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Eagle Impact Joining Forces With Utah Rugby Academy

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Eagle Impact Joining Forces With Utah Rugby Academy

EIRA on tour in Ontario in 2017. Adam Smith photo.

The Utah Lions Rugby Academy is forging a new partnership with Eagle Impact Rugby Academy that will see EIRA diversify somewhat, and the Lions expand what they are able to offer.

The two organizations will be working together in a way that, say Lions Program Director Mike Cressler and EIRA Program Director Salty Thompson, will make both stronger.

The partnership won’t completely fold the Lions into EIRA. The Lions will still play as the Lions in the NAHS 7s series. although drawing from EIRA players in the Utah and Idaho region. But EIRA will help the Lions expand into 15s and broaden the coaching resources available to the Utah Academy.

“We decided that we will be much stronger merging the Utah Lions and EIRA,” said Cressler. “Salty and EIRA have a very powerful organization, and the Utah Rugby Academy has done fairly well to make a name for ourselves.”

EIRA brings a large infrastructure of coaches and touring opportunities in select-side tournaments as well as tours to Canada and Ireland. They work on educating the players not only in rugby but also with some life skills. 

“We are passionate about high performance and want to channel players to the Eagles, but what about the players who don’t get that far?” said Thompson. “We’ve looked at the players who have gone through our programs and we’re seeing a high percentage—over 90%—going to college. The few that don’t go to college are doing into MLR academies or even to play professionally overseas.”

The Utah Academy, meanwhile, brings not only the Utah talent pool, but two other key elements: girl rugby athletes, and events.

Girls Rugby A Key Part Of The Plan

EIRA has been almost exclusively a boys program, but they have known for some years now that they need to expand to girls. However, that’s been difficult to start from scratch. The Utah Rugby Academy has already formed a robust girls program, and the name-recognition, coaching experience, and systems from Utah will help EIRA.

“This will give girls the opportunity for more competition and touring,” said Cressler. 

“Utah has an excellent girls program,” said Thompson. “Having worked with Mike in the North American Lions, I know how much he cares about providing opportunities for kids.”

Running Events

Events is the other piece of the puzzle. Cressler runs the NAHS 7s Series and the NAI 7s. He has experience in events, and with USA Rugby pulling away from the old RCTs, there is a window open for other organizations to start or run their own events without USA Rugby involvement. Many of the RCTs actually began before USA Rugby has anything to do with them, and future tournaments will succeed that way, too. EIRA is looking to run select-side tournaments open to all sorts of academy, all-star, and touring programs.

“We’re not interested in making it all-EIRA,” said Thompson. “Mike brings a lot of skills—management skills, collaborative skills, and event skills—to the equation. With the NAHS group it’s tough to get so many people to agree on anything, but he is able to. We want to bring programs together in tiered events that allow programs to be in the right competitive level for them.”

Expanding Focus

So it seems that EIRA is diversifying. The program will develop systems and opportunities for girls to compete and tour under the EIRA name. The Utah Rugby Academy will work with EIRA and funnel players to major EIRA teams, but will also compete as the Utah Lions. The Utah Academy will also help EIRA develop a plan for events that will be open to all types of select teams.

“Our mission statement in EIRA has expanded,” said Thompson, saying it has changed from identifying and development the best players in the country to finding and developing the next generation of players. “Ultimately we want kids to fall in love with the game and stay in the game. We can be obsesses with the drive for the top, but to close the gap, we need rugby expanded at all levels.”