Eagle Women Get New Coach; Now What?
Eagle Women Get New Coach; Now What?
USA Rugby has hired former Australia Assistant Coach Sione Fukofuka as Had Coach of the USA Women's 15s Head Coach.
Over 90 candidates applied for this job.
Sione Fukofuka comes to USA Rugby having spent the last three years as an Assistant Coach with Rugby Australia and the Wallaroos, helping them to a record-high finish at Rugby World Cup 2021, and qualification to the inaugural WXV1. More than that, the Wallaroos are in many ways a program that parallels the USA in many ways. But on the high performance level Australia has been able to leverage their talent slightly better over the last few years/
Fukofuka will relocate to the United States in 2023, beginning with an eye on next year’s Pacific Four Series and Rugby World Cup qualification.
“Sione brings with him a wealth of experience and a desire to lead a program that is highly engaged and intent on driving a positive high performance culture," said USA Rugby General Manager of High Performance, Tamara Sheppard. "We’re excited to work alongside him in creating a program that connects the players and staff, elevates the caliber of performance and builds an all-in campaign towards Rugby World Cup 2025.”
“I was drawn to this opportunity as I see the huge potential in the program," addec Fukofuka. "Having coached against the team, there are some key qualities that stand out and it is those qualities that have driven the USA to the top three in the world before and has the potential to again return the team to that position. The players are athletic, physical and love the combative nature of the game. The opportunity to build on this platform and reconnect the team to its identity is something that excited me about this head coaching role.”
Fukofuka spent 2023 as an Assistant Coach with the Queensland Reds in the newly launched Super W competition. Prior to that, he served as Director of Rugby for Canterbury College, leading them to an undefeated season in 2020, as well as Sevens Program Director for Brisbane State High School, leading them to four premiership titles. Fukofuka’s experience across multiple levels of rugby in a development landscape similar to the United States will be a welcomed experience for the Women’s Eagles program.
“I hope to bring a level of professionalism and leadership to the program in the lead up to Rugby World Cup 2025 and beyond," Fukofuka added. "My experience in the international women's game over the past two years has shown me that all programs are improving and raising the performance standards to new levels, physically and rugby-wise. It is my intention to build a strong coaching and management team to help drive a high-performance environment that challenges the playing group but also supports development, both individually and collectively. Technically and tactically, it is important the team is improving each time we assemble and play. 2024 will be an important year in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup, in terms of building depth but also implementing key processes that allow us to get results and play a style of rugby that is both effective but also embodies the identity of USA Rugby.”
“We’re expecting exponential growth through the Women’s XVs program over the coming years, with Rugby World Cup 2025 quickly approaching and the squad looking ahead at qualification next summer," added USA Rugby CEO Ross Young. "Sione will be an instrumental piece to that trajectory, we’re thrilled to have his experience and passion on board. USA Rugby and the Women’s Eagles leadership group have been intent on elevating the standard of the program following the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year, whereby bringing on a coach with the pedigree of Sione is a key part of that initiative.”
Fukofuka will have his work cut out for him, as the USA has achieved a dubious Grand Slam over the last few years, losing to every team in the Six Nations. While Australia has a strong domestic competition, the USA domestic competition wants to be professional, but isn't, and has seen most of its best players go to England. While those players have, in the most part, excelled in England, they have not excelled as a unit with the USA jersey on. So Fukofuka will find that he has to assemble a USA squad in relatively short order and get them all paddling in the same direction. He won't have time to work on fitness, which remains an issue for this Eagles team, but he most certainly will have to spend time teaching players (more than one) to kick from the hand with success.
This is a Women's National Team will all sorts of issues, and it's not completely clear if the new Head Coach knows all of them.