By Liam Poach
As the ‘Interview Summer Series’ continues here at Penguin Tundra, I’m going to stick a little closer to home on this next one. For those who have read my writing or have heard me spew boat loads of post-D1 Championship smack-talk on EOD, you know that I’m a supporter of the Malden, MA-based Mystic River Rugby Club, who just took home the D1 Club Championship for the second time in three years under the leadership of Coach Josh Smith. Not only because it’s the most likely club to help incubate an MLR franchise here in Boston, but I find the organization as a whole pretty relatable: Not quite from BOSTON, Boston, but close enough that you may as well be.
In the interest of shining some light on an ascending young-athlete representing the Monsters of Malden in the MLR, I have turned this week to Diego Maquieira of the Houston SaberCats for answers.
This past season, Diego made his presence felt at hooker, usually in second-half relief of Lindsey Stevens, but with a few starts along the way. However, don’t let the fact that he wasn’t always the first on the field give you the wrong impression. When Coach Fitzpatrick let this dog off the leash, he intended for it to be mean, and aggressive.
And that’s the impression that you get when you watch Diego play. Off the pitch, I guarantee you’ve never met a nicer guy, but when he has the ball in hand, he has a bullish mentality using a thick, well-built frame to blow through first and second tackle attempts, as well as making a fair few of his own on defense.
Wanting to know more, I caught up with the rugger originally from Flushing, NY over email, and I learned what’s good. Here. You read now. Why say lot word when few word do trick?
Liam: What initially gave you your passion for playing rugby?
Diego: I was always a multi-sport athlete growing up, playing everything under sun. I went on to pursue football in college at Bucknell University, where I was a linebacker. After my freshman year, I decided to transfer to Northeastern University, who at the same time had announced they were canceling their football program. So my plan was to try out for the baseball team that fall.
However, one day during the summer before heading off to Northeastern, I ended up watching the World Series Sevens circuit and remember wondering if there was a team I could join. It just so happened that the Northeastern Rugby team would be starting their preseason when I was to arrive for orientation, and luckily they were more than happy to have me stop by. I showed up in flip flops, but the coach somehow convinced me to put on his spare cleats from the trunk of his car and join the guys. Needless to say, I never went to that baseball tryout after that.
Liam: What kind of things did you learn under Josh Smith during your time with Mystic River? What is it about Mystic River Rugby that makes you want to come back and compete for them like you recently did for their 7’s side?
Diego: Josh has always been good to me as a coach and mentor, but in ways that I probably didn't appreciate enough during my time there. He definitely was tough on me, as he expected a lot out of me, but he also helped fuel my competitive fire. I definitely grew up as an athlete thanks to him. He also has good understanding of the 'dark arts' and helped me develop many of those skills needed from a hooker/flanker in the modern game.
Aside from that, Mystic River has been my family since I graduated from college (longer if you consider Middlesex before the merger). We came together in 2016 to win the first National Championship in team history, and are always competitive in 7s. There's definitely a good thing going on there in terms of club culture and structure, and that's what brings me back. 7s was the reason I ever came to find rugby in the first place, so it's always fun to come back to that.
Liam: How did the opportunity to join the Houston SaberCats come about for you?
Diego: When MLR and the SaberCats (then Strikers) were in early stages, I reached out to Coach Fitzpatrick with my CV and game film. We had previously known each other through the Serevi/Atavus set up, and he had seen me playing in College. While we chatted for a few weeks, non-rugby factors were lining up perfectly, and so we worked out a plan to get me down to Houston.
Liam: What was your first impression of the team and its culture?
Diego: I was definitely surprised by the talent and athleticism that Fitzy brought in. It was clear from the beginning that this was a different level from what I was used to. Since this was a brand new organization and the majority of the players barely knew each other, the culture was entirely to be determined at the time. But unsurprisingly, everyone was incredibly competitive and spirited in training, but also very interested in creating a strong team identity off the pitch. I couldn't have asked for a better group of characters.
Liam: What do you think of Coach Fitz and his training methods?
Diego: Well, knowing Fitzy's background as an international prop and USA forwards coach, I was excited to learn from the best and he didn't disappoint. I definitely grew leaps and bounds in my skills as a hooker, and probably grew more so in my mental preparation as a professional. Fitzy knew that guys like myself would be transitioning from 2 sessions a week to sometimes 8 or more, and he methodically constructed the year to accommodate for that. I really learned what it meant to be a professional, something that I think I (and others) will benefit from in our next season.
