The USA are one of only three countries to have won the Women’s Rugby World Cup. The Eagles were the inaugural champions back in 1991 and will face the European trio of Italy, Spain and England in August’s pool stages in Dublin.
Head Coach: Pete Steinberg
Team Captain: Tiffany Faaee
Women’s Rugby World Cup Record: 1991 (Champions), 1994 (Runners-up), 1998 (Runners-up), 2002 (Seventh), 2006 (Fifth), 2010 (Fifth), 2014 (Sixth)
Current World Ranking: 8th
WRWC 2017 Fixtures:
Pool B –
USA v Italy, UCD Bowl, 4.30pm, Wednesday, August 9
USA v Spain, UCD Bowl, 2.45pm, Sunday, August 13
England v USA, Billings Park, UCD, 2.30pm, Thursday, August 17
Semi-Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Tuesday, August 22
Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Saturday, August 26
Best WRWC Moment: Sunday, April 14, 1991. A day that will live long in the memories of those involved from the USA. The Eagles, captained by Barbara Bond and Mary Sullivan, came from behind to defeat England 19-6 at Cardiff Arms Park and become the first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup champions. Clare Godwin (2), Chris Harju and Patty Connell were their try scorers in the final. It remains the only major trophy captured by a senior US national rugby team (excluding the men’s 1920 and 1924 Olympic triumphs).
Soundbites: Pete Steinberg – “We have been tracking the players for years through the Sevens, NASC (National All-Star Competitions), and age-grade programmes, and the goal is to give them an opportunity to show what they can do on and off the pitch.
“The (June) camp is designed to be difficult for the players, because it allows the players who can perform while there are distractions to show what they can do. This is a learning from the last cycle, that we need to not make it easy, because the World Cup is one big distraction.
“The age-grade teams are really beginning to provide the future players for the programme. This injection of young athletes, along with the development of the NDAs (National Development Academies), has created a much deeper pool than in 2014.
“We don’t have an international calendar that gives us five or six games a year, so we basically blooded a bunch of new caps in 2015 – players that now have seven or eight or nine Test matches under their belts. We’ve realised, for us to be able to compete, we need to really improve our skills. Our focus isn’t going to be as much about playing games as it is to put as many people as possible in a full-time training environment to enhance our skill development.”
Alev Kelter – “I grew up in Alaska. As a kid I played everything, from baseball, soccer, ice hockey, swimming, tennis, a lot bit of softball as well. But as I grew up, I specialised in ice hockey and soccer. When I was 14, I made the soccer Olympic development programme. I captained the U-18 World Championship team in ice hockey and was accepted into the full national training programme.
“It was devastating to miss out on the US Olympic ice hockey squad, I made it to one of the last camps but the (selection) phone call never came. It was a dark time for me. Then, one day, I looked at my phone and I had a missed call from a number I didn’t recognise. I listened to the voicemail – ‘hey, this is Ric Suggitt from USA Rugby. I hear you’re a pretty good athlete, would you like to give rugby a try?’
“I’d never touched a rugby ball before but the girls welcomed me with the biggest open arms you could imagine. They gave me all the knowledge and information they had ever received, and that to me was something I had never experienced before. It’s something which sets rugby apart from other sports.
“It was pretty hard to learn a while new skill-set but my team-mates and those girls made it extremely easy in the transition. Making the Sevens Olympic team, there was a lot of weigh lifted off my shoulders. It was awesome, a dream come true. Rio was amazing. When you got there and you could see the fans in the stands, it was a truly unbelievable experience – better than anything I had ever imagined.
“The depth is growing for Olympians getting ready for rugby, and for rugby players getting ready for the Olympics. Rugby is all inclusive, it’s every shape and size. You need everyone! Rugby is the epitome of family, it’s that camaradarie, that’s the culture.”
Did You Know?: Last September USA Rugby launched its first 15s-specific residency programme for the Women’s Eagles at the Olympic Training Centre in Chula Vista, southern California, to aid their World Cup preparations. Their build-up to Ireland 2017 has included the post-Christmas National All-Star Competition, which was played off in a short WRWC-like format, and the two-Test Can-Am Series against third-ranked Canada in the spring.
Team Profile: The USA Women’s Eagles have entered a key stage of their World Cup preparations. Last Sunday saw them begin a month-long training camp at their southern California base (June 25-July 23), giving the players a final opportunity to push for selection as the coaches cut the squad down from 41 to the final 28.
This November will mark the 30th anniversary of the USA’s first Women’s international match – a 22-3 win over neighbours Canada in Victoria – and it is no surprise that the Canucks are their most regular opponents (36 meetings in all, with 18 wins apiece). The Can-Am Series in March and April saw Canada post 39-5 and 37-10 victories over a young and experimental American outfit.
It is a welcome development to see Pete Steinberg’s Eagles playing more Tests both at home and abroad. Since finishing sixth at the 2014 World Cup, they have participated in two summer Super Series tournaments, coming up against the likes of England, Canada, New Zealand and France, and also played France twice during a tour last November.
They lost out to les Bleues in both games, going down 36-10 and 31-6, but facing higher-ranked and more experienced opponents has given the US a lot of ‘work-ons’ that should see them emerge as an improved and more-rounded force come August in Dublin. Two key areas of focus have been ball skills and the scrum.
