"An American in Paris"
Tara M. Flanagan (lock) is a retired Women’s Eagle who played in the 1991 and 1994 IRB Women's Rugby World Cup for the U.S.A., and a proud member of the Eagles’ inaugural Women's World Cup Championship team in 1991.
Retired after the 1994 Women's Rugby World Cup to start her legal career, she became a lawyer, is now a state court Judge, and will be sharing insights and perspectives from week two of the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup in Paris.
Dateline: Every, France: Eagles Training Camp and Team Hotel
USA Eagle Alumna Tam Breckenridge and I didn't hesitate to accept Coach Pete Steinberg's invitation on Thursday to come to the last Eagles practice on Friday, have dinner with the team, and attend the team's Jersey Ceremony that night.
After a ride on the Paris metro, RER train, and a short hike alongside the meandering Seine, we arrived at the rugby club where the Eagles were practicing. It was sunny, slightly breezy. What we call "rugby weather."
At practice, the Eagles looked loose and relaxed. Watching the team do some set pieces, practice some line outs, and seeing the backs run around was great fun for us. It brought back a lot of memories from our playing and training days - and why is it always so nice to watch others do mandatory exercise when you don't have to? One of the perks to being old and retired!
Then a ball rolled our way and we couldn't resist working on our rucking skills and hitting the pads! Fortunately, practice ended a few minutes afterwards or this blog would be written from the nearest hospital.
Practiced ended, the players took a "last practice" photo, and Coach Pete said a few words. Next, It was on to the team bus with the players and back to their hotel. Trust me when I say, for those who aren't familiar with rugby culture, that to be in attendance at an Eagles practice, or to be allowed to ride on the team bus is to be welcomed in to a closely-guarded circle of trust. It felt special to be there and we were proud to be representing our 1991 teammates.
As the bus rolled along, we listened to the funny banter amongst the players. You can tell this is a tight group, and the things they chatted and joked about made us laugh out loud.
Also, we LOVED the bus - a vast improvement from the three 10-passenger vans that the Eagles used in the 1991 World Cup - each driven by either a manager or the physio. (Who cumulatively had no experience driving in the UK and nearly killed all of us one time or another!)
At the hotel, a "Bienvenue World Cup" banner was proudly displayed in the lobby. However, the Eagles aren't the only ones being welcomed - as it's an official hotel chosen by the IRB organizers, two World Cup teams are staying here - the US and..... Wait for it.....
The US team handles this living situation very professionally, as one would expect, but I can't imagine how that would have worked out in 1991. 'Not well' is my brief answer. [We played (and beat) England in the 1991 Final, and then lost the Cup to them in the 1994 final.] "Rivalry" might be an understatement.
We quickly left the lobby area and went to U.S. territory: the team room!
How great to hang out in the team room and meet more of the Eagles’ coaching staff before dinner. We viewed the team's video and game analysis software program in action and received a tutorial on it from the assistant coach, Johnathan. Amazing. Rugby and technology are the perfect fit, and the Eagles seem to be at the forefront in this one. Every match is broken down into measurable data and player performance can then be analyzed and optimized.
After joining the players and staff for a team dinner (great healthy salads, protein, rice...) the Jersey Ceremony began. A huge honor it was for me, on behalf of the 1991 World Cup Champions, to be invited to say a few words to the Eagles before the jerseys were handed out.
Speaking of which: I can't recall exactly when the "Jersey Ceremony" came to be, but they are an inspiring and powerful event. Players selected to play the upcoming match are called up one by one, some words are spoken about them by the coach or a teammate, and they are awarded their jersey. Tam Breckenridge was reminding me that in 1991, on at least one occasion, our jerseys were laid out numerically on the team meeting room floor - and players waited to see if their name was called to go pick the jersey up.
I must have blocked that out... I didn't remember that.
Anyhow, I like this way a LOT better!
Our evening ended on such a high note. Such amazing, well-spoken, amazing athletes we have representing us. These Eagles are first-class. Smart. Respectful of each other and the game. Playing for a program with core values of integrity, direct communication, hard work, and giving one's all. Good American values.
Two days to go before we face New Zealand at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris for fifth place. Who else gets to play the reigning World Cup champions twice in a fortnight?
(NZ are still reigning World Cup champions- until late Sunday night.) Who else is tough enough to handle that sort of challenge? Only the Eagles. Go USA.