Rugby Bits & Bytes

Catching back up to all the bloggable bits I have not posted in the past few days …

From USA Rugby (Or about … and mostly men’s rugby, of course):

IRB Announces North American 4 Competition and USA Rugby figured out who’s coaching our two teams, including Penn State women’s coach Pete Steinberg. And following the theme of birds of prey as mascots, we are the USA Hawks and the USA Falcons. Caw-Cawwwww!

• And there’s a NA4 web site!

• Eagle men’s captain Kort Schubert issued a statement to USA Rugby Chairman Bob Latham on behalf of the national team players. Here’s the beginning …

Dear Mr. Latham,
On behalf of the men’s national team I would like to express our extreme disappointment in your failure to retain Tom Billups as our head coach. Clearly there has been a snowball effect thriving from internal dishonesty eventually resulting in Tom’s resignation.

More importantly, it is disheartening to us as a group of dedicated players that what could have been dealt with months or even years ago has now resulted in the loss of such a vital member of USA Rugby. Furthermore, your failure to acknowledge concerns forwarded by Tom demonstrates a severe lack of ambition and accountability throughout the executive committee.

Schubert goes on to say they “demand” more information/communication on future national men’s team affairs.

• Latham says Hey Wait! We have a transition plan guys! And Kurt Oeler says the team met in Dallas.

• Meanwhile, Men’s National Team Assistant Coach Brett Taylor declined the head coaching post.

• USA Rugby then announced they have hired a guy from New Zealand – Peter Thorburn – as the interim head coach. So much for media talk of keeping things local. And remember, the players are not happy. But people who know Thorburn say we “couldn’t get a more worldly, experienced or honest man“.

• But Latham wants us to know USA Rugby’s Restructuring is launching the Strategic Plan. Latham says …

“It is essential that USA Rugby seeks to maximise the development opportunities recommended in the Plan. We also need to maximise the $2.7 million of strategic investment and additional technical support being provided by the International Rugby Board,” said USA Rugby Chairman Bob Latham.

“We have already undertaken a lot of work to establish the Strategic Plan that has the key objectives of better integrating all aspects of rugby development in the country including the USA Eagles, talent identification, age grade structures and infrastructures, senior playing structures and high performance initiatives for elite players.”

“A new USA Rugby Executive Committee will convene in July but in the intervening period we will put in place, with the assistance of the IRB, an interim senior management team. This will ensure an initial impetus for the restructure and the roll out of key administration and management initiatives, including those identified by the strategic plan.”

“In other words we want to ensure that the early building blocks of the Plan are put in place over the next few months and that our involvement in the new North America 4 series and the Churchill Cup is a success. After an approach by USA Rugby the IRB has agreed to assist us as we restructure the Union to make it more robust in order to better deliver these and future objectives.”

• However, not shortly after being named part of the transition team, Kurt Oeler and Alex Goff (subscription required) are both reporting that Alex Magleby said he is quitting as USA Rugby’s International Athlete Vice Chair. This position is required by the Union’s constitution and International Olympic Committee guidelines. It’s also being said that Latham is trying to convince Magleby to change his mind.

• And Oeler’s got more on the interim Chief Operating Officer, Steve Griffiths of the International Rugby Board. Oeler notes that there are now four non-Americans working with USA Rugby now.

The English-born Mr. Griffiths becomes the third import brought in by Mr. Latham as part of an “interim senior management team.” Last week South African Alan Solomons was named director of rugby and New Zealander Peter Thorburn Eagle coach. Meanwhile, Irish management consultant Morgan Buckley serves as strategic advisor, and attended a “transition committee” meeting led by Mr. Latham last week in Dallas.

• And Goff’s got a solid interview with interim head coach Peter Thorburn (subscription required) and Chairman Latham.

“He is not using USA Rugby as a stepping stone,” said USA Rugby Chair Bob Latham. “Peter is coming here because he wants the challenge and wants the job. We had to get somebody good and we had to get somebody fast, and I think we hit a home run.”

And Thorburn says …
“I have always had a strong belief that when USA finally focuses on rugby they will be a world power,” Thorburn told GoffonRugby. “The country has so many big, powerful, fast athletes. The problem, of course, and I don’t need to tell you this, is that they don’t grow up with it. They don’t go to games with their fathers, for the most part, and take in that subliminal learning. But having said that, I’m not coming in and spouting off to the players ‘this is how you need to play the game.'” And adds later that he is only here to coach through the World Cup …

“No way we’ll be going in there changing things for Churchill Cup,” he said. “What I do want to do is talk to the players, fine tune a few things, and arrange their ideas and thoughts into something that creates positive thoughts within the players. I understand the reasons Tom Billups left; he resigned of his own free will, and I will be staying out of all the political stuff and focusing on taking the USA national team where it rightfully belongs, in the 2007 World Cup. I respect what they’ve done as coaches. I’ve seen them at work and this will all be part of their legacy, but now the only concern I have is the team.”

• And Goff’s got an interesting editorial (a Free one!) on all of this. He also thinks that bringing in guys from outside is a good idea.

Lots of people are high on Tom Billups. There are significant supporters of Dan Lyle, Doug Arnot, Dave Hodges. But at some point things become too polarized. Legitimate criticism of Arnot was kyboshed in the fall BOD meeting simply by saying it was all a Jack Clark plot. Those supporting Arnot now know what they say is falling on so many deaf ears it doesn’t matter what comes out of their mouths.

We must have a clean break. Bringing in Steve Griffiths from the IRB to operate things for six months (on the IRB dime, by the way) is a smart move. USA Rugby asked for him, he wasn’t sent in. But eventually he has to go and someone else take on as CEO.

Hiring Peter Thorburn as Eagles head coach was a smart move. He is so far above it all, and so clearly comfortable as an interim coach (although who knows? He could stay). Alan Solomons is another person who has no connections with anyone inside USA Rugby, and that’s what we need right now.

The sad fact is, business has been halted because of old grudges, old assumptions, and old thinking. It’s come to the point that maybe we need a clean break – a break from everyone, right or wrong – so we can get back to the business at hand.

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