California Rugby. Two words that bring so much to mind. Success. Discipline. Honor. Beautiful, sunny days at Witter Field.
We're talking to a lot of the players who have played for Cal rugby these days. They have a lot of stories to tell and if you are anything like me you want to hear them. Frankly, if you are anything like me, you like rugby, but don't always understand what is going on. Thankfully, our Rugby friends are helping us better understand the strategy behind the game.
Today, we talk to rugger Marc Tausend. Bay Area raised, Marc Tausend matriculated from Campolindo High School and went on to play for Cal from 1999-2004. He helped Cal win multiple national championships and was named as an All-American. As part of the All-American honor, he was able to tour the world representing America abroad. He also represented Cal abroad, along with many of his former teammates. Just to be clear, I am not Marc Tausend. Wanted to make that clear. Didn't want there to be any confusion.
He tells us also about his position "Lock." Many thanks to Marc Tausend for taking the time to answer the questions. So, join us after the jump to learn more about Marc Tausend, Cal rugby, and what happens when you combine those two into a delightful National Championship-winning soup. GO BEARS!
1. What got you interested in playing rugby initially?
After football season my senior year of high school, a friend's dad encouraged me to play for the local high school club team (Lamorinda Rodents). In previous years, I'd done track in the spring but wanted to try something different. I'd seen a few Lamo games and decided it looked like fun.
2. What got you interested in playing rugby at Cal?
The opportunity to play at Cal basically fell into my lap. I was playing for Lamo with a couple very talented rugby players that the Cal program were aware of. I didn't have any real intention of continuing to play beyond that year of high school, but I certainly felt as though i had found the sport for me. Unlike football, in rugby every player has to be able to do everything...pass, run, tackle, etc. "All skills, all players" as Coach Clark used to say. I don't know exactly what the Cal staff saw in me, but they contacted me about the opportunity to come play at Cal and I was very excited by the possibility.
3. What is the rugby recruitment process like?
For me, it all happened late in the year and was exclusive to Cal. I was contacted by the staff after my club team had played a few games and was told that they were interested in me. I said the interest was very much mutual. This was fairly late in the Spring after I had already sent out my college applications. I actually had not initially applied to Cal, but did so once the coaching staff contacted me. It was mid-May and I had heard from every other school I applied to. My latest conversations with the Cal staff had led me to believe that i would likely be accepted as a Spring admit...which i was not terribly excited about. I had already sent in my housing forms to UC Davis when the big envelope arrived from Cal stating I had been accepted for the coming fall semester. I went out the next day with my dad and toured the campus. I came home with a Cal sweatshirt and a big smile on my face, and that was that.
4. Did you play on the frosh-sophs team?
5. What was the experience like playing on the frosh-sophs team?
Fun, and a great way to get adjusted into the Cal system.
6. Can you take us through the average rugby practice?
Practices were different for forwards and backs. Typically we would start with a lengthy strecthing and warmup session, followed by some passing drills. Then we would split off and the forwards would work on scrum technique and lineouts while the backs would work on their attacking plays. Then typically the whole team would run through some schems on the field. If we were lucky, the pratice would conclude with some conditioning work! Practices were more intense early in the week and got more tactical towards the end of the week as we approached game time.
7. What activities outside of official rugby practice did you partake in to stay in shape?
I was in the weight room roughly five days a week in some capacity. We also played "touch" rugby, which is essentially two hand touch. This was a loose and fun way to stay in shape and work on your game without having to deal with tackling.
8. Can you take us through the average home rugby game? What are your pre-game actives? What are your post-game activities?
The standard home game meant waking up and getting a good breakfast in you. Drinking lots of water and gatorade in anticipation of the calories and energy you'd be burning later in the day. Typically getting to the training room about 2 and a half hours before game time to get treatment for any ailments, or taped up if necessary. From there, the team would convene and spend some quiet time preparing. The coaching staff would then take the starting 15 to warm up and work on schemes. After that, we'd have a few words from Coach Clark and from the captain, then begin the walk up to the field. Coming through the gates at the west end of Witter Rugby Field let you know it was time to work. Post-game typically involved a quick shower and another hour in the training room. From there, we would host the visiting team with a meal after the game. The usual Saturday night shenanigans typically ensued from there.