Liam: Do you prefer playing hooker or flanker?
Diego: I definitely enjoy playing flanker, but I've grown to love playing hooker. I love the set piece and value its importance in a match. Modern hookers also are often looked at as a 4th loose forward, but with the added responsibilities in the set piece.
Liam: What do you think was the biggest disconnect between your team’s successes in the exhibition season vs the poor results of the regular season?
Diego: It's easy to look at the records and think that something went horribly wrong, but all things considered, I believe that the team had a tremendous amount of growth from January through June. Obviously every team is measured by their record, but I think if you look at the tightness of some of those results and some of the quality rugby that was played throughout the year, there is a lot to be excited about.
You also have to consider the quality of our opponents, because regardless of what anyone thought prior to the season starting, every MLR team was incredibly competitive, and the in-form teams changed throughout the course of the season. I believe that with a season under our belt, we will be able to draw from that experience as a foundation and build on our consistency.
Liam: What’s one thing the ‘Cats do well that they can build upon for future?
Diego: We definitely were a dominant scrum, which sets up our dynamic back line. If we find consistency in our lineout, we have the potential to be a threat there, as well. One of the more 'exciting' things, was we we're strong in was our aerial game, including attacking box kicks and cross kicks. We definitely have threats all over the pitch, but just like any new team, there were some inconsistencies in our performance.
Liam: If you had to choose an uncapped player to get their first call up, who would it be and why?
Diego: Cecil Garber. There isn't a tougher guy on any team and his work rate is top notch. He's exactly what you want out of your flanker.
Liam: How would you compare Boston rugby fans to Houston rugby fans?
Diego: It's probably hard to compare since Boston doesn't have professional rugby, but I think Houston's got a huge advantage in that casual sports fans have been incredibly welcoming of the team. We had people buying season tickets without ever having watched a rugby match in their lives! That's mind-blowing to me. They're so passionate about sports and their city and they threw their support around us.
Boston rugby fans are a pretty tight knit community with deep rooted rivalries, so they can get nasty at games. Houston rugby fans came together for us, and they were one of the more pleasant crowds in the MLR, in my opinion.
Liam: What’s your favorite place to eat in Boston? In Houston?
Diego: I'm big on brunch and love Alden & Harlow's in Boston (Cambridge, actually) and The Breakfast Klub in Houston.
Liam: Whiskey or beer?
Diego: Whiskey is great, but beer is better.
Liam: Would you rather be a Jedi or a Wizard?
Diego: Jedi, because lightsabers.
Interview by Liam Poach
Hey all! It's been a while since I posted. Unfortunately, reporting on rugby is not yet a full time gig for me, and I had to put paying for the bacon and beer ahead of taking about rugby with you fine people, but just for a bit. I'm back now, baby.
Since my brief hiatus (other than my appearances on the Earful of Dirt Podcast for those who watch), we've had a whole lot go down in the MLR. New signings, new teams, and a newly crowned champion with the Seattle SeaWolves, who put up a great fight to get the win over Glendale.
Now that we're in the grips of the off-season and fans are already starving for updates and news, I've decided to try a new 'Summer Series' of interviews, highlighting some of the relevant faces around the MLR. For my first installment, I decided to catch up with NOLA's Vincent Jobo, a hard running South African native, who unfortunately lost the entirety of his regular season due to an Achilles injury sustained during an exhibition season game against Austin.
However, those who follow Vince on social media, as well as those who are close to him, understand the young rugby player has overcome a lot worse, and merely sees the injury as just a bump in the road to his achieving greatness. To learn more, read on below.
Liam: What were your feelings when you first sustained your injury? What are your feelings about it now? What has your rehab process been like? How close are you to 100%?
Vince: I was really sad when it happened. I remember it like yesterday. I received the ball, made a strong outside carry and burst through the Austin Elite defense. One of their players back tracked and tackled me from behind. I tried to get up but I could feel something was wrong. Immediately I thought to myself, “Fuck!!! Please no God.” Our physical trainer got to the field and carried me off the field. He felt my Achilles tendon and immediately said "it’s gone." I knew at that moment that’s my season over, and knew I just suffered a possible career ending injury. Right after he said that I just burst into tears. Just thinking about how hard I’ve worked in the off season, all the early mornings and late nights of training, all the sacrifices I made to be where I am and that really hurt me, man. I just cried and cried on the side of the field watching my teammates play.
