Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tolkin, Crowley and Mitchell

   Sayonaras and Howzits   

The top two North American men’s national sides have undergone a change of their respective pilots post-2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC). The USA Eagles, after going winless in pool play at the quadrennial world derby last fall, replaced former MNT (Men’s National Team) head coach Mike Tolkin, who will now take a break from rugby for a bit, in favor of New Zealand born-and-bred John Mitchell, while our neighbors of the True North will have to do without the services of longtime head coach, Kieran Crowley (also native to the Land of the Long White Cloud), who has gone on to the top instructional position at European Professional Club Rugby and Guinness Pro 12 franchise, Benetton Treviso, in the Italian North Country (expect current winless Benetton to 180 degree-it).

Difference is the former Canadian men’s coach has gone on to a better place, while Tolkin will be left to consider what might have been as he takes a respite from our game. Among Crowley’s accomplishments are Canada’s thrilling defeat of France in the 2010 Churchill Cup (at Glendale) and his facilitation of placement of individuals from the Canadian corps in professional teams worldwide, while Tolkin may be best remembered for forcing talismanic back row and former captain, Todd Clever, from the USA side scant months prior to 2015 Rugby World Cup kickoff, and his questionable inclusion of 7s players in the USA Eagles XV. Thus Coach Crowley is off to right the ship of Benneton Treviso’s state, while Mr. Tolkin takes a break, possibly to re-surface as a functionary in the Pro Rugby North America League, though he has disclaimed that eventuality.

The art of coaching, especially at the national level, is not social work. It requires a competent, confident, and on many occasions, autocratic individual who is as mindful of the players as of the game itself. And also the ability to tell the difference between motivation and de-motivation: ex-USA MNT Coach Tolkin’s summary dismissal of an established player like Clever was ill-advised, to say the least, and badly-timed as the squad prepared for RWC.

USA Head Coach John Mitchell

2016 sees the reign of John Mitchell begin in American rugby. Mitchell’s a Kiwi who has coached the world over with a winning international record. He has been accused of being heavy-handed and summary, but here’s the deal: if an elite player seeks an understanding individual who will hold their hands and sing Kumbaya with them, that ain’t the coach; that’s the therapist, and that type of interconnectivity can be obtained outside the scope of our game. As all well know, rugby is a sport that is as unforgiving as it is enthralling – the crack of the bone and the 90-day rehab merely makes one yearn that much more for the pitch. The best results come from hard work, grit, dedication and commitment; the training (individual or team) you bag in favor of an evening elsewhere may be the one that imparts the skill or increases the fitness level to that fraction of a point where one scores the winning try instead of coming up one’s step short of the rapture that is in-goal touch down.

Rugby is definitely the hardest sport around our planet today, but its rewards are significantly bountiful and its memories, everlasting. USA MNT is fortunate to have contracted the services of John Mitchell and I, for one, eagerly anticipate the effects that august instructor will have on our national men’s team’s game – beginning shortly as the Eagles take on Argentina at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston on Saturday, February 6. Expect not immediate impact from Mitchell’s brief (3-ish weeks) time at the helm; but long term? USA MNT future be so bright, best get those shades out!

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