Shortly after the player-pool announcement and subsequent Women's Rugby World Cup draw, Women's Eagles Head Coach Pete Steinberg sat down with USA Rugby to offer his insights on the coming year. With the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup only months away, the man in charge talks about what his expectations are currently and how he is preparing the Eagles to be the best they can be come August.
USA Rugby: With the initial World Cup player pool being named a few weeks ago, what is in store in terms of the schedule for the Women's Eagles?
Pete Steinberg: In the fall we are focusing on the players’ physical development and things will really get going for us as a team in the winter. We plan on having a winter camp and then use our ETCs to host some regional camps before hopefully playing an international match in April. Following that, we have our usual Top 60 camp in May and then into a summer test-match series.
USAR: The player pool was named with the intent of giving players and coaches more time together. What are the coaches doing at this point to help prepare the team?
PS: As most of the players are [playing] in their [club or collegiate] season, we are currently prioritizing high performance support so players get their strength and conditioning along with their nutrition and mental skills. Then we can really focus on the players’ development during the winter camp to find out where they are based on the programs they have been following.
USAR: Currently, what are the expectations for players in preparing for the WC?
PS: The biggest thing is that they are managing their rugby life around preparing for the World Cup. We understand that the players are playing in club and college games, but their physical development is critical right now. This means that they will not be peaking for their games.
USAR: This being your first WC as a head coach, what is your thought process with less than a year remaining?
PS: We still have a lot to do and a lot to learn. Our squad is pretty close to our best available players although we will always be looking for additions as we go through the year. We have the toughest pool in the competition with the 6 Nations champs (Ireland) and the reigning World Cup Champs (New Zealand), so we understand the challenge a head of us.
USAR: What do you envision being a challenge for you in preparing this team as opposed to other teams you have lead?
PS: This is the first team that I have coached that is working on a four-year cycle. For many of the players, this is their last chance to make a World Cup squad. Managing players’ expectations is going to be a challenge. I want to be open and honest with them and where they stand as we go through the year, but in the end there will be 26 happy players and a lot of unhappy ones.
USAR: The team's motto is now "Final in 14.” How did that come about and what does it mean to the Women's Eagles?
PS: The Women’s Eagles made the Final in the first three World Cups and since then have not made it to the semifinals. ‘Final in 14’ is our goal to put the Eagles back into the upper echelon of women's rugby. In practical terms it means we need to beat England or New Zealand in Paris, which are the top two teams.
USAR: The Women's Eagles have not made a Final since 1998. What are some of the obstacles you must overcome in order to reverse that statistic?
PS: The same challenges that my predecessors have faced: the challenge of a domestic competition that is not good enough; a country with a size that means it costs thousands of dollars for the players to assemble; a group of elite athletes whom are not yet great rugby players. We have tried to handle that with a focus on performance when we assemble. With the Top 60 camp last summer, the program had ten high-level games. From that, I think we saw how much we can improve and learn when players are exposed to high-level matches. A prime example of this is from our performances against France in the summer and the Nations Cup.
USAR: What excites you about the current field of teams for the WC?
PS: I think that the level of play has continued to improve. Ireland showed they have really improved and hopefully a team can beat England or New Zealand to show that the competition has improved. Hopefully that team is the U.S.!
USAR: Having played in France last fall, what advantages does that bring to your team and will it be an edge for the WC?
PS: I think we will have an understanding of the food and the culture. The French were great hosts and I am confident that they will put on the best World Cup so far.
USAR: Finally, what is your favorite French food?
PS: My favorite foods are breads, cheeses, and wines, which the French do all three really well. Unfortunately, the Eagles will not get much of that because it is not high performance food, so I will need to scavenge when I am over there.