From Eagles to Roosters, Meet RUNY’s New Head Coach, Greg McWilliams
In Rugby United New York’s inaugural season as a Major League Rugby team, the side placed fourth overall in the season standings prior to a semi-final loss to the San Diego Legion. It was a phenomenal opening season for the side and a feat that new Head Coach Greg McWilliams will be hoping to surpass in his time in New York.
Taking over from Mike Tolkin, McWilliams was announced as Tolkin’s successor prior to the USA Eagles Rugby World Cup campaign beginning in September. Acting as the Eagles attack coach for the duration of the tournament, McWilliams says that whilst a move back to Europe would have tempted him, his love for America was too strong.
“I was looking at the option of going back to Europe, which was exciting at one stage, but I like the American market, I like the project that is the MLR. It has great growth potential, so I am really looking forward to leading and New York is a great place for me to do that.” McWilliams started.
“At the moment I’m just trying to get my feet under the desk to try and get as organized as we can to make sure that we can be competitive when the league starts. That’s my goal, to build a squad and a management team that’s going to be consistent.
“I think that any coach that was at the Rugby World Cup will tell you that they get reinvigorated by it, because you learn so much and I’m just excited now to get working with the group and to be as competitive as possible.”
The Irishman arrives in New York after heading up Yale University’s rugby program, as well as two years as the Eagles attack coach, where he represented the USA in Japan earlier this fall. Continuing his role with Gary Gold’s team whilst with RUNY, the Eagles failed to win in each of their group games against England, France, Argentina and Tonga. McWilliams admitted that he left Japan disappointed with the sides results.
“The players were magnificent and they deserved better in my opinion. I’m still a little deflated.” McWilliams said, “Gary (Gold) had a very clear plan. The staff got on great, the players, we all got on so well. They’re an exceptional group and whenever you’re coaching, you always want what’s best and you want the players to show their true value, you want the supporters to be happy. It was just very difficult.” McWilliams said, “I think, the levels of pressure that the players were under was pressure that they had never been under before.
“The time and space that, in particular, England take away from you in attack, we had such little ball, but it was a very good experience for the players to go through. We went there with a goal to achieve something special. We didn’t achieve that, but we still managed to have a brilliant time in each other’s company.”
Playing particularly well against both France and Tonga, the Eagles may not have won a game, but did show clear signs of progression thanks to MLR. Due to his involvement with the national side, McWilliams has seen plenty of his new team in action and was impressed by what he saw from RUNY earlier this year.
“Getting through to the semi-final stage and getting the opportunity to get to a final as well, was really impressive. You’ve got to remember that every team in MLR, each has their own challenges.
“I’ll be jealous looking at some of the clubs in areas where land is quite easy to obtain, and all the players live close by. In New York it’s a totally unique environment to be honest. My job is to try and plan the best we can. Be creative, because New York is a very different environment to other MLR clubs.” McWilliams said.
“They did great last year, probably better than they expected to and it can often be hard coming into year two because expectations are high. It has its challenges and I think that’s the reason it was really appealing for me to do it. I love the idea of going into somewhere where you’re trying to create something that is going to have sustainability.”
RUNY made headlines across the world earlier this year with their signing of France outside centre Mathieu Bastareaud. With 54 caps for his country, Batareaud comes to the US at the age of 30, with McWilliams impressed by the commitment that his new charge is showing before even arriving in the country.
“I’ve talked to him a lot so far and I’m really excited by the dialogue. He’s coming over because he has a passion for the USA, particularly for New York. He has a passion to help grow the game. He wants to leave a legacy and when you have a player coming over with that mindset it is really positive.
“It is about getting the right people in that are going to help each other out and I think that he is going to have a huge role to play in terms of what we are trying to build off the field. Ben Foden is a perfect case and point.
“If you saw the recent stats, you would have seen that Ben was number one in terms of minutes last year.” McWilliams said, “You have someone like him coming over and the perception might be that he’s come over here to enjoy New York and to take it easy. He helps to develop the young players, so you give me the opportunity to maybe sign a young player for the USA that has had the opportunity to learn from Ben Foden or Mathieu Bastareaud, that’s what it’s all about.”
One of RUNYs priorities has always been the growth of the game in their area and throughout the upcoming season Greg McWilliams, his coaches and players will be going to schools and coaching clinics with the aim of helping the game to grow in New York and the surrounding areas.
With the third season of MLR just around the corner, McWilliams hopes that his Rugby United New York side can challenge for the shield but is under no illusions that every side in the league will have improved this offseason.
“We’d love to get into the top four. It is going to be tough to do that, but certainly first and foremost you are hoping to be in that top four and once you are in the semi-final you are in with a good chance of doing something special. We’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do because every team is improving. They’re getting good coaches in, good foreign players, the players they are maintaining have a year’s more experience and they’ve had an offseason where they have had the chance to build some power and strength.” McWilliams said.
“I’m really excited about where the quality of year two is going to be for New York. For year three of the league I think it’s only going to be better again, so hopefully we can play a style of rugby that is going to be entertaining and hopefully we can get some wins under our belt and go on a bit of a run.”
Rugby United New York will begin their season away to the New England Free Jacks in February 2020.
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