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Part 2 of Graham Jenkins interview with USA rugby 7s coach Mike Friday as Mike considers USA 7s team chances of Olympic qualification. Posted over 2 years ago

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Photo: The Rugby Site

USA Sevens head coach Mike Friday offers an insight into his side’s quest to qualify for the Olympics and his thoughts on how the game in the States can take the next step.

“The form book suggests we deserve a place at the Olympics next year but having missed out on the top four in the Sevens World Series we must go to the North America qualifier where ultimately it will come down to 14 minutes of rugby against Canada."

“There are so many variables in a game of Sevens and a couple of bounces of the ball, a yellow card that’s not quite right, a few questionable refereeing decision and suddenly you are 21-0 down. It becomes more of a lottery but that is the nature of the beast."

“I just hope the officials ensure they get the right level of quality in terms of referees at these regional qualifiers to take variables out of the equation as much as possible and it is about who performs better in that 14 minutes. We are confident that if we perform to our ability then we are in a good position to get to where we need to get to."

“It will certainly be interesting if we do gain Olympic qualification because the reality at the moment is that funding is limited. We are one of the poorer financed nations shall we say, our average wage is far below those that are above us on the Sevens Series circuit and some of those below us."

“The boys live like students but should we gain Olympic qualification there is every chance that investment will increase and they will be able to paid appropriately and be more comfortable whilst they are part of the 7s programme."

“But there are bigger things going on in American at the moment in terms of trying to build a professional game. The Olympic dream and everything associated with American rugby will only snowball quicker if we are successful in qualification."

“I think if they do get a pro league up and running then we will be able build the player base and bring in external talent which then allow us to grow more. The biggest challenge for USA Rugby is to fill the gap in education between 11 and 18."

“They need to position the sport so it complements the likes of the NFL and NBA and doesn’t try to compete. If they try and compete they will lose."

“Then there’s college football which is just huge. When there are 120,000 watching Notre Dame every week a talented 18-year-old athlete is going to want a piece of that action."

“If that athlete thinks rugby is going to complement his football or basketball and help him achieve his ultimate goal then he will embrace it between the ages of 11 and 18. Then, if you are like 98% of college athletes who don’t make it to the NFL or NBA then you have the opportunity to take up rugby at 21 and the work you have done up to that point will form the basis of your rugby education."

“That is what we are fighting against. We need to accelerate the learning and then you will see a sleeping giant awake with the help of all these athletes who don’t quite make it in the NFL but have six or seven years of rugby understanding in them already."

“Perry Baker is one of those who had done American football and only started rugby when he finished and it’s taken him five years to catch up. But someone like Maka Unufe, who is one of really exciting prospects, picked up a ball and was playing between 11 and 18 while doing his college football and now at just 23 years old is starting to turn heads."

“That is the key, getting it into the high schools to unlock the potential and complement the NFL and NBA, then all this talk about waking the sleeping giant becomes real both in Sevens and XVs."

“We are not like the traditional Super Rugby nations where there is a clear pathway and Sevens sits below XVs and you move from one to the other. It is interwoven and a case of exposing a player to what they need at that particular time to aid their development or leverage where he is excelling and we have guys who crossover from one to the other.”

“I think with the nature of some of the athletes we have, because they are so young in their rugby education, it is difficult for them to take on board the tactical intricacies of XVs play, the attacking shapes, the defensive shapes, how to defend the back field, the kicking game etc. Sevens enables them to excel at the basics of the game and compete at the highest level very quickly."

“There is no set reason to be part of the Sevens, or pathway it is very bespoke and built player centre and is kind of how it should be.”

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Graham Jenkins is a freelance sports journalist who has been reporting around the rugby globe for over 20 years. A former editor of the leading rugby union website Scrum.com, he is a veteran of five World Cups and cites England’s 2003 triumph as the most memorable moment of his professional career - closely followed by a night out with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal.

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