Photos: Max Haynes (mxfotos.com)
The USA Women’s National Team’s (WNT) November tour was dense with important benchmarks, from Rob Cain’s first outing as (the WNT’s first full-time) head coach, to the Eagles’ first tests in more than a year, to capping 17 new players. All are worthy of feature pieces, but the one highlight sticking to our sides is the performance of the USA forwards.
On a tour with so many moving parts, there was both comfort and verve in the pack. Outside of Kimber Rozier and Meya Bizer, the Women’s Rugby World Cup experience was consolidated up front, and the forwards accounted for approximately 70% of the caps before tour kicked off. That said, the pack added eight new caps to its player pool.
“This tour was great. My first tour was the beginning of last cycle so it’s always exciting with a new group of players,” USA prop Catie Benson enthused. “Rob brings a lot of excitement to this team, and he challenges us as players and really wants to see us succeed. It was a great environment to learn from the coaches on tour, and then use those takeaways to the field.
“The forwards really showed what they got this tour,” USA prop Catie Benson asserted. “It was amazing to have all of the coaches, but Kate Daley and Jamie Burke really spent some time with us working on the groundwork for our set pieces.”
That stability helped 20 new players (when including the England A match) take surer steps into the international game.
“All of the newcomers made an impression on me, backs and forwards. It was amazing to see everyone show their stuff on the international stage,” Benson praised. “One player that made a huge impression was Rachel Johnson in the forward pack. She was absolutely everywhere on the field, made great go-forward on the field and put some good hits on in defense.”
Benson noted that every outing bred more confidence and an opportunity to refine and make little improvements. The Eagles finished 1-2 in official tests, and 2-2 overall when factoring in the USA A win over England A. But the team is walking away with much more than a record.
“Long tours are great for a group of players. We don’t get to play much together throughout the year so it is a great time for us to not only bond on the field, but to bond off the field,” Benson explained. “We had a bunch of jokesters on the team so our team was always laughing during these three weeks. We have some pretty competitive game nights of cards or banana grams, but hanging out together is the best bonding time we can have.”
Kate (Zachary), Catie (Benson) & Katy (Augustyn) combine for more than 60 caps
Benson, Alycia Washington, Nick James, Meya Bizer and Kristine Sommer brought the competition to game night and sometimes welcomed coach Cain to the fray. The Eagle prop noted Atlanta Harlequins’ Cortney Kuehl, Darian Lovelace and KB Broughton injected a lot of laughter and humor into the crew.
Those off-pitch connections translate, and the players are eager for more opportunities. Fortunately, there is an unprecedented number of tests in store for the Eagles. Although details have not been officially released, coach Cain called the New Zealand test the first of 29 dress rehearsals for the 2021 World Cup. Read more.
“Absolutely! I think a lot of us wanted the tour to last another week just so we can keep playing with each other and hanging out,” Benson confirmed the buzz among players for more tests. “Normally we play about five tests a year, so increasing that number helps us gel together as a team and gets us ready for 2021, which is one of the end-goals for us.”
In terms of playing time, Benson and fellow Life West teammates are looking forward to a qualitative upgrade to its 15s league play. The Gladiatrix defeated the D.C. Furies in mid-November in the Women’s Premier League challenge match, and the Hayward, Calif., program is excited to join the elite competition in fall 2019.
“I am really excited for this new cycle for the USA,” concluded Benson, who is graduating from Life West Chiropractic School soon. “There is a bunch of talent on this team and it is going to be a crazy next few years, but I think we are going to do some great things.”
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