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Throwback Thursday: 'Jolly good show' coming to England

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Women’s Rugby World Cup 2006 in Edmonton was the latest success in a growing list of international women’s rugby events, and the greatest in North America up to that point. Teams enjoyed professional amenities off of the field of play, while some called the Final between holder New Zealand and perennial Finalist England the “best ever game of women’s rugby.”

Going so far as to label it the “most physical and competitive match in the tournament’s history,” perhaps in reference to only the WRWCs played under the guidance of then-International Rugby Board since the USA Women’s Eagles’ ’91 comeback effort also showcased the skills and power of female athletes in a groundbreaking way, English media was hot on the topic of its country’s national team.

Having been denied World Cup hosting rights for the 2002 and 2006 events, in addition to appearing in all but one Final (1998, at the end of the Eagles’ three-tournament Finals run), England considered itself “due” a home tournament. With no suitable options in the Southern Hemisphere – despite New Zealand’s dominance on the international scene – and two nations apiece from mainland Europe and the British Isles previous hosts, 2010 represented England’s time to shine.

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The tournament would be organized by IRB as opposed to the host unions putting on the ’91 and ’94 World Cups in Wales and Scotland, respectively, though initial plans to host the final slate of knockouts at famed Twickenham Stadium were scrapped prior to kickoff in August 2010. Broadcast coverage of the World Cup would break records, however, enough to push the envelope even further in the quadrennials following it.

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Throwback Thursday: small margins, big lessons

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In the fifth cycle of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the USA Women’s Eagles were for once not touted amongst the “elite” teams in the competition. Just four years prior in Spain, the U.S. slipped from the Final path with a pool defeat to France. It was the first time the Eagles did not compete in the Final, finishing seventh with a last-day defeat of the host nation.

When the ’06 World Cup rolled around, a settled group of National Team athletes under respected head coach and former World Cup winner Kathy Flores did not need the outside motivation to perform. First up in cross-pool play, however, was the only team that had played in as many Finals as the Eagles: England. Having won 10 of 12 games leading up to the tournament in Edmonton and a 2006 RBS Women’s 6 Nations Championship with an undefeated, 5-0, record, England posed one of the U.S.’s biggest challenges of pool play. Another challenge? A points system in the pool standings.

The 18-0 defeat was an obvious setback for Flores’ squad, though the Eagles kept their chances of topping the pool alive with a 24-11 win against Ireland, which had previously been shut out by U.S. pool mate France, 43-0. France’s similar, 24-10, score line against Australia in the second round of pool play meant the Eagles would need a victory and help from England in round three.

In a struggle of sorts, the U.S. did what it had to do in beating Australia, 10-6, while England pulled one over on France, 27-8. When the results were tallied in Pool C, however, the Eagles’ nine standings points from just one bonus-point win did not overcome France’s 10, relegating them to the fifth-place competition. France would go on to lose to the eventual champion, New Zealand, and beat Canada for third place.

The Eagles, on the other hand, disappointed to miss out on a fourth Final but hungry to continue strong play, bettered their output against Australia in the Semifinal rematch to advance to the Fifth-Place Final, 29-12. Scotland, also 3-1 ahead of the teams’ last game of the tournament, was outmatched in a 24-0 shutout. Only England and New Zealand finished with 4-1 records or better, including 3-2 Canada and France.

“Up until that point, they hadn’t structured pool play in terms of competition points,” Flores said of the ’06 World Cup’s competition makeup. “I personally was very proud of the team having won a 4-1 record. It’s unfortunate because it didn’t matter; we didn’t go to the next level, so to speak.

“I think what I learned going forward was making sure I’m doing my homework on how we’re trying to proceed. Like if we need tries or to make certain decisions on the field – making sure we’re not giving the other team extra points – all those kinds of things to think of in terms of ‘mathematics’ that don’t necessarily have to do with your play, but do need to be taken into consideration when you’re thinking of how you’re trying to play the competition.”

The sixth-highest scoring team in terms of points and tries, the Eagles were led on the score sheet by center Pam Kosanke with 23 points. Ellie Karvoski, in her final action with the National Team, dotted down a team-best five tries in Edmonton, with a litany of youthful talent aware of the small margins present at the international level ready for the next quadrennial.

