With the clock ticking down to the start of the historic USA v All Blacks clash in Chicago I sat down with Eagles Coach Mike Tolkin to discuss the big game and the run up to the Rugby World Cup.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) May 13, 2014
LineoutCoach: Do you feel this is a significant step for rugby in the US or do you think it’s just about this particular game?
Coach Tolkin: The attention the game is going to get – prime time Saturday TV, sold out Soldiers Field – and our opponents the All Blacks means the guys will be pumped to play.
What we need from this is follow on. Hopefully this isn’t just a flash in the pan. We have a great crowd, a great day but a few weeks later it’s forgotten. We want to be able to compete at this level and start to play consistently against the top 10 teams and perform.
What do the Eagles and you personally hope to get from this game?
If the guys walk off the field and know they have left nothing behind, then that’s all we can ask.
— follow-rugby.com (@FollowRugbySite) September 16, 2014
What do you hope to get out of the games against Romania, Tonga and Fiji?
Obviously the squad is trimmed after the All Blacks game so we lose 25% of the players, but we will still be strongly competitive while developing players. We want to develop a much broader squad who can play internationally, who can be relied upon, and who can put themselves forward for World Cup spots.
If we can do that successfully I think that will have been a successful Fall for us.
— Matt Hawkins (@polarbearkzn) March 29, 2014
With the Rugby World Cup looming next year, are there still opportunities for players to play their way into the squad?
Yes. I think the core of the squad is starting to fall into place. I think those important spots 24-31 are still open. They are important because they set the tone for the squad and if you do it right and get the right people it creates a great culture around the squad.
— Merrimack Rugby (@MerrimackRugby) June 26, 2014
Are you starting to see the benefits for the Eagles from the progress of rugby made in the US in the last 5 years? How do you see the future?
At the lowest levels it continues to grow, with mini rugby and youth rugby stronger than ever through parent support and more school programmes. Our age grades are really starting to dovetail into one another – 18-20-All American-Eagle A – those are really positive developments.
The last couple of years we’ve had to play internationals without a significant number of professional players and we’ve been able to compete with a solid squad. That’s says a lot for the depth of our player pool and the young guys coming in and being able to fit into the programme.
Good luck to Coach Tolkin and the Eagles as they take on the World Champions the All Blacks on home ground. I’ll be there to see the players earn their opponents respect on the field and hopefully a whole new audience too. USA Rugby has an amazing amount to offer the sport and this is an important step on getting to that top tier.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com