BOULDER, Colo. – The Collegiate All-Americans, presented by Royall Lyme, returned last Sunday from their centennial tour of the UK.
“The goal is to create an international level test environment for these athletes,” said former Eagle and All-Americans head coach, Alex Magleby. “We set out to play against some of the best rugby athletes at this age-level and to give our players confidence in their future test careers for those that continue to push for higher honors.”
On top of top level competition, various on field and off field events added to the overall experience:
While on tour, the All-Americans received some extraordinary instruction from London Wasps personnel like kicking coach Dave Walder, scrum coach and 2003 World Cup-winning prop Trevor Woodman, and defensive coach Rob Hoadley.
Perhaps most notable was former England and British and Irish Lions coach Dick Best. Best is currently an agent and was joined by another of his agents who wanted to survey the crop of All-Americans and discuss future opportunities abroad to America’s best up-and-coming players.
Elite academic institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham passed on information to players interested in playing overseas while pursuing postgraduate courses of study.
Eagles Robbie Shaw, Tim Usasz, Chris Wyles, Mike Petri, Mike MacDonald and Hayden Smith visited the All-Americans in person, and the All-Americans watched Wyles and Smith play for Saracens against Esher in a preseason match.
The All-Americans were visited by a “Total Rugby” crew, which recorded a segment for their show featuring the All-Americans. To listen to the segment, visit http://www.irb.com/totalrugby/ or http://irb.edgeboss.net/wmedia/irb/radio/total_rugby_radio.wax.
While these enriching off-the-field experiences were wonderful, the pressure of facing sides like Richmond, Saracens, and Leicester was eye-opening for many players. Having never faced competition as fierce as that of these professional sides, each match proved to have a steep learning curve. However painful the losses were, exposing players to that level of play is crucial, according to Magleby, in order to help develop a mindset of growth and, eventually, a habit of victory.
“We need to give these athletes more of these pressure-filled experiences,” said the coach, “and we also need to continue to develop a winning confidence.” According to Magleby, the tour provided athletes with that test-level environment, but the winning habit is a work-in-progress and a habit that the USA needs to “collectively continue” to develop. “That will come through better preparation, consistent and deliberate practice throughout the year, and more opportunities like these,” Magleby added.
USA Rugby’s age-grade director and former Eagle, Matt Sherman, had a similar view as far as the tour’s outcomes were concerned. “While the tour showed the players that they are capable of playing with some of the best young players abroad in spurts, it also exposed them to a higher level of play than most had experienced and gave them direction on where they need to focus on improving going forward,” said Sherman.
“All players, to a man, seemed thirsty for this experience and challenge, and we have no doubt that they will use it going forward as they return to their respective teams and look to continue to improve.”
Chris Parker, who scored a rumbling try against Leicester Academy, was honored for his overall performance and behavior throughout the tour by receiving the Doug Edwards Best and Fairest Tourist Award. The award, established in 2001 by then General Manager Jack Clark, is given annually to an All-American player who shows outstanding ability on the pitch and a high level of character off the field during the course of the tour. The honor is named in memory of long-serving Midwest rugby man Doug Edwards, who was an integral part of the All-Americans management team during the late 1980’s.
Parker, showing his character, distributed the individual honor to his entire team. “Receiving the Doug Edwards Award in front of my teammates is something I won't forget,” said Parker. “To be honest, I don't believe in single awards, because I believe every man on this tour played his heart out, but respect from teammates is something every player strives for, so it was definitely very humbling.”
Magleby recognized Parker’s commitment to improvement from last year. “Chris was an All-American last year, yet continued to improve from there through lots of hard-work,” said the coach. “He made a big impact on the field on this year's tour as a lock and a blind-side flanker, demonstrating a high work rate, and a team-first attitude.”
Parker realizes he has progressed as a player since last year, but also realizes that there is more work to be done. “My goal is to one day play rugby at the professional level, and this tour was pivotal in outlining where my weaknesses are and where my strengths are at the same time,” he said. “The tour made me realize that I am another rung up the ladder in reaching my goal.”