USA Rugby Women’s Head Coach talks about the Women’s Rugby Super Series 2019

James from @RugbySaracens recently met the USA Rugby Head Coach Rob Cain to discuss the forthcoming Super Series in California. All the games are being shown live in the UK on Sky Sports.

The Women’s Rugby Super Series 2019 brings together in California the top-five ranked women’s international teams into just over two weeks of intense competition. From 28 June to 14 July, England, Canada, USA, France and New Zealand will play each other to decide the title. USA Women’s Head Coach Rob Cain was clear on the thinking for it being organised, reflecting that, “The biggest thing for us was having more Test match opportunities.”

The games in California are part of USA Rugby Women’s carefully constructed planning to build towards the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2021. The focus for Cain now though is on developing the individuals within the current playing group. Rob said, “this is a really good opportunity to see where we are now with different players. We are very much focusing on the individual and seeing where they are and how we can help them before we start trying to build a team.”

Rather than set targets for results in the Super Series, it’s all about performances for Rob’s side.

“We are focusing on performances, still focusing on managing pressure and trying to really shape the type of style that’s relative to them and how we are going to play. You only do that from playing Test matches. You can’t do that in training. We’ve looked at some key areas since November that we hope will help us bridge the gap between us and the top four countries, and definitely the top two countries, and the players get an opportunity to showcase that.”

Challenges and highlights from his first year as USA Head Coach

The Super Series caps off Rob’s first year in charge, his first time as an international Head Coach.

Rob identified “getting a real good understanding of what the American game was and how we could set players up to be successful” as his biggest challenge when starting as the USA Head Coach. He explained that there are “so many stakeholders and players involved. It was crucial we did our homework to really do justice to them. We spent a lot of time looking at how we could best format things to give the right opportunities to really kick on at international level.” Rob explained that he yearly calendar, announced in February 2019, “really represents that and shows how far we have come in such a short space of time”

Rob said that there were many highlights in his 10 months in charge and focused on the players.

“Seeing players do well, getting better every opportunity we come together, whether it’s playing in a final for their club or college or at a regional camp or with us. The more time they get, they just improve. The players are all incredibly hard working and so coachable.”

World’s Top 4 as opponents

“In terms of what we are doing and timing, the Super Series is perfect for us and highlights how we really are trying to maximise every opportunity we can have as USA Rugby throughout the 12 months of the year”

“We have to play test matches, which is what we’re doing which is brilliant. We have to play more meaningful games like the one-point loss against Barbarians in April, the Canada joint games last month and the All-Star Week in Colorado in August, which is going to be a huge success story.”

Rob discussed that each team for this Super Series presents a different challenge for the USA Women.

• England: Rob highlighted that he is looking forward to seeing some very familiar faces in the England squad from his time as the Head Coach at English Champions Saracens Women which he left to take up the USA job last summer. He said, “I will always have a soft spot for all the Sarries players, and I wish them all the success
• New Zealand: “I love the way New Zealand play rugby. They are so exciting: high tempo and ruthless in every action they take.”
• France: “It’s going to be really interesting to see how France play. I’ve never played France…It will be a new experience and against a team with the physicality they possess.”
• Canada: “Come on. The rivalry between the USA and Canada! It’s definitely a rivalry in our house with Julie [Rob’s fiancé] being Canadian. On top of that it’s good for us to have a rivalry. At Saracens we were always at our best when we had a rivalry. I know that having the couple of weeks in Canada they brought the best out of us and I’m looking forward to going up against them”
Rob looked positively at the task ahead, saying “realistically at the moment we are fifth in the world. Every time we play is an opportunity. The only way we are going to get better is to play the teams above us.” Feeling hot, hot, hot

Rob agreed that the July heat in Chula Vista, California will be a factor for all teams.

“It will be interesting [to see] who can manage it. The squads are not huge and there is a cap on numbers with 28 players in each. It’s going to be very attritional. It’s good for us as we’re taking everyone to play so hopefully it’ll be a good opportunity for all the teams to learn from turnaround times, having to put in repeated performances so close to each other, having to deal with injuries, loadings, things you might not have thought of.”

Stepping stones towards RWC2021

Rob spoke very positively about the direction in which USA Rugby Women are heading:

“I am really excited. They are going to be a really good team. The question is how long it’s going to take. For us, we want to get better every day: that’s our sole aim. We are not putting tag lines on too many things. We are excited about the Super Series as it gives the players an opportunity to show all the work they have been doing. Some players are going to be different [from last November]. The cool thing is I’ve been lucky enough to see those changes in real time over the past six months so that’s why I’m so excited for them all”

The Super Series will be an important step on the pathway towards RWC 2021. Rob said that the competition will be a test for the coaches as well as the players.

“For us it’s going to be the same in the Super Series. It’s a great reflection. What did we get right in the last six months? What do we get right? How can we repackage it? What can we look at next time? Is it a positional profile thing? Is it the way we have organised the cycle? Is it about how we have prepared the players? It’s very easy to blame players. It’s about us as coaches having accountability; the whole group as one. We can revise it; and keep moving forward if you can recognise the problem.

“That was one of the things I most enjoyed at Saracens. I was very fortunate to have some fantastic cocoaches, who worked especially hard, but more importantly some wonderful players. They helped us out more as coaches than we helped them sometimes. It’s the same thing here at USA Rugby. We want to have a clear transparent supportive pathway, a team, an environment in which everyone has the same ownership and we can have some fun and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Tournament schedule (all times BST)
28-29 June – Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Centre
England vs USA | 2100hrs Canada vs New Zealand | 0000hrs France | BYE
02-03 July – Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Centre
France vs Canada | 2215hrs New Zealand vs USA | 0115hrs England | BYE
06-07 July – Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Centre
France vs New Zealand | 2215hrs Canada vs England | 0115hrs USA | BYE
10-11 July – Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Centre
England vs France | 2215hrs Canada vs USA | 0115hrs New Zealand | BYE
14-15 July – Torero Stadium, San Diego
New Zealand vs England | 2100hrs France vs USA | 0000hrs
Canada | BYE

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