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Page last updated at 21:39 GMT, Friday, 5 June 2009 22:39 UK

Eagles told to spread wings

By Nick Webb
BBC Sport in Chicago

USA rugby coach Eddie O'Sullivan (right) with Wales counterpart Robin McBryde
USA rugby coach Eddie O'Sullivan has a long-term vision for the Eagles

USA national coach Eddie O'Sullivan is urging his squad to chase overseas contracts to improve their game - even though overseas club duties cost him the services of leading players against Ireland and Wales.


"It's a huge task setting up a pro structure in the US and it'll take time," said the former Ireland coach.

"In the meantime, the model that suits US rugby best over the next four-to-six years will be the model Argentina pursued in getting players overseas.

"In recent years the US team has slipped down the world rankings because that goal has been achieved to a greater extent by Romania and the Eastern Bloc countries."

O'Sullivan was able to call on Chris Wyles and Hayden Smith (Saracens), Mike MacDonald (Leeds) and Mike Usasz (Nottingham) for his opening internationals.

USA v Ireland
The USA were without a number of their European stars against Ireland

But he had to cope without French-based three-quarters Taku Ngwenya and Salesi Sika, Overmach Parma centre Paul Emerick, and flanker Todd Clever (Golden Lions, South Africa).

The USA are preparing to face England Saxons in the Churchill Cup in Colorado before a vital World Cup double header against Canada.

O'Sullivan was Eagles assistant coach between 1997 and 1999 before taking charge of Ireland.

He agreed to return despite the financial problems in supporting top players which Scott Johnson highlighted on his departure from the head coach position to join the Ospreys.

"There are some excellent university programmes producing really good men and women players, the trick is to keep them in the game and it's difficult without a pro game," said O'Sullivan.

New Eagles captain Mike Petri, a scrum-half with New York Athletic Club, is an example of a player who has to make sacrifices for his game.

USA captain Mike Petri with Wales counterpart Ryan Jones
It really opened my eyes to pro rugby around the world

USA captain Mike Petri on playing with the Barbarians

"I graduated from Penn State University two years ago and had to put a couple of job offers on the back burner to take a shot at making the US squad," he said.

"I now work full time in finance in Manhattan and had to ask for three weeks off in the fall to go to Japan.

"I walked into my manager's office and he laughed at me and said 'You need more time off?'

"I said: 'Believe it or not, I need 7 weeks!'"

Petri is still in a job thanks to an understanding employer, but he tasted the other side of life when playing for the Barbarians against the Scarlets in January.

"I saw what it was all about living with guys who did it full time, it really opened my eyes to pro rugby around the world," he said.

But Seattle-based winger Kevin Swiryn says he is not envious of his big-bucks counterparts in American professional sport.

"You wish you could make more money in sport, but at the end it's about the love of the game," he said.

"You know what people are putting in and you respect opponents, team-mates and coaches.

"Rugby's such an easy and lovable sport that with the right marketing and the right people at the top it'll soon be professional as well."

Rugby in America can take heart from the rise of 'soccer'.

Football at least gets mainstream media attention these days, with a US World Cup qualifier attracting more than 50,000 fans.

Wales' squad meet Robbie Gould of the Chicago Bears
Rugby struggles for a profile in the US against sports like American football

But on the Eagles' visit to Chicago, NBC sports presenter Paula Faris outlined the challenges facing them in registering on the sporting radar.

"Chicago Bears [US football] pretty much rule the city, some of their premier guys make $8-10m a season," she said

"You can get big bucks in baseball but the rugby players do it for the love of it.

"I have witnessed it [rugby] in person and I have a little bit of rugby knowledge, but I'm not really sure what's going on."

At the end of her conversation with the BBC, she was a little better informed.

"So you have a blend of different body types [in the team], I know scrums are involved and you have to get the ball past the line," said Faris.

"And afterwards you like a good beer - what else do I need to know?!"

I don't know where she got that last bit from, though.

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see also
United States 15-48 Wales
06 Jun 09 |  Welsh
Arrested development: USA rugby
29 Sep 06 |  Rugby Union
Wales' summer tour in photos
28 May 09 |  Welsh
Eagles drop outside-half Hercus
04 Jun 09 |  Welsh
USA 10-27 Ireland
31 May 09 |  Irish
O'Sullivan named USA Eagles coach
05 Mar 09 |  Irish
Canada 23-32 Wales
30 May 09 |  Welsh
Country profile: United States of America
18 Oct 11 |  Country profiles
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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