Tuesday, July 29, 2014

International Rugby: Q & A with Lou Stanfill

Photo Andrew Madsen
Having knocked-over Canada at home the USA Eagles are enjoying pre-season activities in the summer with an eye to the immediate future and beyond. November's demanding list of tests against New Zealand, Romania, Tonga and Fiji will serve as ideal preparation for Rugby World Cup 2015. The USA will meet Samoa, Scotland, South Africa and Japan at the World Cup in Pool B and could well be more competitive than in previous World Cups. Argentina 2023 caught up with Lou Stanfill, the veteran of three World Cups to get an inside look at the state of the USA Eagles and where the team is going. 

How did defeating Canada compare to other triumphs in your test career?

The game was played in my hometown, so it is hard to compare it with other victories. All in all, the feeling is tremendous. However, there is work to be done and dwelling on the win will only keep us from moving forward.

The response to the Eagles v All Blacks Match this coming November has been trememdous to the extent that a sell-out crowd of 61,500 at Soldier Field is now a probability. To you, how does this compare to playing in a World Cup?

This will be one of, if not the, biggest test match in USA Rugby history. This will be a monumental game, hopefully giving many of the domestic guys on our team a shot at getting looks from overseas teams. We are all very, very excited and honored to be able to suit up across from the All Blacks on home soil come November 1st. 4.

Can the USA Eagles realistically be able to field all their stars for the fixture in Chicago?

We hope so. There will be quite a few hoops to jump through in order to get our big name players away from their club teams to play a game that is outside the test match window, but hopefully these clubs will understand the shear importance of a game like this to the United States and show a little favor for their American stars. My fingers are surely crossed.

With 48 international caps to your name you are due to pass 50 in November and become just the 7th American to do so. Did you ever dream of this when you made your test debut?

Never thought about it. To be honest, I didn't realize it was such a big deal until I played alongside Alec Parker in his 50th test match against South Africa in 2007. After that, getting to 50 was a mere thought in the wind to me, but still a thought.

You recently overtook Dan Lyle and are soon to catch other greats like Dave Hodges, Paul Emerick and Alec Parker. How special is this to you?

It is a pretty special thing, being named alongside of the American greats. These are all men who are warriors, proven by their quality of play and size of their hearts. But the honor is only good if you make the most of the opportunity you are given. I am not one to say that I deserve to be in that list, but I hope that my play continues to make me worthy of being put in that list.

48 caps in 9 years - do the Eagles players believe this is too little?

It is a hard thing as a Tier Two nation to play as many tests as a Tier One. For the first few years, our schedule had many international 'A' sides, which do not count as caps. The past few years, however, we have seen the 'A' side games being eliminated from our schedule, which creates a great opportunity to not only gain caps, but also chances to move up the rankings.

Stanfill, Manoa, Smith, Doyle, LaValla, Clever, Quill, Barrett, Dolan and others. Just how fiece is competition for places in both the second and back-rows?

When I started, we had very little to no depth. Compared with now, where we are deeper than ever with a lot of great players with a variety of strengths. This is a great problem to have as it demands more from each player if they want to see the pitch.

The USA is arguably more competitive against Tier One sides today than prior to any other World Cup. As a player how do you feel the team stands today compared to in 2011?

I think top to bottom as a team and an overall program that we are in a better position now than we were in 2011. We have an excellent head coach who has done a great job selecting his assistants. Also since 2011 the game’s popularity has grown across the entire country, so we are getting more and more athletes into the pipeline that will continue to make our side more competitive each year. The grassroots development and training work of groups like USA Rugby and Serevi Rugby is building a pathway for young players to crossover from other sports at an earlier age, or existing rugby players get access to higher levels of coaching, better strength and condition programs, and just more exposure to what it will take for the Eagles to eventually compete and beat those Tier One teams on a regular basis.

Specially back to our current team, as I said before, our core group of veterans is deep and maybe, in some ways, more mature than we were in 2011. I have used a saying for my professional rugby career that I took from my university coach, Jack Clark, that goes something like this: "What have you done to get better today? Because on any given day, you are getting better, or you're getting worse. There is no in-between. Do the work so that the answer is always 'I'm getting better!'." I feel that this reflects our past few campaigns as a national team. We want that answer, everyday, to be 'Better’!

The USA will face Japan, Samoa, Scotland and South Africa in England 2015. What are the expectations looking ahead?

We expect to continue working hard to keep improving, because other teams will do the same. We have an idea of what to expect from Scotland and Japan, but both teams have plenty of time to improve/change. All we can do is keep our nose to the grindstone, get the work done, and keep winning games moving forward!

Come 2019 Asia and Africa will have hosted one Rugby World Cup each. Europe four, Oceania three but the Americas zero. Should Argentina host Rugby World Cup 2023?

I have not played in Argentina, so I have very little knowledge to use. However, it would be a wonderful thing to have a RWC come to the Americas. And as the Americas best rugby team, Argentina sure seems to be the best choice!

Lou Stanfill is an international rugby player for the USA's national mens rugby team, the USA Eagles. He can be followed on twitter @LouStanfill

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