Courtesy of Yale Rugby

As director and head coach of Yale’s rugby team, Greg McWilliams has overseen the great success of the Yale Rugby program. Now, he will use his new job as assistant coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team to help the team achieve those same heights in the Americas Rugby Championship this month.

The 2019 Americas Rugby Championship is an elite tournament hosting six teams hailing from the Americas. Featuring Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the United States and Uruguay, the tournament began on Feb. 2 and will run until March 9. Heading into the tournament, the U.S. is the defending champion, having won in 2018.

Currently, the U.S. has played two games in the Americas Rugby Championship, resulting in a 1–1 record. In the opening match on Feb. 2, the U.S. dominated Chile in a 71–8 victory over the 29th ranked team. However, just a week later, the squad lost to Argentina 45–14, moving them into third position in tournament rankings.

While serving as a coach for the national team, McWilliams will continue to serve as head coach for Yale’s rugby team.

“Greg has played an essential role in our year-by-year improvement,” men’s rugby president Alex O’Neill ’20 said. “He has a deep understanding of rugby strategy and an unmatched charisma that motivates players to go the extra mile. He’s also been a superb mentor, especially to young players, and we’re grateful to have him. We wish him the best of luck [coaching for the US] and have enjoyed watching him coach on television.”

Originally from Leinster, Ireland, McWilliams was a successful rugby player himself. He represented Ireland at the collegiate level, playing for St. Michael’s College where he also earned his degree. At the age of 19, McWilliams served as a club captain in the All-Ireland Men’s league in 1998.

After playing in college, McWilliams taught as a business and geography teacher for 13 years. He is now an accomplished rugby coach, holding a stage 4 coaching certification from the Irish Rugby Football Union and a Level 300 badge from USA Rugby.

“Having been a secondary school teacher for 13 years in Ireland before going into coaching full-time, education and the development of the individual is very much at the forefront of my philosophy,” McWilliams said. “It is so important to provide multiple leadership opportunities for the student athlete at Yale. I believe in coaching through the why, and in doing so, providing the opportunity for exploration.

In Ireland, McWilliams gained ample experience coaching at the local and national level. From 2010 to 2014, McWilliams served as the coach of the Leinster Under 19’s Men’s Team.

In both 2010 and 2014, McWilliams coached the Irish Women’s National team at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in London and France, respectively. Their performance in 2014 resulted in a victory over powerhouse New Zealand and earned the Irish team its highest ranking ever. In 2013, the Irish women won the Six Nations Championship, which featured England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales, for the first time in Irish history.

In 2014, McWilliams made the move across the pond and joined Yale Rugby in August of that year. McWilliams has significantly expanded and strengthened the rugby team during his tenure as coach.

“In terms of coach McWilliams’ contribution to the program, when he joined a few years ago, there were about 20 players in the squad with no real practice schedule,” captain Daniel Marsh ’21 said. “Now we have a squad of more than 40, with two sessions a week with varsity strength and conditioning coaches. As a coach, he does an incredible job tailoring practices to both experienced and completely new players. He also puts an emphasis on player development on and off the field.”

At the national level, McWilliams served as the Men’s Collegiate All-Americans coach from May 2015 to 2017. In October of 2017, he was appointed to the USA Men’s National Team staff as an attack and backs coach.

Under his supervision in 2018, the team, also known as the Men’s Eagles, completed a Summer Series clean sweep. In the process, they went on an eight-game winning streak and defeated No. 6 Scotland, marking the U.S.’s first win over a tier-one country in almost a century.

McWilliams and the Eagles take on their next opponent, Brazil, on Feb. 23.

“After winning the America Rugby Championships last season and beating Scotland, it is important to hold momentum while focusing on our process as a group,” McWilliams said. “We are currently 12th in the world rankings, USA’s highest ranking. We would love to enter the top 10. We have a long way to go, but that’s all part of the fun. They say success is in the journey, not the destination.”

Cate Sawkins | cate.sawkins@yale.edu