USA ushered in a new era in Dubai over the past fortnight as Emilie Bydwell took charge of her first tournaments as permanent head coach.
Ahead of the start of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 it was confirmed that Bydwell would succeed Chris Brown, having taken temporary charge of the team during the Fast Four tournaments in Canada in September.
It is a momentous appointment, the 36-year-old is the only female head coach on the 2022 Series, and she brings with her a wealth of experience. Bydwell knows the programme well from her time as USA Rugby’s Director of Women’s High Performance.
Head Coach Emilie Bydwell has a nice ring to it. pic.twitter.com/im4IPeZnRC— USA Rugby (@USARugby) November 26, 2021
“She’s been a part of the programme for several years, but now it's just making that little switch to being head coach and really taking ownership of the tactics and the strategy,” USA captain Abby Gustaitis told World Rugby.
“We’re still learning but she's so passionate about the game and she's so passionate about our team and she puts her heart and soul into it.
“So, that's really exciting for us to go forward and we have a good platform, I think, to build on.”
Bydwell was still a Women’s Eagles player when Gustaitis first broke into the 15s training squad ahead of Rugby World Cup 2014, and the pair enjoy a good working relationship.
“She’s on it,” Gustaitis added. “We talk all day, every day, and it's exciting because she's very transparent and she has a lot of trust in me, and she has a lot of trust in the team and in us as players.
“She gives us ownership of different parts of the game, which I really like, and she doesn't want it to just be a coach-oriented squad.
“She wants to empower us as players to own our roles and to really rely on one another because at the end of the day, we're the ones out there on the field, and she just wants to give us the tools to do that.”
“She cares for each individual athlete”
Another senior player who has been impressed with the start Bydwell has made as head coach is Ilona Maher.
Like Gustaitis, Maher did not compete in the Fast Four tournaments but returned to action with four tries during the Emirates Dubai 7s and followed that up with another two this weekend as the USA finished fifth.
“It has been exciting for little changes to happen and for us to learn new things and to give us a new system because I think sevens is always evolving, so our team always needs to evolve as well,” Maher said.
“Abby kind of touched on it, just how much she cares for each individual athlete and how much she wants each individual athlete to succeed and do what they're best at out there and give them the room and the tools to succeed.”
Gustaitis added: “She recognises that we have so many talented individuals on the team, but like Lo said, it's all about meshing together and really creating those two and three-person attacks and working as a team versus just simply being strike runners or using an ‘X factor’.
“[Asking ourselves] how do we make each other better and how do we make each other right?”
Next year will be a busy one for the USA, as this season’s Series is followed by Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town in September.
Gustaitis and Maher know that there is work to be done following Dubai, however, both are enthused by the journey ahead under their new coach.
“It would probably be a pretty boring year if we already had it all figured out. It’s exciting that we have progress to make, and we know the steps to take,” Gustaitis said.
“We just want to play in competitions, we've had a couple tough years now with COVID. Everyone has but getting out here and playing against opposition that's not your own team is honestly, that's why we do it.
“We love this game, we're so passionate about it, but we love testing ourselves and we are just looking forward to Spain and then hopefully Canada and France to continue to progress and we want to peak at the World Cup.”