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USA Women’s Eagles | Women’s Rugby World Cup 2006

Hedwig Aerts

Kristin Baja

Jamie Burke

Laura Cabrera

Erin Carter

Annie Collier

Kate Cox

Jen Crouse

Carrie DuBray

Ashley English

Heather Hale

Patty Jervey

Ellie Karvoski

Lee Knight

Phaidra Knight

Claudia Knudsen-Braymer

Pam Kosanke

Laura McDonald

Kelly McMahon

Danielle Miller

Pat Neder

Tina Nesburg

Meredith Ottens

Kate Pope

Jen Sinkler

Maurin Wallace

Keenya Warner

Kristin Zdanczewicz

Non-Rostered Reserves

Lisa Butts

Kim Magrini

Coaching Staff

Kathy Flores – Head Coach

Candi Orsini – Assistant Coach

Krista McFarren – Assistant Backs Coach

Dr. Lisa Bartoli – Team Doctor

Tracy Moens – Strength & Conditioning Coach

Katie Peterson – Manager

Sara Shouse – Manager

Anne Barry – Program Manager

Throwback Thursday: a year off and a year out

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The positive trip to Scotland in late 2014 – one win, 12-6, from one game – preceded a year of building for the Women’s Eagles. The team did not play international competition throughout 2005, instead finalizing the game plan within the player pool ahead of a busy 2006.

“You’re hoping players don’t get hurt,” Head Coach Kathy Flores said of the time between international fixtures. “Even though you have assemblies, even if you’re taking the top 50 all the time, it’s always a tryout. ‘Who’s performing on the day?’

“We needed more games [in the off year]. You’d much rather expend that energy against another team instead of against your own players. Also, it brings the camaraderie of playing together and being there for one another against someone else instead of being pitted against each other. You don’t want to have to have the rivalry against each other going into a World Cup. You want the feeling of, ‘We’re all in this together. You get more playing time than I do but I’m rooting for you because you’re my teammate.'”

Come World Cup year, the Eagles had set up a four-game preparatory slate that would test them before crossing the border to Canada. First was a UK Tour to Netherdale, Scotland, and Limerick, Ireland, respectively, in late January. Having won two of their first five matches following the ’02 World Cup, the Eagles went above .500 with a 13-6 defeat of Scotland and a 23-5 win against Ireland.

Not five months later, and two months from kickoff of the World Cup, the Can-Am rivalry was renewed. The U.S. hosted two matches in Colorado against the WRWC host, splitting the results; the Eagles took game one.

“Here’s the thing: I like to play Canada all the time because I think they’re super physical,” Flores said. “I love their physicality, they’re fit, and I think they can stretch us. But I don’t think the mindset of the rivalry game being an international is there or where we need it to be.”

Despite a two-point loss to the Canadians in the second matchup, the Eagles were ready to improve on their seventh-place standing from 2002. The likes of the eternal Patty Jervey – in her fifth consecutive World Cup – Jen Crouse, and Meredith Ottens, among other World Cup veterans, were selected alongside younger players like Jamie Burke, Pam Kosanke, and Kristin Zdanczewicz. Ellerslie Rugby Park and St. Albert Rugby Park in Alberta welcomed the U.S. and 11 other teams for pool play, where the Eagles would seek Semifinal qualification playing against familiar foes Australia, England, and Ireland.

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USA Women’s Eagles | Women’s Rugby World Cup 2006

