Saturday’s Uruguayan draw should neither foil America’s World Cup hopes nor further belief its high-performance program should be sustained.
Reaching next year’s world championship is no more problematic than capturing this weekend’s return fixture in Georgia. America has never lost to the Teros at home. Meanwhile, Uruguay is unlikely to field its Montevideo XV: some of the predominantly amateur squad will have returned to work and school.
With 11 overseas professionals in the Eagle starting unit, training time, venue, availabillity and the like cannot account for the USA’s performance. Responsibility begins with Mike Tolkin’s coaching unit, which obviously enjoys superior resources.
It extends to USARFU's high performance staff, led by Luke Gross, its senior executives, and its board of directors. More players compete in Europe, 7s hopefuls are coached at the Olympic Training Center, the number of teenage athletes — the wellspring of future internationals — continues long-term expansion, budgets are rising. These ought to be primary indicators of success, but as results run contrary, either they are being mismanaged or they are indicative of a failing approach.
Over the past 9 test seasons, the USA’s International Rugby Board ranking has slipped to 18th from 14th, last among the so-called tier 2 teams. Its record against Canada, Japan, Fiji, Samoa, and the like is 2-21, an .087 winning percentage. Before the Roberts-Melville administration took over, America’s comparable mark was 27-37-2, or .424.
So much has been evident. The greater shock of 2014's debut is the suggestion the outmanned Teros are somehow pulling closer. There is substance to it.
Since 2006, the US is 16-1-1 against such division 3 teams as Uruguay, Georgia, Portugal, and Russia. But the margin of victory has been steadily decreasing. From 2006-09, the US won 6 (of 7) games by an average of 32 points; over 2010-14, it has claimed 8 (of 9) games by a mean of 10 points — with half the wins by a try or less.
Tier 3s have smaller playing numbers (i.e., dues bases), receive much less subsidization, and haven't the USA's voice among the IRB's political elite. Acknowledging the socioeconomic facts, Uruguayan officials openly worry the South American country is in long-term decline. Why USARFU losing ground on the international stage, and how is it responding?