9. What do you love most about your experience on the team w/ Coach Clark?
The lessons that transcended the game. Lessons about discipline, effort and acountability that can be applied to all parts of life. Also, the friendships that were made. shared suffering and shared triumph creates strong bonds.
10. What was the toughest game during your career and why?
Air Force, 2003. National semifinals and we lost to a team that simply outplayed us on the day. That was very difficult to stomach, and a regretful way for a very good senior class to go out. They deserved better than that.
11. Any good stories on how you and your teammates would go about intimidating the opposition and dominate?
We didn't feel the need to intimidate really. Nothing is more intimidating than demonstrating your superiority on the field. It was all about execution on our side. Playing the game as well as you can will often times allow you to win and win in impressive fashion. It was seldom about what the other team was doing and more about whether we played to the best of our ability. That mindset allowed us to win by large margins and still not feel satisfied with our performance more often than not. That's how you win.
That said...I'll never forget the first scrum of the game in the 2004 National Championship against Cal Poly. They had beaten a mixed Cal side earlier in the season and came into the matchup with a lot of swagger. We hit them in that first scrum and pushed them back about 4 yards. You could feel the energy shift and at that moment i knew the day would be ours.
12. What are some of the fine details rugby fans should pay attention to when they first get into the game?
The flow of the game. Look at which team is going forward and which team is going backwards. The team going forward will likely win. Also, the most interesting battle on a rugby field is in the scrum, at least in the mind of a forward. For as big of a mess as it appears to be, technique is so critical. Many times, the outcome of a scrum will determine the quality of the possession that a team will have.
13. What is the funniest moment during your time as a rugger for Cal?
Most of the funniest moments came at my expense. There's one I can share. I didnt think it was very funny, but one year during a fitness test at the beginning of the season, my body seized up on the final 200 meter stretch and I literally could barely move my arms and legs. it looked absolutely ridiculous, but i tried to keep going. I made it to the finish line and collapsed but was able to provide everyone watching a good laugh as they watched me shuffle down the track. the moment was dubbed "the hundred meter robot". That was a pretty good one.
14. What was your favorite moment as a rugger for Cal?
Winning the 2004 National Championship after losing the year before in the semi's to Air Force. It wasn't my best game, but the feeling afterward was amazing.
15. What was your least favorite moment as a rugger for Cal?
Losing to Air Force.
16. Hypothetically, if you are the coach for women's rugby @ Cal, how would you build a successful program that is comparable to men's?
I'd attempt to mirror the men's program with regard to preparation and commitment. the most prepared team will typically find a way to win. That means more practice obviously, but also requires that the players all "buy in" and commit to being the best. Every day.
17. How has the experience of playing rugby transformed your career after graduating from Cal?
Aside from the vast network of friends and colleagues that are available to help you in any way they can, you learn skills that apply in any facet of life- discipline, loyalty, acountability, leadership, and selflessness.
18. How many national championships did you win? Really, just 4? Well, that's embarrassing!
Actually, when you play 5 years and do only win 4 it is a little embarrassing! [TwistNHook edit: Thought they only played 4 years, so this joke failed!]
19. What is your view on the situation surrounding the recent budget cuts at Cal that briefly imperiled rugby's status as a varsity sport? Do you believe there was a difference between "varsity" and "varsity club"? What do you think about how that process was handled by the administration?
Obviously the University is in a tough spot and was forced to make some hard decisions. It was pretty inspiring to see the way the Atheltic community has responded to allow the affected programs to continue representing the University. I belive the administration wants to keep all sports programs, and I'm hopeful that the financial commitments of many alums will allow that to be possible.
20. What is your view on the serious injuries many rugby players incur? Do you think it is more or less safe than football? What changes, if any, do you think are necessary to improve safety? Do you think enough is done to help players handle serious injuries, such as concussions?