Hedwig Aerts

Kristin Baja

Jamie Burke

Laura Cabrera

Erin Carter

Annie Collier

Kate Cox

Jen Crouse

Carrie DuBray

Ashley English

Heather Hale

Patty Jervey

Ellie Karvoski

Lee Knight

Phaidra Knight

Claudia Knudsen-Braymer

Pam Kosanke

Laura McDonald

Kelly McMahon

Danielle Miller

Pat Neder

Tina Nesburg

Meredith Ottens

Kate Pope

Jen Sinkler

Maurin Wallace

Keenya Warner

Kristin Zdanczewicz

Non-Rostered Reserves

Lisa Butts

Kim Magrini

Coaching Staff

Kathy Flores – Head Coach

Candi Orsini – Assistant Coach

Krista McFarren – Assistant Backs Coach

Dr. Lisa Bartoli – Team Doctor

Tracy Moens – Strength & Conditioning Coach

Katie Peterson – Manager

Sara Shouse – Manager

Anne Barry – Program Manager

Throwback Thursday: reminisce to rework

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One of the first Women’s Eagles ever capped when the program began in 1987, Kathy Flores brought more to the table than a lengthy coaching career. Before the Eagles won their ’91 title, she and her national team teammates had to do more than just throw the ball and tackle opposition. In some ways, they were coaching themselves mid-game.

Fast forward 10 years, and the overall player pool had received more guidance in how to play the game. Flores was a domestic coach in California when her time with the Eagles ended in 1994. Working with athletes aspiring to represent their country in international competition showed her there were ways to improve the processes of selection, which was something she made a priority when she was named head coach in 2002.

“We were trying, as much as we could, to have better communication between the players and staff,” she recalled.

Even before an Eagles team assembled, it was important athletes knew what was expected of them. With the Inter-Territorial Tournaments a main driver of selection – being that they offered selectors the ability to evaluate hundreds of players at a time – and an improving under-23 program – led by Martha Daines – Flores made sure the communication between the Eagles’ coaching staff and players and coaches across the country alike was benefitting the national team.

“Trying to involve the ITT coaches by asking them about players and taking some of their recommendation in order to invite a pool of players to come forward,” Flores said of her early priorities. “We would work with the under-23s in terms of the players they were looking at to see how we could elevate those players into the national team. There was somewhat of a pipeline going but I don’t think it was very clear.

“We also wanted to get our strength and conditioning better. We wanted to make sure we gave feedback and do some of the things I think coaches don’t always have the time to do because it isn’t their main job. We tried to have a few more assemblies where we tried to see the same people over and over, but maintain a core of about 40 or 50 players we saw on a regular basis.”

The player turnover following the ’02 World Cup was not as sizable as in previous years, and the continuity Flores kept in the side paid dividends after an 0-2 Churchill Cup tournament in 2003. Twenty-seven different players featured in the two matches against Canada and England – the only two matches of the year for the program – while only nine changes were made to the ’04 Churchill Cup squad, which beat Canada after a shutout defeat to the all-powerful Black Ferns.

Influential front-rower Jamie Burke, now the nation’s all-time caps leader, was one of the stars unearthed in the early years of Flores’ tenure. As the Eagles went into an off year in 2005, the depth was building and the team looked towards another UK Tour.

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Throwback Thursday: O, the World Cup goes to Canada

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At three separate Women’s Rugby World Cups, the USA Women’s Eagles contested the trophy in the tournaments’ Finals. The North Americans, like fellow world champion New Zealand and nations from Asia and the Pacific, had to travel many thousands of miles to Europe for said events, and did so again in 2002 to Spain. The ’98 and ’02 events were sanctioned by the global governing body – based in Ireland – with only one European nation, England, involved in any given Final.

Interest and participation grew over the years, and nearly 30 countries fielded international women’s sides by the time the location of the ’06 World Cup was announced.

“The move out of Europe is . . . another example of the growing global popularity of rugby,” Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Syd Millar said in a statement as then-International Rugby Board announced Canada as the host nation in 2004. “The IRB has made every effort to ensure that its tournaments are hosted throughout the rugby world and this announcement means that all of our major regions will have hosted an IRB tournament between 2003 and 2007.”

Despite a drop in form from the Finalist Eagles teams of the early years of the WRWC, the play of the U.S. and Canada on the world stage warranted invigoration at the local level. Instead of American fans traveling across the Atlanta Ocean or searching for what was minimal coverage of the sport, they would now be able to see the best the women’s game had to offer right in their backyard.

