top of page

USA Eagles vs NZ Maori All Blacks

On November 9th 2013 the USA Eagles took on the Maori All Blacks in Philadelphia.

My long term goal as a coach is to coach at the elite level. Where I have had experience in coaching international individuals and interviewing international coaches this opportunity was a great learning experience for me. I was fortunate enough to be able to shadow the USA Head Coach, Mike Tolkin, and his coaching team on the run up to the game.

I was able to stay with the team in the hotel, eat and socialise with coaches and players, be in the coaches meetings, attend team meetings, talk to and observe the relationship of the sport science support team.

The first thing I noticed was how somewhat ‘amateur’ the set up was compared to other elite settings I have experienced. The USA Eagles squad were training at a local University with what could be described as local league facilities in the UK, and they also used their gym which also was not ideal do to spacing and specific equipment. Players had to cramp in ‘mini vans’ to get to the training field from the hotel. Yes it was only a ten minute ride but this was not what I expected. There were many other issues that arose that shocked me; from an outsiders perspective the set up did not look like an International rugby team. The financial implications, became hugely apparent. It made me think how much I had taken elite rugby for granted in the UK and how much of a difference money makes for the little things that Sir Clive Woodward calls the ‘critical non essentials’.

Despite this it did not seem to affect players’ moods or the coaches for that matter. Players and coaches were totally professional, this is commendable to them to just get on with what resources they have rather than dwell on what resources they should maybe have at their level of high performance.

The coaching team were new that week and the players were relatively new also. This was an interesting area for me to observe as players and coaches did not really know each other. Key areas from my observational analysis and own reflections of the set up circled around various questions;how do the coaches act, do they put a front on? How do they develop relationships with each other as coaches? What are the dynamics of selection within the team; how much power does the Head Coach give to the other coaches? How do the players respond to these coaches? Does the fact that there are few Americans in the coaching staff make a difference to the players? Bearing in mind the cultural difference within the team, how much do these differences matter if at all?

  • Head Coach – American

  • S&C Coach – English Team

  • Manger - English

  • Analysis – English

  • Backs Coach – Australian

  • Kicking Coach – American

  • Forwards Coach – English

  • Medical Staff – American

All of the above all effects the performance and result and it’s has actually got nothing to do with ‘on field’ rugby technical or tactical knowledge. Media representation focuses upon what separates all these top players. What about what separates the top coaches? It will be rare that one coach has superior rugby knowledge over another, so, what makes elite rugby coaches successful? Head Coach Mike Tolkin believes it’s about ‘building a culture’. The backs coaches said that it was all about ‘man Management’ and the Maori All blacks Coach Collin Cooper said that he believes that it is all about the ‘delivery’. So here there are three international coaches all with different opinions from various experiences and backgrounds. I feel this opens up a lot of discussion:

How much of coaching is on the field? How do we separate top coaches? How much does the culture background of a coach matter? How much does professionalism as a coach effect the way you are with your players and others?

As mentioned I have been fortunate enough to shadow an international coach and also to interview other various international coaches and rugby is a topic that is rarely mentioned.

It turned out that the New Zealand Maori won the game (as expected); however, Head Coach Colin Copper said “we did not win the game until the 76th minute and we were shocked at how good the USA’s performance was”.

The atmosphere in the changing room after the game was one of disappointment especially as they had gone in at half time with a 9-7 lead. Yet, this was probably one of their best performances of the year and then a week later achieved their first win of the year against Georgia and then against Russia in England. Maybe this ‘off field’ coaching e.g. ‘building a culture’ could be more emphasized in coach education at a novice level and then concentrate on the ‘specific sporting knowledge’ later in the coach’s career?

Recent Posts
Featured Posts
bottom of page