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Will Wilson Blog – US Collegiate Rugby Development Camp – An insight into US rugby. Part 1

Rugby is becoming an increasingly global sport, and it is perhaps experiencing its biggest growth in the USA where the profile of a certain Carlin Isles has really begun to capture the imagination.

American Collegiate rugby is particularly booming, and with an ever increasing number of pupils from British schools looking for a University education on the other side of the pond, the timing really could not be better.

With all of that in mind, a look from the inside at what differences there are in rugby over the USA and just a general view of rugby in the USA and particularly at Collegiate level is like seemed of great interest to us, and hopefully to you, our readers.

Wellington College number 8 Will Wilson, along with many other UK sixth formers, is currently at a US Collegiate Rugby Development Camp at Dartmouth College. He is blogging his experiences of both the rugby and collegiate system for us this week, giving a unique insight into a real growth area for rugby – and a real opportunity for those looking to go a little further afield for their University careers.

Here are his thoughts on the first few days of Camp:

Will Wilson US Collegiate Development Camp Blog:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An uncomfortably early wake up of 6.30am was exactly what the jetlagged rugby player needed as an introduction to the life of a potential American student: nevertheless, tucking into a plate of maple bacon and pancakes (as they say, when in Rome…), I felt excited for what the next week would bring in terms of discovering as much as possible about American collegiate rugby, and improving myself as a player.

Today, we kicked off the camp with a top-up sevens clinic. Alex Magleby, former USA Eagles representative and coach, and head coach at Dartmouth, led the clinic, with other prestigious coaches such as Matt Sherman from Stanford and Jay Fluck from Brown helping to run the session.

The day started with a very basic handling drill, which gradually incorporated moves and attacking ploys into it. This eventually manifested into an attacking exercise, focusing specifically on kick return and counter-attacking play. The afternoon focused on defensive structure and alignment, perfecting the ‘chains of three’ set-up and retrieving the ball off restarts. The whole clinic was undertaken at a relatively low intensity, as skills were concentrated on far more than fitness levels.

Overall, today showed me that the standard of rugby in the USA at schools level can vary drastically; however, with the numbers of international students present suggesting an increasing global influence, there can only be one direction in which the standard can be heading in the foreseeable future.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The vast majority of the campers arrived today, coming from as far afield as New Zealand, Hong Kong, and, bizarrely for me (being a student at Wellington College), a couple from Millfield School.

The morning was split into two skill-specific sessions: coaches Hickie (Dartmouth) and Huckaby (USA Rugby) – how American is the ‘coach’ tag?! – ran a lineout clinic; Tom Burwell and Ollie Clough from UR7s, an English sevens-centred firm, ran a kicking session. I went to the latter, which was a good laugh: again, students from all areas, of all ages and all abilities showed up, and there was a real sense (which has permeated the camp as a whole so far) of learning off each other.

A lot of the American kids here are cross-over athletes, predominantly from football or athletics (one 17-year old runs the 100m in 10.08 seconds…!), and so, coming from a background where I’ve been playing rugby almost since I can remember, the main difference in terms of skill is simply down to knowledge of the game.

The afternoon progressed into a defensive circuit of drills, ranging from tackle technique to line speed to two-on-two defence. Following this, we travelled back to campus, where Matt Sherman and Josh Macy presented to the group about their respective universities, Stanford and AIC, both fantastic schools with a lot to offer all potential applicants from all over.

Personal reflection before bed gave a time to look back on what I’d learned about the US collegiate system so far. It’s undoubtedly booming, and a lot of programmes are really getting off the ground in terms of funding, but at a collegiate level a lot of schools are struggling for funding.

It’s also quite rare for a school to excel academically and culturally as well as having a fantastic rugby programme: Dartmouth and Stanford lead the way quite comfortably on that front. Out here is awesome, though, and I’m sure the next couple of days will reveal a lot more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The early wake ups beginning to take their toll, we trooped out to the field to begin another varied session, focusing on transition attack, breakdown work and evasive running skills (as with most of the sessions, it becomes quite difficult to see a definitive structure: it’s quite hard to provide a degree of consistency for the standard of the camp due to the sheer difference in ability of all the players here).

A classroom session concerning sports nutrition and strength and conditioning followed, and after lunch we split forwards and backs, each focusing on a different skill. I thought being with the backs would help improve my skill set more; however, for the first time since my arrival, I was left a bit disappointed: the counter-attacking drill we went through was so rigid in structure, it left little in the way of ambition and creativity for the more capable players to work with.

This is not to say the coaching is not of an exceptional standard: coaches such as Magleby and Burwell have seen and done it all before. It is just incredibly difficult to comprehend that the standard can be so mixed between a group of people of such similar ages and athletic backgrounds. The American kids are phenomenal athletes, but they just (for the most part – there are of course exceptions to the rule) very much let down by their basic skill set.

The day finished early, with another couple of presentations from Middlebury College and New England College, the former in particular being an exceptional, small school, which tends to pass under the radar, but has fantastic academic achievement and a great new rugby programme coming through.

Personal reflections done, bed was met with a great degree of gratitude by all. Another hard day tomorrow in the New Hampshire heat: can’t wait!

By Will Willson

You can see Part 2 of Will’s blog here: Will Wilson US Collegiate Development Camp blog, Part 2

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