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Eagle Hopefuls Need More Game Time

irish rugby tours

Eagle Hopefuls Need More Game Time

The USA players in training in Europe on this recent tour. Calder Cahill photo for USA Rugby.

One of the comments Scott Lawrence kept bringing up in our recent interview with him was “game time.”

It isn’t enough, said the USA Men’s 15s Head Coach, to be on a professional team. You have to actually play. And, really, you have to play 60 to 80 minutes rather than run on for those last 15-20 minutes.

So while the minutes played statistics are not public from Major League Rugby, a quick tour of team lineups shows a very small number of draftees from 2022 or 2021 in the gameday 23s.

We can look at the last three MLR Rookie of the Year recipients: Andrew Guerra played in 12 games, Tavite Lopeti started 15 out of 16. Sam Golla started in 16 games his team played. All of that is good, but it’s hard to find anyone else who came close. Yes there are collegiate players who were drafted who played, and started—we took a look at this season’s lineups and about 30 players who were drafted in the last three years have been in MLR game rosters. But very few of those players are there every week.

Lawrence himself looked at this in a series of posts on LinkedIn. 

How many USA-qualified players are playing in MLR?

Lawrence tracked this by starters at each position. It’s telling:

Loosehead prop: 61% US-qualified
Hooker: 42%
Tighthead prop: 41%
Lock: 51%
Blindside Flanker: 58%
Openside Flanker: 48%
No. 8: 56%
Scrumhalf: 51%
Flyhalf: 31%
Wing: 63%
Center: 38%
Fullback: 48%

These percentages are low, but are of course painfully low at hooker, tighthead, center (!), and, of course, flyhalf. Keep in mind, this is USA Qualified. It doesn’t mean players who grew up in and learned their rugby in the USA. 

So when we talked to Lawrence about depth, this data has a lot to do with it. When I ask about the fact that the Eagles’ 2nd- or 3rd-choice flyhalf is a different type of player from the 1st-choice, Lawrence pointed to the issue any Eagle coach has to deal with.

“If you’re a coach in America you know how what this is like,” he said. “Do we have a box kick this week? No? OK so we adjust our game plan. You look at the players who are getting game time and to have to adjust your plan. You probably keep 80% of your game plan and adjust the other 20%. 

On tour in Europe, “guys who got game time [in professional rugby] improved. But the key question is, do they get game time?"

Why did US-qualified rugby players who spent their time playing in Ireland or Italy or Australia get onto the Eagles and play well? That's why.