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All-Star Tourney Springboard for Women Eagles

Thursday Jun 4, 2009 in Women All-Stars

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June 4, 2009 – All-Star tournaments can be difficult, as often teams assemble just a day or two beforehand and then try to fashion some form of elite-level rugby.

Often, it doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes, it does. The Pacific Coast women’s all-star team was an example of the latter this past weekend as they demolished their opposition on the way to winning the Women’s National All-Star Championship. Captain, fullback and tournament MVP Ashley English (pictured, Alex Goff photo) said it was a special time.

“We were in the zone all tournament long,” enthused English. “Most of us have been playing together for the Pacific Coast for several years, and we all felt that this was the year it could finally come together.”

For English, it was an important weekend, too. She was a constant danger on attack, inserting with effectiveness in the backline. But English has always been like that – the knock on her play is that she hasn’t always held onto those passes at key moments.

“My play really benefited from having experienced playmakers in the Grizzly backline - Steph Bruce and Ruth Bryson - who were able to create holes in the defense. In addition, thanks to the National Team’s strength and conditioning workout, I feel stronger, faster, and more agile than ever before. I have also been practicing specific fullback skills, such as strategic kicking in counterattacks, which paid off this weekend.”

This year was the first real attempt by territorial all-star teams to formulate a true all-star season. The effort was hit-and-miss, with some games going off without any problem, and others suffering from low player availability. Finances and travel distances still caused problems, but the idea remains that a season of all-star games, rather than just one weekend, makes for better rugby.

“Having the opportunity to play together before NASCs was tremendously important,” said English. “During our warmup games, first against the West and then against the Midwest, we were able to begin problem-solving and getting to know each other better on and off the field. Jarred [Power], our coach, incorporated a variety of skill-based drills and games that helped establish our basic principles of play and also helped us get to know our teammates’ playing styles. From one game to the next, he selected something specific for us to focus on improving.”

That kept happening even during the tournament, but because of the previous games having been played – and not as selection vehicles so much as preparation for the team – the analysis in the tournament in Little Rock could get beyond the basic.

After Friday’s win over the Midwest the Pacific Coast team was able to analyze the game video, focusing specifically on defensive organization around losing rucks.

“[Jarred] had us watch the Midwest game video with that in mind, ran us through drills on Saturday to practice it, and reminded us of it in his pre-game and halftime talks,” said English. “This focus really paid off, as solid team defense was key in keeping the strong Northeast runners out of the try zone.”

That analysis was similar to what top clubs and the USA do, but is rare in all-star teams simply because there isn’t as much time. Extending the all-star season, said English, helped bond her team, and also helped them develop their games in a more meaningful way.

“Playing in high-level games, such as at NASCs and in the premiership league this fall, is the best way to prepare ourselves for international test matches,’ said English, who is expected to help lead the USA in their World Cup campaign next year.  “It is only by playing against the other top players in the country that our own strengths and weaknesses are revealed, so we know what we need to improve before competing against other countries. I felt that the standard of play in the final against the Northeast was just where it should be: one notch below international rugby. I think everyone who played in that game learned a lot; it certainly showed me what I need to practice before we play Canada. In the next 14 months before World Cup, I am confident that the squad will play together enough to learn how to win together, starting on June 27th with a victory against Canada.”

- Alex Goff © www.erugbynews.com

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