We're taking a jaunt through the entirety of a rugby team. And not just any rugby team, but the Cal rugby team! We've talked with Marc Tausend, Scott Anderson, Ray Lehner, Michael Freeman, .Rob Weedon, and Joel DiGiorgio. Tons of great interviews, but we still have so many more!
Today, we're talking with Andrew Blair. Andrew played fullback for Cal rugby and was kind enough to answer some questions about that position. We're all learning a lot about the rules and positions for rugby with these interviews and this one is no different. The fullback is a unique position that involves a lot of kicking.
So, sit back, relax, and get ready to learn more about Cal rugby and Andrew Blair. Many thanks to Andrew Blair for taking the time to answer these questions. See his answers after the jump. GO BEARS!1. What got you interested in playing rugby initially?
I grew up playing all sports and played basketball and football in high school. I went to go see my cousin, who played prop for Stanford at the time, in a game against St. Marys. It was a muddy field, it looked like a lot of fun. I went out for rugby after I finished the hoops season my senior year.
2. What got you interested in playing rugby at Cal?
My high school club coach, Ned Anderson, used to play and coach rugby at Cal. He and another coach, John Dixon, who played football and rugby at Cal as well spoke to me about going to Cal to play rugby. At the time I was thinking about playing football for a small Div 3 school back east. I was planning on applying to Cal but realistically
my grades weren't going to get me in. I wasn't a bad student, but I didn't have a 4.0 with a bunch of AP classes. I knew Cal was an outstanding school and that the rugby program was one of the best in the country. It seemed to me to be a unique opportunity to get a world class education while playing sports at an elite level. No brainer.
3. What is the rugby recruitment process like?
The rugby alums are very well connected with Coach Clark, particularly Ned Anderson. I think he told Coach Clark about me. I went to a game and Ned introduced me to Coach Clark and Jerry Figone who was the team manager at the time and handled all the new recruits. Ned suggested I attend Coach Clark's rugby camp during the summer so I did. I went with a few guys from my club and I knew a few guys who were at Cal already from Miramonte. Scott Anderson and Mike McDonald both worked at the camp that year. It was nice to see them there and I felt like
I really could do well playing rugby at Cal. I did really well at the camp and Coach Clark spoke with me about coming to Cal and playing rugby. I worked with Jerry Figone after that. He kept me informed about the app process and everything. Jerry Figone was the one that called me to let me know I was accepted.
4. Did you play on the frosh-sophs team?
I played on the "B" side my first two years with a few A side starts here and there against weaker opponents. My 3rd year I began seeing some more time on the A side at wing and fullback. I started on the A side all through my 4th and 5th years.
5. What was the experience like playing on the frosh-sophs team?
The B side for me was pretty huge my first year. I remember getting my jersey and game kit the night before and being excited to put it on the next day. The second side was a place for younger players to develop their skills and get used to the speed and decision making processes that happen on the pitch. I only played one season of rugby
before entering Cal so I had a lot to learn, particularly at fullback. After the first year though everyone wants to get on the first side. It creates a very competitive atmosphere during practice. The B side games are after the A side games so it is a little bit anti-clamactic playing in them after all the fans leave. I loved it the first year but after that I pushed my self very hard to get into the First 15.
6. Can you take us through the average rugby practice?
Oh wow, where to begin. Practice begins with a brief warm up lap around the field. Then we would do about 10-15 minutes of dynamic/movement based stretching. Basically a bunch of different movements over 10 meters to get our legs warm and ready to run. Then typically we would do a series of drills involving 5 players or "5 lines". Most of the drills involve ball handling, passing, 4 on 1, 3 on 2, passing before contact, after contact, going to ground etc. A
lot can be drilled during 5 lines, it sets a platforms for practicing basic rugby skills that every player needs to have and will use at some point during a rugby match. Then from there we would typically work on some defensive drills, tackling, communication, etc. Then after defense we would usually split up into forwards and backs, forwards working on scrums and lineouts, things specific to their positions. Back working on line out moves, open field defense, special back plays and moves, kicking, deep 3 defense. Depending on the day of week we would either end practice with some team scrimmage type of stuff, fitness, or a team run against air.
7. What activities outside of official rugby practice did you partake in to stay in shape?
During the off season I would typically lift 3 times a week as well as play touch or go for a run 3 times a week. I also would try to practice kicking everyday. I kicked for points and for touch so I worked on that a lot.
8. Can you take us through the average home rugby game? What are your pre-game actives? What are your post-game activities?
Games were typically at 1pm. The only thing I would be sure to do the night before was shine my boots and double check I had all my game kit in order. I would be up and in the shower by 9am. Breakfast of oatmeal, a banana, and some OJ. Out the door around 10am and up to the field to practice kicking for about 45 minutes. Then walk down to
the training room to take care of any taping or pre game injury detail. Ride a stationary bike for a ten minutes or so, then head to the locker room to prep for the game. The entire team would meet in the locker room. For home games we used the visiting football locker room. TINY little old room. I would change into my kit, lace up my
boots a couple times because I liked them nice and tight, make sure I had my mouth piece every 5 seconds (one of those things that I was very OCD about). Then the First XV would head down to either the football field at Memorial or to the turf field nearby for pregame warm up. The lead in was basically a condensed version of practice.
