I love the Las Vegas Invitational for its sidelines. The myriad of follow-up questions that I’ve been stockpiling has a chance to be answered in rapid succession – because there are just so many people of influence watching, playing, coaching, reffing these games.
Martha Daines, the USA Rugby Girls High School All-American (GHSAA) Director and Talent I.D. lead, spent two days eying the pitches at Heritage Park. During the HS Elite final, I told Daines that two separate sources involved at the high school level said there was a move from all-star programs to academies as selection vehicles for the age grade teams. However, USA Rugby all through last year re-emphasized the importance of Regional Cup Tournaments (RCTs) – i.e., all-star 15s tournaments – and major events like the National Invitational Tournaments. Was there movement afoot?
Daines refuted that claim flat-out, that academies are replacing all-star programs as selection vehicles to USA age-grade teams. Academies are great resources for players who want higher-level instruction on a more regular basis, and clearly they draw and refine talent – hence, the heavy sideline presence. Daines noted that the GHSAA program is lightly involved with academies in that it might provide some direction or information on what they’re doing at the All-American level. But USA Rugby does not have the resources to meaningful support an academy system.
Utah Cannibals won the Great Northwest Challenge RCT last year. / Photo: Jackie Finlan
But the biggest reason that academies aren’t an official selection vehicle is because they tend to be 7s focused. So while an event like the LVI 7s puts a great number of players in front of selectors, it doesn’t showcase, say, tight five attributes the way 15s does. Sevens highlights individual skills but doesn’t lend much insight into a players’ capabilities in a 15s scrum or lineout. Remember the GHSAAs play both 7s and 15s, and the NCAA varsity schools recognize 15s as their national championship season. Fifteens is the version of the sport that is for every body.
There is talent waiting to be discovered in every league, state, level in the country, and USA Rugby has created the RCT system to identify it. The same is seen at the senior level in terms of where aspiring Eagles should be playing. If you look at the USA 15s roster for the November tour, the majority of senior players came out of the Women’s Premier League and collegians out of the NCAA varsity and DI Elite ranks. There are elite systems set up, so use them.
Lindenwood was a big source for All-Americans and Eagles last year
So that was a really long way to reiterate that it’s still important to have U18 all-star programs that compete in the RCTs, and high schools teams competing in the NITs and all those other big events to better your chances of getting seen by USA selectors. They will target 7s events, as will college scouts, but they’re guaranteed at the aforementioned.
Daines indicated that right now the GHSAA program is close to locking down its calendar for 2019, and it’ll be used for the subsequent three years. More to come.