Rugby is far safer than football. Football has far more explosive movements as a result of the flow of play. A football play last maybe between 4 and 8 seconds? Rugby is two 40 minute halves. Not to mention, in rugby you have minimal padding, and nothing hard like a football helmet to hit someone with. Most rugby injuries are a result of poor technique or bad luck.
21. What is your view on Rugby Sevens? Legit form of rugby or bastardization of the game?
The Olympics picked up Sevens, so it's legit. It's also a fun and fast-paced game to watch. Pretty fan-friendly. I was never much suited for it because I'm big, slow and un-skilled. Not a good combination for a such a wide open and fast game.
22. You coached for a high school level team after your time at Cal. What was that experience like?
It was fantastic. I was able to coach the Lamorinda Rodents high school team with a few good friends and former Cal ruggers. It was a great opportunity to stay close to the game without continuing to beat my body up. It was also a chance to identify and help along talented players and give them an opportunity to play at the next level...an opportunity that i myself was very lucky to have. It's amazing how much the level of play has advanced since I was a senior in high school. Many of these kids have been playing since they were freshman, if not even earlier. The LAMO club is now fielding teams of 10 year olds! A kid who comes out for just his senior year of high school with little familiarity to the game would have a tough time sniffing the field these days. It's great to see and that is the kind of progress that will help make the US more competitive on the world stage one day should the game continue to grow in popularity nationwide.
23. What did you learn at Cal that helped you be a better rugby coach?
Position Questions - Lock
1. What is your role in a ruck? PS What is a ruck?
A ruck is the name of the breakdown when a ball carrier is tackled and an additional offensive player engages with a defensive player over the ball. Basically, the scene of a tackle but the ball is still live and in play. As a lock, you want to get to as many rucks as possible and clean them out (knock the other team's guys away from the ball and out of the ruck), so that your team can not only retain/gain possession of the ball, but also have quality possession.
2. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goal in a ruck?
Come in with a low shoulder level and a flat back and hit the opposition with as much force as possible. Hit with your shoulder and throw your arms out. continue to drive your legs and wrestle them out of the ruck. If you can move more than one guy, you do it.
3. What is your role in a maul? PS What is a maul?
A maul is essentially the same as a ruck, but the ball carrier is still on his feet. He is wrapped up by a defender but does not go to the ground. You drive him up the field and try to pass the ball back through the swarm of bodies so it's protected and your team can have access to it when the maul stops moving.
The role is to get low and drive it forward.
4. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goal in a maul?
Low body position and keep your legs moving.
5. You appear to be connected in a scrum to the hip level of the first line of players in the scrum (prop/hooker)? What is your role there?
To push and push hard. The front row (props and hooker) and second row (locks) are really the engine room of the scrum. The flankers and 8-Man also push, but they have additional responsibilities. With locks, it's all about trying to keep a flat back, get your cleats dug in for solid traction, and getting your shins parallel to the ground. you want to deliver the strongest, most-level push possible.
6. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals in the scrum?
Pretty much what I stated above, with the addition of getting a solid "bind" on both the lock next to you and also to the prop in front of you. This means grabbing a hold of the jersey of the lock you are paired with (reaching your arm across his back to his far shoulder) and ensuring there is as little space between your two inside shoulders as possible. This will ensure a tight bind in the scrum so it will be harder to bust it apart if you receive a strong resistance from the opposition. The "bind" with your prop involves reaching up between his legs with your other arm and grabbing a hold of the top of his shorts or jersey, and getting your outside shoulder as tight to his hip/butt as possible. Again, a tight bind will make your scrum that much tougher to break.
7. Do you have any special practices that you do to help you as a lock?
I used to either tape my ears with electrical tape or wear a scrum cap (essentially a small padded helmet) to protect my ears from being rubbed raw or ripped off due to the friction of my head between the hips of the hooker and prop in a scrum. Vasoline on the cheeks helps too.
For lineouts, I often applied tape to my legs just above the knee to allow for those people lifting me in a lineout to have a better grip.
8. What originally got you interested in being a lock?
I was too slow to be a flanker, too uncoordinated to be an 8-Man, but I could catch and I worked pretty hard, so lock was a good fit for me.
