key players, and slide into the knock-out round as a third place underdog, and then unleash the hidden talents. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this and giving it away to the world. Fortunately very few people read my stuff and even fewer get past the first two paragraphs.

In the third pool match the Eagles showed the team they can become. Granted Kenya is playing their first tournament at this level, but they have some speed and skills. The Kenyans threatened early, but were stopped by two try saving tackles by Victoria Folayan. The early stalemate cracked. Eagles passes were sharp even though drizzle made things slippery. Kelly Griffin set up Lily Durbin’s second career try. Alev Kelter continued as an unstoppable force, adding a try and two conversions. Folayan added a try as did Javelet & Johnson as the Eagles cruised to a 31-0 victory.

The USA finished Day 1 as the second best third in the pool round and will face England in a cup quarterfinal tomorrow. The very sly tactic is working. The English will find a big difference from the side they beat 26-7 in pool play.

May 27,2016 – Tomorrow Clermont7s, Today VixFly’s Birthday

My journey as a rugby journalist following the USA Women’s 7s team began a little over three years ago during the inaugural series of the women’s 7s’ tournaments in Houston. The Eagles took second in that tournament. Vix Folayan scored two tries in their semi-final 17-5 victory over Australia which set up the Eagles’ 29-12 loss in the cup final to England. Over the ensuing three years Australia rose to be the dominant side in women’s 7s, and eight of the members of that Eagle squad played their last 7s matches as Eagles. A USA Rugby development plan that envisioned players peaking at 27 was a factor in some players being released. Vix Folayan was 27 in Houston three years ago. Today in Clermont-Ferrand, on the eve of the final tournament in the women’s series before the Olympics, Vix turns 31, and is still a key player for the Eagles.

Many of the early Eagles’ players were cross-over athletes coming from track and/or basketball. Tomorrow Lily Durbin will play in her first international tournament as an Eagle. She is 17 and has been playing rugby for four years in high school. Also, on the squad is Carmen Farmer, a 35 year-old player from the Eagles’ 15s program. One wonders what happened to the development plan if this is the squad that is being fine tuned before the Olympics.

During the last three years there was a period of focused effort to recruit more cross-over athletes. Players like Jessica Javelet (30) and Alev Kelter (25) joined the team and have had significant impact. Does the recent effort to bring up to international competitive levels players like Durbin and 19 year-old Richelle Stephens, a rugby player from the same high school as Durbin, indicate a shift away from cross-over athletes or something else?

After the 7s World Cup in 2013 I wrote that the USA Men’s team had little to no chance of medalling in Rio, and the USA Women’s team had a good outside shot at bronze. Those estimations have reversed. The USA Men brought in an outstanding coach, Mike Friday, and seemed to have developed a squad that hovers around the age of 27. The USA Women went into coaching chaos when Richie Walker replaced Jules McCoy who replaced Rick Suggitt and all within a year of the Olympics. Rumors swirled about a player or players who were more persuasive to Alex Magleby, USA Performance Director, than coaches who disagreed about the player or players’ value, and this led to the coaching changes.

Coach Walker’s eclectic mix of ages and sporting backgrounds seems more an approach to developing a squad for medalling in 2020 than a team that will bring home medals this coming August. Tomorrow they get to prove me wrong. Today … Happy Birthday, VixFly!

May 23,2016 – Eagles Win 3rd at London 7s & Lose Olympic Sweet Spot

If you depended on British newspapers for your sports news, the only happening on British soil over the weekend that USA rugby fans had to cheer about was Chris Wyles’s imagetwo tries in Saracens’ 44-17 Aviva Premiership semi-final victory over Leicester. The USA Eagles’ victory over Fiji in the London 7s’ battle for third place went unmentioned.

The win over Fiji, while being a fantastic result over the current dominant side in world rugby, has to be measured against what was lost in the tournament. In the USA’s semi-final clash with eventual tournament champs Scotland long-time Eagle inspirational player Zach Test went down with what seemed to be a serious injury. And, if my information and calculations are correct, the USA passed England, and thus Team Great Britain, to gain fifth place in the two year world ranking system the Olympics are using to place nations in pools for August in Rio. This moves the Eagles out of the sixth place sweet spot and an all but guaranteed pool win over relative 7s lightweight Brazil. As the Olympics 7s will have a twelve team tournament, the 8 teams to go through to the knock-out round will be the top two teams in each pool plus the two best third place finishers. Point differentials will be important. Having a team like Brazil in your pool could be critical to even making it through to the medalling phase. My calculations put the USA in a pool with South Africa, France, and the repechage winner who will be decided in a 16 team tournament in Monaco in June. My money will be on Samoa to win that final Olympic spot.