Canada’s fourth-place finish in Spain was the culmination of years of toil, with nine of its 16 victories (by the start of 2003) won between the ’98 World Cup and the four-year ’02 quadrennial. The U.S., hoping to get back to winning ways following a seventh-place campaign in 2002, returned to its roots by hiring former Eagle and successful club and regional all-star coach Kathy Flores to lead the national program through the 2010 World Cup.

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Throwback Thursday: U.S. 'out-Franced' in Spain World Cup

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A unique form of pool play at Women’s Rugby World Cup 1998 prioritized winning for knockout seedings, meaning the Women’s Eagles had their most important matchup in just their second game of the tournament. With a loss, they would be kept from a Final for the first time in four world championships.

France’s women’s team had kicked off international play 15 years earlier, and had a standard set before it by a men’s team that had finished in the top three of the Rugby World Cup in three of four quadrennials. The French had finished third in their ’94 WRWC campaign, but had never played the U.S. before the ’02 meeting.

“I know we were the better team, and I know the players know they were the better team,” former Eagle and ’02 assistant coach Tam Breckenridge said. “France knew we were more athletic and that we would want to run on them. They really slowed the game down and did the stuff France does that’s frustrating and takes you out of your own game plan. We weren’t able to adjust to some of that.

“That was a pivotal game we needed to win and should’ve won, but didn’t. That was the one regret we had in the tournament.”

The disappointing, 21-9, result against France did not lower morale in the squad, which understood the loss meant a highest-possible placing at the World Cup would be outside the top four. Australia also kept the U.S. to a lone try in a 17-5 Fifth-Place Semifinal win, however, before Martin Gallagher’s side finished strong against Spain, 23-5, to capture seventh place.

“The team pulled together and played really well overall,” Breckenridge said. “We had good athletes in the forwards and backs. We knew what to expect going into games. You just lose that one game and all of a sudden your back’s against the wall, playing for fifth or seventh. We were a better team that didn’t get a chance to show it.

“That’s the way those tournaments are.”

After capping 23 players and leading the Eagles to a 5-6 record as head coach, Gallagher resigned in the summer of 2002. He cited personal and professional commitments elsewhere as reasons for leaving, but also recognized it was “a good time for USA Rugby and the Women’s National Team to explore new options and look forward to the next World Cup cycle.”

Later that year, the Eagles got a new head coach; one with which they were very familiar.

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USA Women’s Eagles | Women’s Rugby World Cup 2002

Hedwig Aerts – New York Rugby Football Club

Kristin Baja – Washington Furies Rugby Football Club

Libby Caplan – University of Northern Iowa

Jen Crouse – Beantown Women’s Rugby Football Club

Kim Cyganik – Maryland Stingers Women’s Rugby Football Club

Stacey Davis – East Bay Bulldogs Women’s Rugby Club

Shari Dahlberg – Wisconsin Women’s Rugby Football Club

Jill Fenske – University of California, Los Angeles Women’s Rugby

Nancy Fitz (C)Washington Women’s Rugby Football Club

Stacey Foley – Keystone Rugby Club

Cynthia Gehrke – Wisconsin Women’s Rugby Football Club

Heather Hale (VC)Washington Women’s Rugby Football Club

Patty Jervey – Atlanta Harlequins Women’s Rugby Club

Ellie Karvoski – New York Rugby Football Club

Liz Kirk – Seattle Rugby Football Club

Phaidra Knight – Wisconsin Women’s Rugby Football Club

Elizabeth Lake – Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club

Kerry McCabe – Beantown Women’s Rugby Football Club

Becky Metzger – Maryland Stingers Women’s Rugby Football Club

Meredith Ottens – Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club

Inés Rodriguez – Keystone Rugby Club

Myra Sandquist-Reuter – Twin Cities Amazons

Jen Sikora – Keystone Rugby Club

Katie Stewart – New York Rugby Football Club

Bex Wallison – New York Rugby Football Club

Alex Williams – Berkeley Women’s All Blues Rugby Club

Martin Gallagher – Head Coach

Tam Breckenridge – Forwards Coach

George Metuarau – Backs Coach

James J. Sullivan, Ph.D – Strenth & Conditioning Coach

Katie Wilson – Team Physiotherapist

Jane Tierney – Team Manager