9. Are there any other positions you like to play?
I played one year of prop, which was incredibly tough. But I loved it. Tighthead prop is one of the most critical and technical positions on the field, because it's the foundation of a scrum. Winning a scrum was something that was never readily obvious to the fans watching, but everyone on the field knew when it happened...especially the guy you just beat head to head. Very raw and pysically demanding, but incredibly satisfying. I wasn't good at any of the stuff that is glamorous...nice passes, long runs, etc. But I could work hard. Being in an unglamorous position on the field but earning the respect of my teammates meant more to me than anything.
10. Is there anything about your body that makes you a natural fit for a lock?
Even though i'm not real tall by lock standards (6'3 and most are 6'4 and up), I have long and skinny legs which made me easy to lift in a lineout.
11. What is your role during a line out?
Either as a jumper (getting lifted to win the ball on the throw-in from the hooker), or lifting a teammate to win the ball.
12. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals during a line out?
We had set plays and different alignments that we used. Sometimes we would have seven forwards in the lineout, sometimes we'd have only four. In theory, you would fool the opposition and be able to win a ball without an opposition jumper getting lifted up to try to take it. If they did get up, you'd try to take it anyway. This meant either outmuscleing them for it or trying to tip it back to a teammate if you couldn't control it completely.
13. Why did you wear that helmet? Is it specific to your position on the team? Are you allowed to do certain things that those who do not wear helmets cannot do? Or is it just for protection?
The helmet is really just a protection thing. I got knocked out a couple times in high school and the wearing of a scrum cap became a necessity so my mom would stop getting worried. Also, as a lock, it protected my ears from the massive friction in a scrum that could literally rip them from your head or give you a nasty case of cauliflower ear. i got my ear drained once as a freshman at Cal and decided I'd rather avoid that altogether if possible.
1. What was it like to be selected to the All-American team?
It was a tremendous honor. The recognition of your peers, your coaches, and the selection panel means everything. I was fortunate enough to be selected three times, but only toured with the All-American team two of those three years.
2. What is the selection process there for the All-American team?
There is a regional all-star tournament that pits selected players from each region against each other in a tournament-style setting. Cal players that are invited to play represent the Pacific Coast region, along with selected players from Northern California, Oregon, Nevada and Utah. There is a panel of All-American selectors on hand who watch the games and review video and select the All-American team based on the performance in this tournament. The selectors are a group of former players and coaches from around the country. Often times, elite players that are unable to attend the tournament are selected based on their performance during the regular season.
3. Do you get to go to a dinner or get an award for being an All-American?
I got a letter and a certificate, but the true reward was the opportunity to tour with the All-American team to places like New Zealand and South Africa to compete against some of the world's best. The experience was amazing.
4. What were the practices like for the All-American tour?
We typically needed to gel in a short period of time since so many guys were coming from different schools with different backgrounds and schemes. This meant a lot of double days, with a training session in the morning and then one later in the afternoon. Contact was minimal as no one wanted to get hurt going into a match. Obviously they were still physically demanding though, since the coaches had to ensure that we'd stayed in shape prior to the tour.
5. What was your favorite moment playing for the All-American team?
Touring Cape Town, South Africa was incredible.
6. How did it feel representing America abroad?
It was an honor and a true gift to be able to meet and play along side so many talented players that i had competed against at various points throughout my career.
7. How is the All-American team viewed abroad?
Honestly, the US is not yet viewed as a rugby power...nor should we be when compared to the world's best. Kids are raised here learning to play multiple sports: football, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc. In countries like New Zealand, kids grow up playing rugby. The skills are learned early. Their movements are instinctive. That kind of quick reaction and hard-wired knowledge/understanding of the game is huge. Most of the teams we competed against when i toured were smaller and less athletic than us, but they were just better at the game. I think the talent gap is closing though.
8. What did you learn at Cal that helped you succeed at the All-American team?
Thanks, Marc, for taking the time to speak to us about your experiences with Cal rugby and rugby in general. GO BEARS!