Speaking after the France tour, head coach Steinberg noted: “With the Sevens players that we have engaged this year, I’m confident we have the athleticism in the bag. In the forwards, probably the biggest area of need is identifying the best back row combination. There are a lot of good back row players, but we’re trying to work out the best combination and getting them to play together.
“In our attacking structure, we think we took some steps forward. The thing that has consistently plagued us this year is basically skill breakdowns – dropping the ball, not making the right pass or passing effectively, missing the tackle. Those are just individual skill issues that have been hard for us to address.”
Sevens regulars and 2016 Olympians Joanne Fa’avesi and Alev Kelter both made their 15s debuts against the French, featuring at scrum half and outside centre respectively, and it is the professionally-honed strength and speed of these Sevens athletes that has Steinberg optimistic that the Eagles can ‘do something special in Ireland’.
Getting the most out of explosive attackers like Cheta Emba, Kristen Thomas and Naya Tapper (a try scorer against Canada last time out) will be vital, but opportunities will be few and far between unless the American set piece game improves. It was an area that the Canadians had clear dominance in, and notably, the Eagles’ tight five forwards had two extra days in camp with assistant coach Liz Kirk at the start of the month to work on their scrummaging.
Props Hope Rogers and Tiffany Faaee have shared the captaincy role so far this season, however tighthead Rogers is currently on the injured/unavailable list. The tight five is one of the Americans’ most experienced units, with 28-times capped lock Stacey Bridges and front rowers Rogers, Katy Augustyn, Sarah Chobot and Naima Reddick all part of the 2014 World Cup squad.
Bridges and evergreen and ever-inspiring flanker Phaidra Knight, who turns 43 next Tuesday, were both picked for the 2010 tournament too, and it would be another incredible achievement in an already stellar career if Knight – named the USA’s Player of the Decade in 2010 – gets to play at a fourth World Cup. She was a prop in 2002 before transitioning to the back row, and is now playing at hooker having helped her club New York finish third in the USA Rugby Women’s Premier League.
At the opposite end of the scale, the 19-year-old Kayla Canett and fellow youngsters Annakaren Pedraza (20) and Nicole Heavirland (22) all made their debuts against Canada in the spring, as did Kelly Griffin, who captained the US Sevens team at the Rio Olympics, Kristine Sommer and Kristen Thomas.
Gelling together their best XV is foremost in the minds of Steinberg and fellow coaches Kirk, Peter Baggetta, Richie Walker and Richard Ashfield. The players in camp will have a final run-out tomorrow in a warm-up game against the US Women’s Premier League All-Stars in San Diego, before thoughts turn to their opening Pool B clashes with Italy and Spain, whom they have not met since 2012 and 2002 respectively. Their final round encounter with defending champions England should have Billings Park rocking on match day 3. #BringIt
– We send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Ric Suggitt, the Canadian-born rugby coach who died earlier this week at the age of 58. He coached a number of national teams in North America, including the Canada Women’s 15s and Sevens teams and the USA Women’s Sevens side. He was the University of Lethbridge Women’s head coach at the time of his passing. RIP Sluggo.
– Our thoughts and prayers are also with USA rugby star Jillion Potter, a 2014 Women’s World Cup player and 2016 Olympian. She has been re-diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer she beat in the two years leading up to the Rio Games. Please donate to support Jill with her medical treatment via this YouCaring page – #WithYou
For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for #WRWC2017 now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.
USA WRWC Training Squad: Kathryn Augustyn (Berkeley All Blues), Catherine Benson (Life West), Chelsey Birgisdóttir (Seattle Saracens), Tia Blythe (San Diego Surfers), Sylvia Braaten (Twin Cities Amazons), Stacey Bridges (Twin Cities Amazons), Nicole Burr (Augusta Women’s RFC), Elizabeth Cairns (Life West), Sarah Chobot (Glendale Raptors), Bianca Dalal (At Large), Kate Daley (New York Rugby Club), Cheta Emba (Women’s Eagles Sevens), Tiffany Faaee (New York Rugby Club), Tess Feury (Pennsylvania State University), Megan Foster (Life West), Jordan Gray (Life West), Abby Gustaitis (Northern Virginia Rugby), Nicole Heavirland (Women’s Eagles Sevens), Nicole James (Houston Athletic Rugby Club), Alev Kelter (Women’s Eagles Sevens), Brianna Kim (Northern Virginia Rugby), Joanna Kitlinski (Glendale Raptors), Phaidra Knight (New York Rugby Club), Eta Mailau (Vipers Women’s Rugby), Dana Meschisi (San Diego Surfers), Danielle Ordway (Chicago Lions), Deven Owsiany (San Diego Surfers), Samantha Pankey (San Diego Surfers), Sara Parsons (Northern Virginia Rugby), Annakaren Pedraza (Lindenwood University), Ashley Perry (American Rugby Pro Training Center), Kat Ramage (Dartmouth College), Naima Reddick (Seattle Saracens), Jamila Reinhardt (San Diego Surfers), Kimber Rozier (Scion Sirens), Kristine Sommer (Seattle Saracens), Nicole Strasko (Women’s Eagles Sevens), Naya Tapper (Women’s Eagles Sevens), Kristen Thomas (Women’s Eagles Sevens), Alycia Washington (New York Rugby Club), Kate Zackary (San Diego Surfers).