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Why ARC Falls Flat

Thursday Sep 24, 2009 in Elite Level Rugby NA4 - ARC

image for this article
(The USA Selects played twice against England Counties and once against NZ Heartland last year. Ed Hagerty photo)

(An Opinion Column by Alex Goff)

Try as I might, I can’t get too excited about the Americas Rugby Championships.

As USA Rugby invests time and resources, and American players call in favors and get ready to play, I just can’t see the value.

Don’t get me wrong, it could all turn out to be a good thing (and we’ll see why at the end of this article), but here’s why I don’t like it.

1. It’s essentially a one-off event. While the USA Selects actually play two games (against the Argentina Jaguars and then one of the top two Canadian provinces) most of the players involved will play just once. Many who play in the first match won’t even make the trip to Ontario for the second. Zip in, play your game, zip out. No time for coaches to develop players.

2. It’s a hardship. Players are getting $50 per day to play, which is 33% less than they got with the NA4. Players who were needed for the seven-week USA assembly are hard-pressed to be available for the ARC, knowing they could well be called upon for the World Cup Qualifiers in November. Several have wisely realized they can’t do that and remain employed.

The per diem is what the IRB is offering, but it’s a backward step when players are struggling to make ends meet, and struggling to get decent health insurance as well.

3. The timing stinks. The players we want for the ARC are either not playing rugby at all, in the middle of their club season, or are in school. Holding this event in September and October just doesn’t make sense for the USA. So why have we agreed to it?

4. USA Rugby eliminated the National All-Star Championships after the 2007 event, and we understood that a new competition would replace it. Ideally the ARC in America mirrors what the Canadians are doing – creating a late-summer territorial season that leads into the finals. Instead the USA Selects team is made up of a group of players scouted by various means, and not given any time to come together.

And while any comprehensive player search would probably come up with the same group of players for the USA team, how can we be sure? We don’t have what was great about the NASC – the opportunity to look at 240 or so players and find new talent.

5. Why do the Canadians love this? Because they get more out of it. The IRB is giving Rugby Canada $150,000 for each of their four territorial teams. They get what is essentially a free Provincial Championship. Argentina, like the USA, is sending only one team to this, but they will get three good games out of it – USA Selects, a Canadian team, and then a friendly against Canada A.

Yes, the Canada A v. Jaguars friendly basically replicates what the USA gets in their first game, except Rugby Canada will have had nine games involved provincial teams with which to scout players. The USA? Zero.

6. The USA plan to use two very different squads with no preparation beforehand makes it almost impossible for them to win. The USA players and coaches will be very hard-pressed to put their best foot forward even against a now-seasoned Canadian province.

So how can we turn all of this into something positive? Here’s how:

A) The problem finding players becomes a boon to the USA program. We know who the best two or three players are at most positions. Here we get a chance to look at some others. That’s what this USA Selects team should be – not the domestic Eagles with a few new faces, but lots of new or returning faces anchored by one or two established internationals.

If that happens and the American system develops depth, that will be a positive development.

B) We change the timing. If the idea to move the club and all-star 7s championships to earlier in August takes hold, then the USA can get a true territorial event going to produce the team that plays in the finals in September. Tell Rugby Canada, Argentina, and the IRB, it’s over by the week after Labor Day or no go.

C) The USA national team stops using these things as mixing bowls to prepare some Eagle recipe, and instead allows the teams to coalesce and play better rugby, and allows the coaches to coach.

D) We finally do what everyone failed to do in the NA4. We produce teams that carry an identity fans, TV and players might identify with. We name the teams after cities - New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego – not regions, give them nicknames, and market this.

With four to six teams you can have an acceptable group of games over two weekends. Then your champion moves on to the finals (and perhaps you set up a Plate Finals weekend with the other Canadian provinces).

All of that could make the ARC fun, useful and exciting. Instead it’s yet another stand-alone event with some financial backing but no format that helps American hopefuls get better. It’s sham professionalism at its worst.

So as you read about the games the USA is in, please spare a through for the coaches and the players. They are being put in a very difficult position, and if the USA Selects teams fares poorly, don’t blame them.

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