On a personal note for those who have read earlier posts in this series of articles about DeepSouthRugby’s coverage of the London 7s and the women’s series final tournament in Clermont-Ferrand, I wrote earier that this would be the end of my coverage of international 7s for DeepSouthRugby.net. Yesterday at Twickenham as the tournament moved into the finals of bowl, plate, shield, and cup play a writer for Rugby World invited me to go to the World Rugby booth to interview Brian O’Driscoll and watch the final matches there. Sitting around a table with BOD, sipping a lovely malbec, and discussing the rumors of his playing pro rugby in the USA and Ireland’s chances to qualify for the Olympics has me questioning my line in the sand decision to end this part of my rugby journalist avocation.

London 7s Day 1 – Mardi Gras in a Bubble

A strong defensive effort in a 14-10 loss to South Africa and the occasional magic of Perry Baker was enough for the USA Eagles to find a way to the Cup Quarterfinals at the London 7s.

The Eagle started Day 1 defeating Paris 7’s champs Samoa 12-5. The Samoan side would prove to be not of the same ilk as the team that defeated Fiji in the Final in Paris a week earlier.
They would go 0-3 on the day. In their second match the Eagles would equal South Africa with two tries apiece. South Africa’s tries would come from perennial stars of the game Cecil Afrika and Seabelo Senatla. The Eagle’s tries came from relative newcomer to the series Nate Augsburger and Ben Leatigaga, playing in his first tournament. Perry Baker made an amazing try saving tackle on Senatla to maintain the narrow point margin. The Eagles’ inability to convert either try gave South Africa their margin of victory. In their third match the Eagles drew 12 all with Canada. Perry Baker got both USA tries and Madison Hughes converted one.

For the Eagles the good was a defense that allowed only 5 tries in their 3 pool matches. The bad was an offense that only scored 6 tries. The ugly was lots of passes that forced Eagle speedster Perry Baker to play shortstop and scoop up the bouncing ball before turning on his jets.

An occasional drizzle did not dampen the party atmosphere at Twickenham and fancy dress (costumes) were everywhere. Drink and good spirits of all varieties flowed well past the 5 pm closing of the stadium bars. It was like Mardi Gras in a gigantic bubble. image

May 21,2016 London 7s, Fancy Dress, Families, & Secrecy

It is Day 1 of the London 7s. England Rugby lifted the ban on costumes (fancy dress) at the eleventh hour with an email to ticket holders last night. Their attempt to change the tournament from a giant party that rivals the Hong Kong 7s to a family friendly event is being met with a little skepticism. The main shift in approach seems to be introducing and promoting an international food experience. I don’t think that would have been something that would have enticed my kids to spend a day at the rugby grounds. Supposedly as a result of last year’s fatality, ticket sales have been limited to 35,000 for each day of the two day tournament. Twickenham holds 79,000. The hours of alcohol sales have been cut, also. It is definitely commendable that the RFU is foregoing considerable revenue for the sake of safety.

The English papers seem to be ignoring the tournament. Yesterday the one article I found about international 7s in the Daily Telegraph was about English scrumhalf Joe Simpson leaving 7s to try for an Olympic place, and he is not even picked for the English side playing in the tournament. Perusal of other papers found less or nothing. All the papers had articles on the semi-final match-ups for the Aviva Premiership semi-finals: Exeter vs Wasps and Saracens vs Leicester.

Yesterday in a leafy green suburb an hour south of London the USA Women Falcons played in a tournament with seven other international teams. With maybe a dozen spectators watching the main prize of the tournament was to impress coaches that you deserved an Olympic spot. The poorly advertised tournament was not easy to find. My source of information on location of the tournament was a brief chat in Spanish with someone on the Spanish women’s team who happened to land at Gatwick airport at the same time. I arrived at the Guildford Rugby Club just outside of Farncombe as teams were having lunch. Taking the opportunity to refresh myself with a pint of hand pulled London Pride, I wandered to the balcony that overlooked the pitch and struck up a conversation with someone on the English/Great Britain data analysis team. Her job was analyzing the data that they received from the GPS chips in the players’ jerseys. She was sworn to secrecy on the data, so I couldn’t pry info on Team Great Britain’s fastest player. I wondered if the order for secrecy had also extended to any information about the location of this tournament.

