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Mitchell Sets Goals After Tough Camp

National Teams

Mitchell Sets Goals After Tough Camp

Colleen McCloskey photo.

USA Men’s National Team Head Coach John Mitchell made a very direct appeal to his players this spring - get fitter.

"We are kidding ourselves if we think we are as fit as we can be, so we have to find a way to bridge our gap in 15s to realistically and authentically compete against Tier One nations," Mitchell said at the time. And now, after an expanded camp and now into preparation for Italy this Saturday, he has backed that up, sending some players home because they’re not fit enough.

Other players have returned home because they’re not quite there, or are injured, but fitness was one of the reasons Mitchell whittled his squad down.

“We had a very thorough camp and did some testing of our physical standards,” Mitchell told Goff Rugby Report. “It was a tough camp. Some guys didn’t make it. Some guys have a few niggles, maybe coming from a poor base [of fitness]. So, yeah, it was tough on them physically.”

Mitchell has had a bigger input in the selections in this assembly than in the Americas Rugby Championship, when he’d just come on the job. But he also had a chance to observe players in the ARC. Fitness - or lack thereof - was a cause for concern. So was discipline.

“This assembly is where we’ve commenced our standards. Some guys have missed out because they’re not fit enough. And coming out of the ARC, we were giving away too many penalties. The discipline requirements were also taken into account.”

Mitchell said that players who started giving away a lot of penalties, the opposition and the referee notices it. The referee starts to think a player committing penalties might be prone to that, and the opposition might target that player.

“Players can rectify it,” said Mitchell. “But we wanted to show that we do look at these things and we want to create accountability. Players have to understand what the negative and positive create.”

And, said Mitchell, the group of players he has is stronger than the ARC - not surprising in part that some unavailable pros are in the squad. He isn’t closing the door, and he wants more competition for places.

“There is some good competition coming in for competitions, which is always good,” said the coach. “It’s encouraging to know what we do have and what’s to come as, well. The greater the depth we create allows to create competition, which will enhance performance, and secondly guys get banged up and you don’t want a lot of range between players - you want someone to come in and fit right in.”

And fitting right in comes from making an impact, but being part of the team. Mitchell said his game day squad is centered around finding the right combinations, and how everyone works together.

Interestingly, he has already named his game day squad to face Italy - he hasn’t publicized that squad list and won’t until later in the week, but he wants that group to know how he expects them to work together.

Monday was installation day - more of a listening day - and then they step u the intensity over the next couple of days. Tuesday is a big day in the team’s preparation on a week leading up to a test match.

(Mitchell has actually told 24 players they should expect to play on Saturday. One of them won’t, but is training as if he will.)

“The days are gone where you’d publicly name a team in a team room and expect them to go out and train. You’ve got to have some empathy for the guys who have missed selection, and some of the guys selected might be over-excited as well. Sometimes the training loses its focus as a result of the player dealing with the outcome of selection. So the allow them to digest that information and deal with it privately probably defuses the emotion that can come either side of the issue of whether you’re selected or not selected.”

So Mitchell said he and his staff have communicated the selection decisions in a thoughtful manner. He likes to establish “role clarity” for everyone.

That means the players who aren’t picked, but also the starters and subs - what positions they will be playing and what is expected. Mitchell, it seems, wants to get that established early.  

Already he’s set the bar on fitness and discipline, and held firm to it. Players know where they stand there, at least.


The Eagles kick off against Italy at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif. on Saturday at 6pm Pacific Time. The game will be broadcast live on The Rugby Channel