Having got to pick the brains of those at the top level of the game, the current batch of Premiership Rugby Scholarships winners enjoyed a memorable day with Northampton Saints.
Alongside taking in the sights of Franklin’s Gardens and getting to sit in on training for Saints’ non-playing 23 as well as seeing the club’s captain’s run, the American coaches had an audience with director of rugby Chris Boyd and senior coaching staff.
It was an incredible experience which allowed members of the group, such as former Eagles player Mose Timoteo, the chance to bounce ideas off elite level coaches to better understand how they cope with the challenges of the high-performance arena.
Timoteo competed at the 2003 Rugby World Cup but, after injury curtailed his career, he now coaches the Glendale Merlins WPL team in Colorado.
He said: “This whole week has been fantastic. For me personally as a new coach and having played the game for so long it has opened my eyes to a lot of different things.
“Especially with how they all develop their clubs from age level rugby to senior rugby and the respect and camaraderie around it.
“The key point I will take back to America is the development of a relationship between the coaches and the players and the way they run sessions according to differing levels.
“I’ve learned so much. I wanted to see how to manage players and other coaches and to find the level of players between each other and I have.”
Salt Lake City native Ben Nicholls was also one of a number of coaches on the trip which have experience of the upper reaches of the game.
His grandad captained Rhodesia while his dad wore the armband for Zimbabwe before Ben himself then played for the same nation at sevens level and Major League Rugby team Utah Warriors.
He is now on the coaching staff at the Warriors and he credited the day with serving as a brilliant chance to assess the state of American rugby just by talking to his fellow coaches.
“South Africa is really professional, just like the UK, whereas the States is still developing and growing,” Nicholls said.
“We went to a local rugby club in Banbury the other day and a lot of the American coaches weren’t used to seeing a community club with different levels of participation so that’s what we’re trying to instil over in America.
“I think it’s on the right track and moments like this are incredible, it’s brilliant to see the enthusiasm coming out of the coaches in America and that’s how it’s going to grow.
“It’s just a fantastic experience all-round. Saints were very welcoming, open and transparent and very friendly.
“In terms of the theory, it’s fun to have a discussion with real people and backroom staff taking their time to casually tell us what they do and why.
“The goal in the long run is to have partnerships with teams like the Saints so we can have partnerships to help us grow, so we can come and pick the minds of coach – it’s a fantastic opportunity.”
The programme, which works in partnership with the Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby, saw the participants receive an extensive insight into high-quality rugby coaching on a journey which also saw them visit Leicester Tigers and Wasps.
In addition, they completed a Level 300 training course co-delivered by Premiership Rugby and USA Rugby – empowering the coaches and providing them with the skills to support of the development of the game across the pond.
Austin Dacanay is another who has tasted international competition, having played for the Philippine Volcanoes while he has also played and coached at Tampa Krewe RFC and worked on regional development with Rugby ATL in Major League Rugby.
Despite having been kept very busy throughout his time on this international coach education trip, Dacanay believes he has picked up a few things that he can take back home to help benefit the American game.
He said: “From seeing how Premiership Rugby does it, it’ll be great to transition that into America when it’s still learning, it’ll help the curve for us by not trying to reinvent the wheel.
“We’ll model ourselves on Northampton or Wasps but not just that, we’ll do it to fit our needs.
“I’ve got a wife and three kids at home and I get no sleep there but this whole week I’ve got less because you do all this during the day but you’re also interacting with all the other coaches.
“You’re trying to just be a sponge and gather as much information as you can and bat ideas off one another so you get as much out of it as you can. It’s been awesome!”
The Scholarships programme began in 2018 and to date has seen 69 coaches from 32 states visit the UK and get unprecedented access to some of the best minds in the game.
Colorado native, 38-year-old Sarah Chobot, also competed at the top level for the US as well as Austin Valkyries and Glendale Raptors (since 2017, named the Merlins).
Despite a total knee replacement forcing her to retire from playing, Chobot sought out the next challenge and from there got into coaching, but for men’s teams only.
“It’s been a pure privilege to play for those clubs and my country, it’s wonderful,” she said. “That’s the outcome from working hard, you play at the highest level.
“I only work with men now which is kind of weird, I took a little bit of stick for that.
“A lot of it had to do with the fact that if I was to be asked to coach women I would be miserable because I would want to still play the game and I don’t think I’ve had long enough away.
“I do better with the men because of how they process things. Women ask a lot of questions and are very inquisitive and on about the why whereas the boys will go out and hear what you’re asking and trust it’s going to have a good outcome.
“This trip has been a huge opportunity and I feel so fortunate to have had it in the infancy of my coaching career.
“As a player I stood on the mountain top, as a coach I haven’t even made it to base camp yet so to have this chance has been huge.”
Meanwhile Simon Gillespie also soaked up the community atmosphere at Wasps, Saints and Leicester Tigers during the week, something he hopes to take to America in his role as academy director at Rugby United New York.
“We were at Banbury and it’s a very community orientated thing. For me, I find it strange in America how there’s less emphasis on the club and more emphasis on the team.
“I’m hoping to bring the idea of a club mentality, how a club is not just the senior team but someday we can have underage teams and female teams and invest back into the community.”
Applications for the 2020 Scholarship visit will open in January, 2020. To be in with a chance of winning, you will need to submit a video outlining how the experience will positively impact your coach delivery and you must have completed your USA Rugby Level 200 coaching qualification prior to the trip.
In addition to the Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby the following partners have been instrumental in the Premiership Rugby Scholarships programme: Austin Huns Rugby Club, Austin Valkyries Women’s Rugby Club, Carolina’s Geographic Rugby Union, Glendale Raptors, Rugby ATL, Rugby United New York, Rugby New Jersey, Saint Thomas Aquinas Rugby, Southern California Rugby Football Union and the United States Rugby Foundation.