USA Rugby
O'Sullivan gets to work with Eagles
Jenni Rutherford
April 10, 2009
Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan, France v Ireland, Six Nations Championship, Stade de France, February 9, 2008
O'Sullivan would like to coach the British & Irish Lions in the future © Getty Images

Eddie O'Sullivan returned to the United States last month to link up with the Eagles for the second time in his career and admits he faces a battle to turn their fortunes around.

The 50-year-old was the assistant coach and in charge of the forwards from 1997-1999 before becoming Ireland's most successful coach from 2001-2008. He returned to the international stage earlier this year when Australian Scott Johnson parted comany with USA Rugby to join the Ospreys in the Magners League.

As he settled into Johnson's old office at USA Rugby headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, caught up with him to get his thoughts on the Eagles, the British & Irish Lions and the Experimental Law Variations. Rugby in the US is still a minority sport, when can you see the Eagles challenging the top ten in the rankings?

Eddie O'Sullivan: "Not in the near future. When I was assistant in 1997-1999, I think we were ranked 13th in the world and we have slipped back on the basis of two things; not getting enough players playing overseas professionally which Argentina have achieved so successfully and not having a regular international tournament to play in.

"In 1997-1999 the Eagles played in a Pacific Rim tournament and having a consistency high level to play at would help things dramatically. But that has been missing in recent years. You have the Churchill Cup now but the problem there is that we play A teams like Ireland A, Scotland A or England A it doesn't count for world ranking points and so it doesn't enhance your position in the world rankings. What would help in the short-term would be having a bone fide international tournament which the USA could play in every year.

"We play against Ireland and Wales this summer which is outside the international window so we may not get our top players back from Europe for that. Nigel Melville (USA Rugby chief executive) is working very hard on getting an autumn schedule together that will give us a chance to play for ranking points." How is the autumn schedule shaping up?

EOS: "There is the possibility of playing Tonga, Romania, Fiji or Russia." Where will your coaching staff be coming from?

EOS: "The plan is those coaches will be American coaches and it will be part of the development process with the team. It is the intention of USA Rugby to develop home-grown coaches." Shifting subject slightly, you were an assistant coach with the British and Irish Lions in 2005, what are the biggest challenges faced by the coaches going to South Africa?

EOS: "The Lions tours are quite unique. I don't think there are any international sides now that tour and play two games a week. In the professional game it takes at least six days to recover for a game. Two games every week is a hell of a challenge. Clive Woodward in 2005 tried to bring in more players and more staff and that didn't work.

"They are taking less this year, and I think that is the right way but how successful will it be? If you go back four years before New Zealand to Australia, that was fraught with problems as well because there wasn't enough players. I think the main complaint was that the Wednesday side didn't get coached in 2001 and if my memory serves me correctly there was a Scottish player [Andy Nicol] who was on holiday in Australia who ended up sitting on the bench for the final Test. Somewhere there is a solution, maybe Ian McGeechan has it." Would you take players who are not fully fit?

EOS: "No. I think that has been shown not to be a good idea. You have to hit the ground running on these tours. There really isn't much time for getting ready. If you are carry a few players that are not quite up to speed it does hamper preparations a bit and puts pressure on the playing pool. It would have to be a very rare exception to take an injured player." Who would be your Lions captain?

EOS: "It's a no-brainer. Absolutely, no question. Brian O'Driscoll. I'd be amazed if he is not captain of the Lions." Is coaching the Lions the pinnacle of a coach's career?

EOS: "It would be. It is right up there. It is very hard to look beyond coaching your country. It is the greatest honour to coach your national team. But the Lions are very special also." Would you still like to coach the Lions one day?

EOS: "Absolutely yes. I interviewed for the last tour when Clive Woodward got it. I almost got on the tour in 2001 with Graham Henry - didn't happen. And I almost got on this tour and it didn't happen. Sometime in the future maybe my ship might come in." And finally, are you pleased with the outcome of the ELV conference?

EOS: "I would have liked them to go a little further. I would have brought the offside lines back to the back of the scrum again. I think five metres from your goal-line is impossible to defend. You're standing on the line with a guy running at you. I think they have done the right thing. Get the lineouts back at an even keel where there is a fair contest.

"I was never in favour of free kicks at the ruck, it's ludicrous. It awards people for cheating. So I think they have been sensible. I would have liked to see it go back nearer to where we were but overall I'd take it where it is now and see how that goes.

"People talk about making rugby more attractive and entertaining, but rugby is growing globally and that would tell me that there is not much wrong with it. I'm a great believer in 'if it isn't broken don't try and fix it'. I feel that the one that they should have addressed but they didn't was the aerial ping-pong.

"The greatest catalyst for that is not being allowed to pass the ball back into the 22. What happened normally as it was passed in the 22 and then it was kicked out. And then the game started from a lineout. The set pieces were put in to the game to give it structure. The ping-pong should be addressed because it doesn't work." Does the SANZAR countries have an argument that because the Six Nations have not played the full ELVs their opinions are based on assumptions?

EOS: "We watched what was happening in the southern hemisphere and saw how the new laws were affecting the game and from what they saw it was having a negative effect. The notion that if you'd played them you'd think differently doesn't stack up. I've tried to watch Super 14 but it's hard to watch. I don't enjoy it.

"I think a game with structure and set pieces and people aren't awarded for killing the ball or slowing it down is a better game. I felt that way before the ELVs started and I think it's been proven the case."


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