2016 London 7s – Eagles Well-Placed for Bronzing

This year in rugby will be about who medalled. My English wife hates when I use “medal” as a verb, but I checked dictionary.com, and it backs me up. Who will win the gold? Betting on anyone other than Fiji, New Zealand, or South Africa would be lost money. Samoa might have looked strong in Paris, but Paris wasn’t about winning at all costs for many teams. And Samoa still has to qualify in Monaco on June 25 against 15 other teams including Ireland, Tonga, Russia, Canada, Zimbabwe, and Uruguay.

The bronze is where there is a big question mark. One of the above mentioned three could be eliminated in the knockout round, so who is left to take the bronze? That is where the USA has a shot. The rumor I’ve heard is that pool assignments for the Olympics will be based on world rank position at end of HSBC series. Sixth or seventh are the sweet spots. There is only one team most of the teams would think, “Yeah, we can beat them.” That team is Brazil, bless their zika-infested-samba-dancing hearts. Host team Brazil will end up ranked 12th and will be in the pool with teams ranked 1st, 6th, and 7th. You still have to get to the bronze medal match, but it is one step closer. The USA positioned themselves in one of the sweet spots in Paris and Zach Test laid clam to a place on the Olympic team if he hadn’t earned it long ago. Baker, Hughes, Barrett, and Bender are definites. I’d give them all a rest. I imagine Carln Isles is avoiding injury, but a little playing time before the “Big Show” in August might help with Olympic jitters. I should probably check if the roster has been announced.

The trick now in London is to play to stay at 6th or 7th. If Coach Friday were to follow my selection suggestion and leave all the above mentioned players off the London squad, hFullSizeRender-5ere is the world rank position risk if his London selections don’t win a match. The following teams could pass the USA: Samoa (who hasn’t qualified yet), Kenya, and England – on their holy ground, Twickenham. Just saying the word makes you want to stand and sing, “Sing Low”. My wife loves when I do that.

May, 2016 – Last Chance to Stake Claim on an Olympic Dream

Life is made of changes. Everything around us is changing, and we change to accommodate. Goals help us remain constant to whom we want to be and what we want to achieve. For most of us the goal of being an Olympic athlete has passed through our consciousness at some point in our lives. For the athletes competing in the London 7s and France 7s over the next few weekends this goal is very close to reality.

One of my first USA press passes was to the Womens 7s inaugural series tournament in Houston where the USA lost to England in the final. There were maybe three journalist there. The stadium was mostly empty. After the tournament I was on the pitch with an IRB (now World Rugby) person. She said the tournament was committed to building in Houston. But change happens while a few things remain constant. The England side I saw in Atlanta in March looked very similar to the side that won in Houston 3 years ago. From the USA team who were part of the squad in Houston there are possibly four players still competing for an Olympic spot. One former USA player, Nathalie Marchino, will realize her Olympic dream playing for the birthplace of her mother, Colombia.

The weekend before the women have their final tournament of the season May 28-29th in Clermont-Ferrand, the men will end their 2015-16 season in London. Although this seasons 7s series have been more about developing the right side for Olympic success than winning the series, the final stops will bring plenty of drama as coaches try final changes to the teams they will select to go to Rio. The USA coach, Mike Friday, seems to have picked close to what will be his Olympic squad for the Paris 7s starting May 11th except no Carlin Isles. If the USA men do not end up in the cup final, I would expect a lot of changes for the next weekend in London.

My childhood dreams of being an Olympian have long faded. Soon I will be 64. There have been many changes to a life that since my first match against Pensacola in 1972 has been largely spent as a rugby fan. My retirement from a career in education in 2011 allowed me an opportunity to play sports journalist and follow the sport I love through many incredible events like the 2011 World Cup New Zealand, 2013 7s World Cup Moscow, 2014 Women’s World Cup Paris, 2015 World Cup England, and many World Cup qualifying and HSBC 7s competitions around the USA. Unfortunately getting to the matches is getting harder and writing about something you watched on a bad stream depressing. The final at Clermont-Ferrand will be my last 7s where I play like a sports journalist.
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LA 2016 High School All-League Selections

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