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GRR Talks to Gary Gold About Qualifier Preparation

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GRR Talks to Gary Gold About Qualifier Preparation

Photo David Barpal.

USA Men’s Head Coach Gary Gold will be keeping a close eye on about 60 players on two development tours leading into the Rugby World Cup Final Qualifier tournament in November.

The USA Falcons will be going to the Americans Pacific Challenge in South America, while another USA squad will play games against two major provincial sides in South Africa.

Gold, who saw his side lose advantages in two straight World Cup qualification series, one to Uruguay and one to Chile, is making it very plain that there are spots on the squad to play for, and he sat down with Goff Rugby Report to talk about it.

USA Falcons to South Africa, Selects to Uruguay in Qualifier Warmups

Getting Game Time

Overseas Players will not report to Dubai for the qualifier series until November 1, just five days before the first game, which is against Kenya.

Rugby World Cup Final Qualifier Schedule (all matches in Dubai):

November 6
USA vs Kenya (referee Tual Trainini, France)
Portugal vs Hong Kong (referee Chris Busby, Ireland)

November 12
USA vs Hong Kong (referee Matthew Carley, England)
Portugal vs Kenya (referee Nika Amashukeli, Georgia)

November 18
USA vs Portugal (referee Paul Williams, New Zealand)
Hong Kong vs Kenya (referee Angus Gardner, Australia)

What that means is, as usual, Gold has to prepare a team without many of his most high-profile players.

“Unfortunately we’re still dealing with the same things that we’ve been dealing with,” said Gold. “But we’ve been able to have this camp now with 32 guys based in the States.”

Those 32 have been in Glendale and will form the bulk of two squads, one going to South America (USA Selects) and one going to South Africa (USA Falcons). The Falcons side is probably made up of players closer to selection, but Gold said he has shifted some of the players around to ensure they are getting game time.

“There’s no point in taking someone to South Africa that we need to see play if he’s just going to hold tackle bags,” he said, adding that some players who have put in a huge amount of work will still not be picked for Dubai. “It’s a contentious issue because some guys will miss out. What we’re trying to do is trying to align both groups and spread the net quite wide. We’ll have 58 locally-based players all playing rugby at a pretty good level, and add in the guys based in Europe and you’ve got a pretty big pool of players. They will be very Challenging games in South Africa. The Pumas are the defending Currie Cup champions and they play at altitude. Both teams have some fantastically talented players and potentially a couple of Springboks playing for them.”

October Schedule:
October 13 USA Selects vs Uruguay XV, Montevideo, Uruguay

October 14 USA Falcons vs Toyota Cheetahs, Bloemfontein, South Africa

October 18 USA Selects vs Argentina XV, Montevideo, Uruguay

October 21 USA Falcons vs Airlink Pumas, Bloemfontein, South Africa

On The Same Page

All of this preparation is designed to make it easier to hit the ground running in Dubai

“We’ve done a lot of hard work in camp in terms of the objectives we wanted to achieve,” said Gold. 

Those objectives are:

  • Fitness and conditioning which is, said Gold, “the biggest issue that we’ve got.”
  • Alignment of playing styles and understanding
  • Skill execution

"Physically, mentally, and technically everybody’s got to be on the same page and understanding what we’re trying to do, where we’re trying to do it, and how we’re trying to do it,” said Gold. “And then, obviously, being fit enough to do it. I have been criticized quite heavily for talking about cohesion but the issue is about cohesion. It’s about the fact that we may actually look to keep a guy who’s been in camp with us because of the cohesion we have with him, who has been part of the group, rather than another guy who might be a good rugby player on a club in Europe but may not even playing with his club and we’re not sure can go three flat-out weeks in the heat of Dubai.”

The coaches, said Gold, are trying to be as smart as possible in picking not only a group of players, but a team.


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Picking the Team

Players can play their way onto and off the USA team for Dubai in October. 

“Everybody’s eligible to make the team,” said Gold. “It’s very difficult for us to make all of those assessments in training runs. We need to see players play.”

What has been implied by the USA’s performance and also by Gold’s statements is that just having players in professional environments does not make them fit enough for international rugby.

Where the Eagles fell short in the summer was often decision-making, but decision-making that was borne out of fatigue. We asked Gold if there is a ump up to international rugby that players, even seasoned professionals, need to make.

“The demands of professional rugby are really high,” said Gold. “But yes definitely we found out that MLR players potentially weren’t actually fit enough. The MLR guys didn’t have a very long preseason and then they’re straight in to playing games. It’s very difficult to pick up your fitness when you’re playing games; you may be able to get away with an average level of fitness in MLR, but we got exposed, particularly against the better teams.”

Fitness, Gold said, was a major focus of the September camp.

Go With the Domestic Players?

All of this led GRR to ask this question:

Given that team cohesion and unity is a huge part of the equation, and given that the overseas professionals don’t arrive in Dubai until November 1, with the first game on November 6, would it not make sense to start a 15 of players who have been in camp, and maybe have those European-based players either sitting out or on the bench?

This was Gold’s answer:

“No question of a doubt, 100%,” he said. “And I’ve said I hope we have some selection headaches. There’s a high level of confidence from the coaching staff around the group at the moment, and if things continue to improve, then for many reasons it makes sense we don’t fix it if it’s not broken. We will go into Dubai with a bunch of guys we’ve been working with for some time, and, yes, let’s assess those guys coming in from Europe and see how they adapt. I definitely don’t want it to be a case where we seem to be reliant on European players.”