USA Rugby Board of Directors Initiate High Performance Review

The USA Rugby Board of Directors announced the initiation of a full and comprehensive review of its High Performance Program during its December Board meeting today.

Tom Cusack, Chair of the USA Rugby Board of Directors, said following the meeting, “First, a huge thank you to all the players, coaches, and staff who represented the United States at both the Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand, and the Rugby World Cup 2023 Final Qualification Tournament. Needless to say, our failure to qualify for the Men’s Rugby World Cup is a massive disappointment and did not meet our performance targets. Similarly, only winning one game at Rugby World Cup 2021 and failing to progress past the quarterfinals also did not meet our objectives.

As an organization, we did not live up to our own expectations or those of the American rugby public. As hosts of the 2028 Olympic Games and the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups, we must create a more effective High Performance Program that allows our men and women to excel on the pitch. As a result, the Board was unanimous in initiating an independent, top to bottom, review of our High Performance organization, including our strategy, structure, and culture.”

USA Rugby CEO, Ross Young said on the review, “It’s standard procedure for us to assess each of the programs and structures at the end of every Rugby World Cup and Olympic cycle, and that process began after our exits in New Zealand and Dubai. While we are appreciative of the work Gary Gold has done with the Men’s Eagles program, Gary is going to step away from the Head Coach role with immediate effect but will still be available to support the performance review process. Meanwhile, Rob Cain has come to the end of his existing contract with the Women’s Eagles. Rob has had a hugely positive impact on developing the program during his tenure, but his contract will not be automatically renewed. We will await the findings of our review to decide what the future looks like with Rob and next steps regarding coaching assignments and High Performance roles.

World Rugby have offered to assist with the overarching High Performance review process in conjunction with the USA Rugby Board of Directors and independent High Performance experts, which will be supported by the National Office. The goal of the overall project will be to examine three principal areas:

  1. What is our strategy for developing world class teams in our Men’s and Women’s 15s and 7s programs?
  2. What organizational structures does USA Rugby need to achieve this objective? What talent needs to be in the organization?
  3. What is the culture of USA Rugby national teams? How is it expressed in the organization and how does it reflect in our play on the pitch?

Ahead of the review, General Manager of High Performance Dan Payne will step away from his current role and re-focus his attention on more specific projects as part of the review process.

As part of the assessment, there will be campaign debriefs and reviews for both the Women’s and Men’s Eagles programs, reviewing data from preparation periods and results from the recently completed Rugby World Cup and qualifying campaigns, respectively. These will be fed into the wider review process, guiding the development of full job descriptions and hiring timelines for the Head of High Performance and head coaching roles. One essential requirement for USA coaches in the future is they must be full-time residents of the U.S. during their coaching tenure and engrained in the Eagles development pathway.

With three and five-year Rugby World Cup windows facing the Women’s (2025) and Men’s Eagles (2027), respectively, pathway development across USA Rugby Junior National Teams will be prioritized. This includes augmented and robust development structures with appropriate funding levels to achieve the needed performance objectives for both the Men’s and Women’s programs. New funding sources will need to be developed to support these efforts.

In January, World Rugby will meet with USA Rugby to work on the next phase of “Project Accelerate.” Project Accelerate is a targeted initiative by World Rugby to fast-track the development and performance programs of the women’s game in high potential unions. With the women’s international competition structure laid out through The Pacific Four Series and WXV, along with an expanded HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series slated to being next year, USA Rugby will work with World Rugby to develop specific growth metrics and support for the Women’s fifteens and sevens programs, from grassroots to senior national team, with the goal of future success at the Olympics and the World Cups.

Young concluded, “We’re committed to charting a path which will bring American rugby to the forefront of international competition over the course of the next decade, a path we understand goes far beyond national team operations. The global rugby landscape is changing rapidly and will improve further with new competitions and a regular structured calendar. From the results this fall, it is clear we have not kept pace with the rest of the world. Now, we must find ways in which the United States can innovate and capitalize on its natural strengths in order to excel both on and off the field. This will all tie in with the wider growth plan that USA Rugby will present to World Rugby in May as part of the Rugby World Cup hosting process.”