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This past weekend, eight women's teams competed in the TRU All Star Challenge. Over 140 women participated in the tournament, as well as a player-development clinic put on by USA Eagles head coach Rob Cain.
The Rob Cain Clinics
It's not often a United States national team head coach will navigate his or her way to the grass roots level, but such was the case for coach Cain.
The former Saracens and current national team boss traveled down to Austin, Texas last Thursday and stayed through Sunday.
On Thursday, Cain held an open coaching clinic, sharing his own coaching insights and some of his methodology with aspiring coaches that were willing to attend.
Then on Friday he ran a two-hour long player clinic, which was open to all of the eight teams competing.
Around 150 players took part, and while it was difficult to keep it organized amidst all the chaos, some valuable lessons were communicated to the group.
His hope was to see the girls utilize some of the skillsets they worked on Friday night over the weekend when they played their full matches.
All Star Challenge Day 1
On Saturday the tournament began, with the eight teams divided into a Tier 1 and a Tier 2.
In Tier 2, the Pacific Northwest All Stars took on the Texas U-24 All Stars, and the USA Rugby South Panthers took on a hodge podge of local Texas Rugby Union players, who dubbed themselves the "Motley TRU".
The PNW side smashed the young Texas girls, 127-0, while the USA South team handled Motley TRU 80-10.
In the Tier 1 bracket, the TRU Selects took on the Midwest All Stars, and the Capital Selects played the Mid-America All Stars.
The TRU girls were simply immense, playing outstanding team rugby en route to a 79-5 win. Though comprised of players from five different clubs, their cohesiveness would suggest they were a unit that's played together for years.
In the final game of the day, the Capital Selects outlasted the Mid-America All Stars, 30-19. The game went back and forth for the better part of 65 minutes, but Capital was able to find an extra gear late.
Players & Coaches Dinner
Following a great first day of rugby, each and every player and coach was invited to a Mexican restaurant, Morelio's, for fajitas and a chance to build some camaraderie with members from other teams and unions.
It was a happy, communal feeling inside the restaurant. The room was filled with great people who all share a common love for the game of rugby and how it brings people together.
The event organizers, Wendy and Traci Young, gave a sincere speech to everyone in the room, thanking them for making the trip and encouraging everyone to stay committed to the game.
Current USA Eagles Nick James and Charli Jacoby also spoke to the group, citing their own journeys as players, and how they came up through the club level, where many of the women in the room are at right now.
They both played in the same All Star challenge the year before, and for Jacoby that's how she was first spotted by the national team coaches. The message to all of the players was that if you really want it, the opportunity to represent the United States beckons.
Echoing his two players' points, Rob Cain also spoke to the girls about their prospects of playing international test rugby. He made it clear that many of the players are knocking on the door, and that showcases like these are their chance to kicking the door right down.
All Star Challenge Day 2
The way the competition is set up, the first place team from Tier 2 earns promotion to Tier 1 for next year's competition, while the fourth place team from Tier 1 gets relegated to Tier 2.
So, as it were, Pacific Northwest would play USA Rugby South in the promotion game, and the Midwest would play Mid-America in the relegation game.
The other two games would be the Tier 2 consolation between the Motley TRU and the Texas U-24 Selects, and then the championship game between the TRU Selects and the Capital Selects.
The day started with the Tier 2 consolation, which was won by the Motley TRU 55-19 over the Texas U-24's.
Following that game was the Tier 1 relegation match. The Midwest Selects won a defensive struggle, 10-5, and will remain in the Tier 1 bracket for next year. Mid-America thus will be dropped to Tier 2.
In the promotion game between PNW and USA Rugby South, the women from the Pacific Northwest took care of business, racking up a 41-5 win and earning promotion to next year's Tier 1 division. They were excellent in both games, and will certainly be a Tier 1 contender this time next season.
In the final match of the weekend, the TRU Selects pasted the Capital Selects, 43-3. Like the previous day, the TRU girls used a balanced attack of power, skill, and pace to knife through on numerous occasions.
Defensively, they might have been even better. Capital wasn't able to get an inch on the TRU side, and rarely progressed beyond three phases. Considering there were a number of D1 National champion NOVA players on their side, holding Capital to three points is a testament to the quality of the TRU team.
It was ultimately a lovely weekend of rugby, and it's a huge thanks to Wendy and Traci for organizing the event, the dinner, the coaching clinics, and the all-around good time.
The goal is to continue raising the standard of women's rugby in America, and opportunities like these are great for rugby players to not only play at a high level with quality teammates, but also to score some recognition.
Hopefully 2020 will see the rest of the Geographic Unions make the trip as well. If they catch wind of how fun the 2019 edition was, there's no way they won't.