Meeting the United States national team for the first time, ahead of the Americas Rugby Championship, I knew there would be some new learning experiences for me, some surprises, and there were.
The first thing that struck me was how far everyone has to travel. For most major rugby-playing nations, it's not that hard to get everyone together.
Even in South Africa, which was my last bit of international coaching experience, a player would just have a two-hour flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, or something like that. For the U.S. team, they're coming in from all over the country, and halfway around the world. Some of the players were playing a European Cup game on Saturday or Sunday and then flying to California.
It's much more difficult for the guys, but what struck me was how eager they were to do it, and get together, and get to work. We've got a really enthusiastic bunch of guys -- the levels of enthusiasm are really infectious. You can see it in small things, like how they communicate.
Often you have to get into an environment and you have to encourage the players to talk more. That hasn't been an issue for me with the Eagles. There's strong competition in the squad, but there's a strong spirit of cooperation, too. And they are champing at the bit to start playing again.
For some of them, "start playing" is exactly what I mean. While some players are in the middle of a season in Europe, others haven't played a rugby game since November. So I was interested in how they would come into camp.
I expected us to be rusty, and we were, but not that bad. The acid test of a rugby player is, when he arrives in camp and he hasn't been playing, is he fit and in good shape? Our guys, you can clearly tell, have been putting in the work off the field to be ready. I was very pleased about that.
Just coming into coaching the Eagles, I don't really know the players. I know a few of them, but I didn't really select this squad, and have had to rely on my assistants a great deal. So now that we've put in a full week's work and are looking forward to playing our ARC opener against Argentina XV, I feel like the toughest part is over.
We've selected the squad, and everyone knows we've got a big game against the Argentineans, and I spent a good portion of Thursday meeting with players one-on-one, and talking to them about what they're doing well and what they need to improve on.
I met with players who weren't selected, and for some that might be an unpleasant conversation, but I look forward to it. I have a limited time with the players as it is, so these one-on-ones is when I have the full attention of the player -- and he has my full attention too! -- and I can share honest views with him. Players see that all we want is for him to get better, and we as coaches know we've got a responsibility to each player to let him know why he's not playing.
So it's a chance to be brutally honest, but also a chance to get to know the players, and help them get better.
Now we have a game to play, and we can go into that game knowing we did everything we could do compete and play well.