Loose Pass

Date published: January 12 2016

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_Ben_Smith_ABs_training_RC_2014

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with some appointments and impromptu coaching sessions…

Bald Eagle

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more popular appointment among local circles than the USA’s capture of John Mitchell this week. Within hours of the announcement, social media across the pond was alive with excitement. ‘Boom!’ enthused one acquaintance on Twitter excitedly, while a plethora of Facebook posts containing phrases such as ‘way to go’ and ‘the next level’ adorned the newsfeed page.

Mitchell, who in one entry interview gave his wife due credit for ushering him into accepting the role, could have fun in the USA. He may rub people up the wrong way in some places, but his enthusiastic and direct demeanour is likely to go down well in a country that enjoys the concept of the all-pervading larger-than-life ‘coach’ character. He certainly wants to attack and create on the pitch, aspects notably absent from recent Eagles performances. In the ever-improving Sevens team – who recently conquered the New Zealand team multiple times – he should find some fine athletes to help him do just that. The new professional league will form an integral part of his new regime.

It’s the next step in the story of the sport’s rapid evolution in the USA. It remains the country’s fastest-growing, even if it yet to truly compete with soccer overall. While the World Cup was a big disappointment, those recent Sevens wins have quickly re-kindled the national enthusiasm and awareness. The PRO League – spread across six cities and to be played in April and May – will come on the back of the new Americas Rugby Championship, in which the USA goes toe-to-toe with Argentina, Canada, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Both Australia and the All Blacks have been for Test matches over the past two years, each time drawing monster crowds.

If Mitchell can just nudge the Eagles over the crest, the wave of excitement building up in the USA could finally, belatedly, break. What a fillip for the sport that could be.

Diversification

Exactly the opposite scenario north of the border, where Canada is in turmoil after Kieran Crowley’s abrupt U-turn in his re-commitment to the national team at the start of the year.

The Canadian Union has insisted there’ll be no knee-jerk appointment in reaction to Crowley’s departure, which is probably a good thing. But with the USA now having laid down a marker in terms of bringing in names, the CRU – under a fair bit of pressure from the locals at the way Crowley’s departure has played out with a lot of people unhappy at the money spent on administration – my find themselves needing to compete.

As commented a few weeks ago in this column, the general trend appears to be toward hiring foreign coaches. The only one of the Six Nations currently coached by someone home-grown is France. Australia have experimented, not without benefit, while South Africa probably ought to. New Zealand haven’t, principally because they simply don’t need to – indeed, the country provides most of the foreign expertise currently in national tracksuits of many colours. There’s a clear tendency towards finding a Kiwi to help out at many levels – something that is often a blessing, but can also be a curse; the tendency towards trying to replicate the ABs is not necessarily the right way to go as Clive Woodward, among others, has warned.

But it is not all New Zealand. This week also saw the addition of Andy Farrell to Ireland’s arsenal however, while rumours are doing the rounds of Warren Gatland perhaps looking across the Severn to Graham Rowntree’s scrummaging expertise. South Africans are also in high demand and there’s an interesting collection of former Ireland internationals in the USA and Canada at sub-international level.

In its 21st year of professionalism, rugby union is very much becoming a global sport, with cross-pollination and a desire for extension and diversity of knowledge increasing. The evolution, mixing and matching of styles is going to be a fascinating facet to watch over the next few World Cup cycles.

Meanwhile, in a back yard…

The developing reputation for All Blacks being regarded as amazing human beings able to transcend all levels of national, social and economic strata continues unabated.

In response to a hand-written note from a fearless youngster asking for some skills tips dropped through his door, Ben Smith took to facebook to announce an open training session for kids from the surrounding area in a local park.

"I'll be down at the rugby fields in Wanaka at 8:30am tomorrow. If any kids want to come down and chuck a rugby ball around and help me with my training they are welcome," he posted.

Just an excellent story really.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

COMMENTS