Then we would come back to the locker room for any last second things and head up the steps to Witter Field. The lead in to big games was always a very intense build up. Being in the locker room before playing Cal Poly in the National Championship was the most intense thing I have ever experienced. The look in your teammates eyes. Our 8 man, and my good friend, Mike Boggs slapping himself on the thighs so hard he had big red welts on his legs before the game even started. It is a very hard feeling to describe and I think you can't really know how it is unless you have been there. Other guys I'm sure can attest.
The game...well, games were 80 minutes. Every game is different. Run and work as hard you can for 30 minutes and then hang on till half time. Get a drink and some rest. Discuss what is going well, what we can do better, where weaknesses are etc. Get after it the second half and hang on till the whistle blows. A saying that I learned from Coach Billups that I loved was, "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable". That is a rugby game. If you ever feel ok you aren't working hard enough.
Post game...take care of any bumps. Take an ice bath, shower up, then meet with the other team for a post game function.
9. What do you love most about your experience on the team w/ Coach Clark?
Too much to say. He is an incredible coach and I learned a lot about what hard work really looks like and how to push yourself and others around you to perform at the highest level.
10. What was the toughest game during your career and why?
That is a tough question. The most physical games I played in were against Univ of British Columbia. No college team in the US that I played against was as physical as those guys. Plus our teams have been playing against each other for so long we all know that the game will be more intense. I can't recall the first time I started against
UBC but I remember that it was played at a much more intense pace. Everything about it was hard and more physical. Rucks in particular. The physicality at the rucks was noticeably different.
11. Any good stories on how you and your teammates would go about intimidating the opposition and dominate?
We never did anything to intimidate the opponent. We would go about our business on the field quietly and without a whole lot of talking trash. We just trained our asses off and we came on the field knowing that we had worked harder than the other team in every aspect of the game. If they could sense that than I guess that was a tactic. We
prided ourselves on never really showing that we were tired even if we were. I know the forwards always would be the first team to the line-out and the scrum. That makes a huge difference, particularly late in a game. If it is the 70th minute and you see your opposition running to the scrum, bound up tight and ready to go before you are even there, that scrum is already won. In the backs there wasn't anything specific we would decide to do before a game. We just wanted to make all our tackles, put back every ball we took into a tackle and support our selves in the open field. It might not seem all that intimidating but again, if an opponents backline has thrown every type of fancy move they have at us and we have stuffed it every time, they probably won't run as hard, or will be afraid do their move, or do their move so far deep that even if they pull it off they lose yardage anyway....it adds up late in the game. One funny story about the way we "intimidate" opponents that captures our method perfectly.
We were playing Univ of Texas in Texas and it was 90 degrees and humid. Miserably hot. We were playing on a dry, nearly dirt field. We were completely dominating them and the score was 50-0 or something. We never let up in games, despite the score. It was around the 65th minute, late in the game and I heard one player say to his teammate, "God they don't even look tired. It's like they are fucking robots or something". That is how we intimidate teams.
12. What are some of the fine details rugby fans should pay attention to when they first get into the game?
I would watch particular positions for extended amounts of play. At first I would watch the scrumhalf #9 or the flyhalf #10. They both will be around the ball a lot. See what they do, what their job is, how they communicate with each other, with other players. Sit as close to the field as possible so you can hear what they are saying.
Then sit way up high to see how the spacing works and flows during a game. Watching a good scrumhalf will key the casual observer into nearly everything that happens on the field.
13. What is the funniest moment during your time as a rugger for Cal?
I kicked for points so people would always yell weird things like "You suck" or "Miss it" at me while I was setting up to kick. None of it ever got to me, except when playing St Mary's at Cal my fourth year this guy would wait until I was approaching the ball and scream, "Heeeeyeyyyyyyyyyyyyy poopy pants!!!". I don't know why, but it was just such a ridiculous thing to yell, while most of Witter was quiet, that I couldn't help but chuckle to myself as I kicked the ball. He did it the whole game. It still makes me laugh.
14. What was your favorite moment as a rugger for Cal?
Man, that is another hard one. I have three. First is playing UBC my fourth year, I had a perfect grubber kick into the tryzone that Andy Hanks chased down to seal the game. Second would be the entire National Championship game against Cal Poly, particularly scoring a field length try late in the game to put it out of reach. Mike McDonald had a great poach and Joel and Andy Hanks and I took off down the left sideline. A few passes here and there and I ended up with it over the try zone. It was an awesome try. Last would be making my last kick of my Cal career against Utah in the National Championship.