It’s been three months post surgery now and I’m very positive. My medical team is positive, and it’s healing up really quickly and faster than what we expected. I'm a fighter man, been fighting my whole life. When the injury happened, I had two choices, feel sorry for myself, throw the towel and go back home to South Africa, or FIGHT. It wasn’t easy, but that’s what I do. I fight. Every single day is a fight, man. My head is good space and life is great at the moment. Just enjoying the process of working hard and getting back to doing what I love.
Rehab is going great man. We just working on my mobility and strengthening my leg again. Getting stronger and stronger each day, I’ll be ready to run in a couple of weeks and that’s when the serious work starts. Right now I’m patient, listening to my medical team and doing what’s required of me.
I will be fully fit on November. That is the plan. With the first MLR game kicking off at the end of January 2019, I will be back in time to start my first MLR game. Everything is on track, myself and the medical team have a plan and everything will work out the way it’s suppose to be.
Liam: How do you feel your teammates did on the field this season?
Vince: The team did fairly well considering the amount of injuries to quality players we had on our team. We were our own worst enemies, and lost to nobody else but ourselves. But I hope it was a good lesson for the boys, at this level you just can’t afford to make silly mistakes, cause against good teams, you will get exposed and get punished for every mistake you make.
Liam: Do you think you could have made a big difference in how NOLA’s season turned out?
Vince: Absolutely man, I believe in myself and back myself 110%. I would’ve done everything in my power within the team structures to make sure we could’ve won a couple more games and given ourselves a chance to be in the playoffs. This is a team sport, we all need one another, like I said, we had a number of injuries to key players on the team and I know they would’ve all made a huge difference.
Liam: How do you feel about Coach Osborne and his methods?
Vince: Nate is one of the best coaches I’ve worked with. I mean, I’ve worked with really highly ranked top coaches back home in South Africa, but Nate has really stood out for me. He’s still extremely young as a coach, but his knowledge and insight of the game is wonderful. His methods and way of playing is where the modern rugby era is heading towards. Playing fast, ferocious rugby with excellent ball skills under pressure. Also having the ability to flip the switch and be ferocious and accurate defensively too. The game plan he had suited me as that was the kind of style we played at the Cheetahs in South Africa. I was able to express myself within the team structures on attack, I was given a free role to attack the breakdowns and get turnovers for the team as poaching is one my strengths, and that allowed me to have a good preseason campaign with NOLA Gold. He understands his players strengths and weaknesses and works with that accordingly.
Liam: What’s the level of competition like between what you experienced playing in South Africa vs here in the United States?
Vince: It’s totally different. It’s a lot tougher back home, competing in competitions such as Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. In South Africa, kids are growing up playing rugby you know, it’s mostly in all junior and senior schools where kids can choose to play the sport. And that’s where the difference is over here you know, once we get kids playing from the ages of 6 years and upwards it’s really gonna improve the level of rugby in America once they are older and playing professionally. But all in all, what a time to be alive and playing a part in the growth of American rugby. The sleeping giant is woke, there are amazing athletes here, once they are coached properly and start playing from a younger age, America will become a powerhouse in the very near future.
Liam: I saw you recently celebrated your little sister’s birthday, how important is family to you as a player?
Vince: Family is everything to me man. I lost my mom when I was 16 years old. My dad and my sister are everything to me. She’s got two more years of high school, and I want her to come live with me in America and chase her dreams too.
Liam: Do you have a special connection with other South African players?
Vince: Yeah we all still very tight, even the saffas that came to play over here, we all close. Rugby is a great game man. The lifetime friendships playing this game are just priceless.
Liam: Who is your favorite MLR player not on NOLA?
Vince: I was very impressed with the Seattle scrumhalf, Phil Mack. Good, fast quality service. Good communication to his players, cocky living on the edge like all number 9's should! Haha.
Liam: Would you rather be a Wizard, or a Jedi?
Vince: Wizard for sure!!
Connect With Us on Facebook and Twitter!
Penguin Tundra Sports Blog was created in 2016 by a very bored college student who was obsessed with Rugby and Football. That same college student knew how to write pseudo-intelligently, so what better way to show off than to create a blog. Along your journey though the Tundra's domain, you may come across outlandish opinions, horrible spelling errors, and some shit that is just outright wrong. Well then, you should comment, give my blog more attention, and we will have our day in internet court. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy talking about sports as much as I do.
Logo Typography Credit: PhotoBucket