By Liam Poach
Photo: Judy Teasdale Photography
I was a college freshman in 2013, and I wasn't supposed to start my first rugby game. We were playing the Johnson State Badgers, who are our school 'rivals'. Although, at this point, we're so close with the guys on that team from a personal standpoint it's funny to even say that. St. Anselm on the other hand...whatever, I won't get into it (unlike their players on the field).
Anyway, the morning of the first match comes along, and low and behold, our normal fullback informs us he isn't going to be making it. For anyone who plays in the lower divisions of rugby at smaller schools, you know this kind of thing to happen semi-regularly. It was with that I was informed I would be stepping out onto the field first at number 15, and my instructions were clear. "Don't let anyone past you."
About two minutes into the game, a high floating kick comes my way. Having virtually no experience in the sport or at the position, I wait for it, catch it, and then make my big mistake. Coming from an American Football background, I went to take the usual two-step-and-kick route to send the ball the other way, rather than getting it off quickly. Right as my foot connected with the ball (and with my leg still in the air, a detail not caught by the ref at the time), a Johnson player connected with a beautiful, full sprint form tackle to my mid-section.
I didn't get up for a good five minutes.
After that, the game went on, and thanks to the superb level of play from our wing and scrum (God, I miss that team), I wasn't forced into too many more tough spots. But, even with a stinger like the one I had suffered, I knew playing the backfield at 15 was my preferred spot. Seeing all the action unfold in front of you, shouting what you see to the wings, and the constant level of high anxiety that stays with you from the fist minute to the eightieth just knowing it might fall on you to be the last line of defense for your team.
Even with the immense responsibility that comes with the position, I still feel like my fellow 15's don't get a whole lot of love. To help dispel this notion, I went ahead and hit up a fellow fullback: Houston SaberCat and capped-Eagle Zach Pangelinan, whose versatility as an athlete has allowed him to play both rugby and soccer at the elite levels of national competition. Keep reading below!
Compared with other clubs you've played with, what is the level of intensity like in training with the SaberCats?
Zach: Our preseason has definitely been tough, especially the first 7 weeks of conditioning. I haven't really experienced that kind of intensity in a long time but it feels good to be able to play the game at a higher pace than what I've been used to. Training sessions now are more maintenance and inputting new plays, or tweaking the ones we have to make us better as a club as far as playing goes.
Well, all that training has definitely yielded some good results, seeing as you guys have had a pretty solid pre-MLR season thus far. What is it about Justin Fitzpatrick and his approach to coaching that makes him so effective?
Zach: I think the coaching staff and Fitzy's approach for this season is spot on as far as getting the team together earlier than later. He scheduled a good amount of preseason games to build continuity with the team, and also to get different looks at players in other positions and to see what works and what needs work. He knows his stuff about the game and what a team needs to have to be successful.
Do you find there any similarities in the style of play between OMBAC and The SaberCats?
Zach: Every club is different in how they approach the season, but the one thing that is similar is the attitude from the players at training and wanting to learn and get better as a player and a club. As far as playing, it's different in the styles of play due to the coaching.
I would say Northern and Southern Hemisphere coaching bring different styles of play to the table. Lucky for us, we got the best of both! Fitzy's style is more of a forwards approach as far as set pieces go and always changing things to keep teams guessing. Sam (Windsor- backs coach) who played for Ulster is from Australia, is more of a running rugby type of coach. Once we can put it together, I think we'd definitely be a solid team in the MLR.
Do you think this long pre-season will give you guys a leg up on the competition when it comes to on-field chemistry?
Zach: Of course it has its advantages having a long pre-season. I think building chemistry with your teammates is massive. Just knowing how each other plays and knowing each other’s strengths and weakness can go a long way. Helping each other strengthen those weakness, and working to become a more complete rugby player to better the team.
What are your thoughts on the SaberCats Developmental program? Such as their plans to form U-23 through U-14 squads.
Zach: I think it's great that we have a developmental program. It's the kids that will eventually take our place once our playing days are over. We want to give them a head start to becoming a successful rugby player and hopefully represent their country, and of course, The SaberCats.
Do you think there's any reason why your squad has had more trouble against non-American teams, such as the Ravens and Uruguay?
Zach: Not at all, we were flat and started very slow against the first Canadian side that we faced (Ravens), and it hurt us in the end. It was a learning curve for us, and (we) definitely hit the classroom after that and agreed on what hurt us during that game and what we need to do to be successful. I thought we played well against Uruguay and although we lost, there we a lot of positives to take from it. I back my team against any opposition we face and I believe we're more ready now than we were before.
What other MLR team are you most excited to play against?
Zach: To be honest, I am very excited to play all of them. We're ready to face whoever, wherever!
In what way or ways do you think the emergence of the MLR will help the US National team?
Zach: The MLR will bring out some of the best players in America, and it'll give them the chance to properly showcase their skills against very good oppositions, and, hopefully, the USA staff will be able to give them a shot at earning the American jersey.
Thoughts on Gary Gold and his role in the U.S's success in the ARC?
Zach: I've never met him but as far as the results in the ARC so far, he seems to know what he's doing. The ARC team is doing great things for the sport here in US and they are definitely turning heads around the world.
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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.
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