It wasn't an easy kick and I knew it was the last play of the game. I wanted to end it right, for the team and for myself. It was true and it felt good.
15. What was your least favorite moment as a rugger for Cal?
Being on the sideline with a shoulder injury when we lost to Air Force in 2003. Also losing to UBC in Vancouver my 5th year was a rough loss.
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?
You could write a thesis on that but I would have to say you have to create an ethos among the players that hard work and being honest and accountable to a specific standard is the ONLY way you will proceed through a season. Once that standard is established than the program will attract women who want to be in that type of high performance environment.
17. How has the experience of playing rugby transformed your career after graduating from Cal?
Oh man, another one that I could write 10,000 words about. A few things, it has taught me to be grateful for everything that is given to me, that nothing replaces hard work, and to not be a victim to your circumstances. Be honest with yourself and be accountable to whatever standard you have.
18. 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?
19. 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?
I don't think rugby players experience too many serious injuries. I think rugby is SIGNIFICANTLY safer than football. Helmets and padding + 11 guys not worrying about wrapping up and tackling one guy from all
angles = concussions and horrible knee injuries. The helmet makes a huge difference. If you can literally launch yourself at someone headfirst then you are going to have serious head and neck injuries.
In rugby you have to move your feet and hit with your shoulders. The way the game is played doesn't allow wreckless disregard for where your body ends up because you know you have to get up and do it again the next play.
20. What is your view on Rugby Sevens? Legit form of rugby or bastardization of the game?
Sevens is incredible, definitely not a bastardization at all. Really fun to play. Really HARD to play, fitness wise. Really fun to watch and more accessible for the uneducated observer.
21. Do you still keep in touch with your teammates?
Yes a few are still some of my closest friends.
22. Do you still follow Cal Rugby?
Absolutely. Try to see the UBC game every year and the National Championship if they get there.
Position Questions: Fullback
1. How important is kicking to the fullback position?
Very important. Being accurate with kicks from hand during open play is important to field position. Kicks for points are obviously important as they can sometimes be the only points you have an opportunity to score. Kicking for field position after a penalty can advance the ball down the field and set up set pieces to score.
2. What tactics do you use to prepare for the perfect kick?
Well if it is in the run of play the most important things is knowing what kind of kick you are going to do and where. Just blindly blasting the ball down field doesn't do any good if it goes straight to someone who has a ton of space to counterattack. A good kick is one that finds space and either is recoverable ie a small chip, grubber or up and under, or puts pressure on the opponent ie. defenders running down and tackling the person as soon as they catch
it with no support, or puts the opponent deep in their end of the field.
3. What is the role of the fullback in the open field?
Offensively I am looking for space and being a playmaker for the wings. Defensively I am constantly communicating with the wings to give depth to the field. I am always moving to be in the right place if someone kicks or if a defender breaks through our midfield.
4. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals in the open field?
I make sure I know what foot the flyhalf, scrumhalf and opposing fullback use to kick. As the game goes on you notice tendencies and habits of midfielders and the deep 3. Once you see those things you can attack when they give you the space. Or if I notice that the fullback flies up into the defensive line when our inside center get the ball I might suggest to someone to kick a grubber kick or something. Offensively I have a view of the field that nobody else does and I can recognize space. I have to communicate that to the flyhalf mostly so we know where we can attack. Defensively it is all about angles and communicating with the wings to always be in the right place.
5. Do you have any special practices that you do to help you as a fullback?
I would practice all my different types of kicks off both feet. Also try to have really quick hands and practice counterattack.
7. What originally got you interested in being a fullback?
I started at wing because I was fast. I played receiver in high school wing was similar. I got interested in fullback because you can involve yourself in more plays during the game. I liked the responsibility of fullback. You are the defensive eyes to the whole field. You are always barking at people about what gaps to fill and where to be. Of course scoring long field length tries is always fun.
8. Are there any other positions you like to play besides fullback?
Wing and flyhalf.
9. Is there anything about your body that makes you a natural fit for a fullback?
You hear "tall and rangy" a lot when talking about deep 3 players. I guess I could be described as that. Although I'm only 6'1.
10. What is the feeling like in the open field when you are the sole thing keeping an opposing player from scoring?
If everyone does their job you hopefully don't have to be in the open field too many times during a game but it does happen. Our midfield D was always outstanding so I never saw to many line breaks. You just have to be relaxed and force the player where you want him to go and then hope that you have the speed to track him down. Also if you can stall the guy you know your teammates are hustling back to help you out.
11. It does not appear that you are directly involved in a scrum. What is your role in a scrum?
On offensive it depends what move we have on. On defense giving depth to the field and being prepared for a kick.
12. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals while the scrum is occurring?
Looking to see where the flyhalf is lined up and whether he is kicking or not.
13. It does not appear that you are directly involved in line outs. What is your role during a line out?
Same as above.
14. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals while a line out is occurring?
Many thanks to Andrew Blair! GO BEARS!