Changes for U20s
Changes for U20s
The bad news for the USA U20 team is that the guy expected to be their Head Coach, Billy Millard, has just left USA Rugby for a job with the Cardiff Blues; good news is that they have started early and have a group of coaches and organizers in place for a tough 2015 season.
Michael Engelbrecht will likely be asked to do even more in getting the team ready to play, but perhaps more than anything the early camp help before Thanksgiving has the program kick-started at the right time.
The camp looked at several returning young players, with the understanding tat a few others with prior commitments are still in the mix. These included AIC back Seth Halliman, Seattle Saracens prop Val Lee-Lo, Central Washington back Scott Dean, and University of Colorado lock Chris Wiessing and will likely later include Ben Cima, Hanco Germishuys, and Ollie Drew.
Among the coaches working with Millard in camp was Marc Stcherbina, a longtime pro in his native Australia and in Europe, now retired due to inure.
Stcherbina spoke with Goff Rugby Report on the initial camp and the team.
“It was a great experience,” said the current Santa Monica men’s club coach. “It wasn’t my first time working with Billy but it was with the other coaches. I came in under no illusions. I had experience with youth players at my own club and in Australia and the UK. I know there’s a discrepancy in terms of experience in the game.”
In the end, Stcherbina confessed to being pleasantly surprised with the skill level and rugby understanding of the players in camp. Some were better than others, and there’s work to do, he said, but he liked what he saw.
Oddly, one area where the players need more work is one of the areas where any young player can take control himself - fitness.
“I think the players from other countries have been a bit more physically prepared,” said the former Australia 7s player. “Some programs are better than others and you can see that in the physical preparation of the players, but some players came in not as fit as we’d like. The size and strength of the guys was good, but needs to be more.”
Players from other U20 national teams are usually in academies - they might be in college, but they train in a professional environment with a professional club. It affects not only their skill level and game understanding, but their workouts, too. As usual, in the USA, players are expected to do more on their own.
“We have good raw talent and skill,” said Stcherbina. “That’s why there were in camp.”
Of particular interest to Stcherbina was the attitude of the returning players. The USA U20 squad is, by and large, a fairly young one and many of the leading players are still young.
“I think it was good to have someone like myself see these kids for the first time,” said Stcherbina. “I wanted to evaluate them without any preconceived notions, but I was also interested to see if they stepped up their effort level and relished their leadership role on the team, or did they kind of rest on their laurels. I was really pleased to see that the returning ids showed a really good attitude and worked hard.”
Among the more important areas where the players need work is kicking - an area of need throughout the game among young players. With football not being a kicking sport - only specialized positions kick - players have to be taught, while in nations where rugby or soccer are more widely followed, kids practice kicking from the first day they play sports.
“Why do we get such good kickers out of the UK?” asked Stcherbina. “Kids have a background in soccer, for one, but also the game is more centered around the conditions you play in. The game is more about getting into the attacking area and forcing a penalty to build the score. So you get all those #10s who can kick off both feet.”
In addition, many American rugby players play and train in an area where they can’t easily find space to practice goalkicking. That’s a difficulty, but players can still practice their kicking skills at home. It’s just a car of making it a priority.
“Part of the point of this camp was for players to identify deficiencies in their game and take it back home and work on them,” said Stcherbina.
The same might be said of the program as a whole. The USA U20 team has to get a squad together to play Canada in a two-game series in the early spring, with the winner going on to the Junior World Rugby Trophy. Should the USA lose that game, they would need to find something else to do. Right now, all the focus is on Canada, and finding a Head Coach to lead the team.