Interview With Cal Rugby And Football Alum - Mike MacDonald

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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 TausendScott AndersonRay LehnerMichael Freeman, Rob Weedon, Joel DiGiorgio, and Andrew Blair.

Today, we are talking with Cal Rugby and Football Alum Mike MacDonald.  Mike MacDonald is a local boy, growing up in Orinda, CA.  His father played football and rugby at Cal, so it was only natural that Mike would do the same.  I personally remember him when he was a dominant high school wrestler on the rival Miramonte team.  Fortunately, he went to Cal, so we could all root *for* him.  He helped Cal win several national championships as a "prop" on the rugby team.  He was selected to the All-American team and the US National Team.  Now, he plays for a professional rugby team in England.

Mike MacDonald answers questions about all of those topics.  Many thanks to Mr. MacDonald for taking time out of his busy career to answer the never ending stream of questions!  Hope you all enjoy the answers!  GO BEARS!

1.  What got you interested in playing rugby initially?

1.  Well, my brother started playing when I was a freshman in high school while he was a senior. The next year, all of his teammates were asking me to come out, so I decided to give it a try. Plus it was a great way to bridge the gap between the end of wrestling season and the start of football season.


2.  What got you interested in playing rugby at Cal?

2.  I've always been a Golden Bear, since the day I was born. My dad played football and rugby while he was at Cal and then when he graduated, he went on to be an assistant coach for the football team. After a few years of playing rugby for Lamorinda, I had the chance to come to Cal and further my career and jumped at the chance.

3.  What is the rugby recruitment process like?

3. Because rugby was just starting to get big around colleges, there weren't many options, nor did I need to look anywhere else. Players from all over were brought in for a brunch and a tour of the campus, then it was onto watch the game. Pretty simple, but I didn't need too much of a hard sale.

4.  Did you play on the frosh-sophs team?

4. No. I was straight in to contention for the starting team.

6.  Can you take us through the average rugby practice?

6. A training session was pretty routine. We would start with a lap and a stretch, then break into a skill set where we would concentrate on our basic skills. After that, the backs and forwards would split and work on the specific skills. For backs, it would normally be set plays and for the forwards, it would be scrums or lineouts. After a certain time, we would come back together and work on patterns or our defensive structures. After that, if it was early in the week, it would be fitness.

 

7.  What activities outside of official rugby practice did you partake in to stay in shape?


7. By the time i was playing, it was almost year round. The season took care of itself, but in the off season, we would all lift as a team a couple times a week and then on the other days, we would try to get a pick up game of touch rugby (touch is the same rules of regular rugby but just touch instead of tackle.)


8.  Can you take us through the average home rugby game?  What are your pre-game actives?  What are your post-game activities?

8. Game days were pretty easy. The day before the team would move the bleachers into their positions, and then on game days the non starters would do the final touch ups. The guys playing on the day had their own routines, but i would show up a couple hours early and just relax. 45 minutes or so before the match, the team would do our warm up and stretches, then go back into the changing room for final words from the coaches, then out on the field for business. After the game the whole team breaks down the field, go for your respectful treatment, then off to host the opposition to some food and a couple refreshments.


9. What do you love most about your experience on the team w/ Coach Clark?

9. Coach Clark has had a big influence on my career, so its hard to pick out just a specific moment.


10. What was the toughest game during your career and why?

10. In 2001 against UBC up there. Had a bad case of the flu and we ended up winning in the last few minutes.

 

11. Any good stories on how you and your teammates would go about intimidating the opposition and dominate?

11.I'd like to think we were always respectful to our opponents on the field. I think we tried to let our talking be done on the field.

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12. What are some of the fine details rugby fans should pay attention to when they first get into the game?

12. If you are new to the game, the fine detail are the things you wouldn't really understand. I would suggest you try to follow the flow of the game. What ever team is going forward will be the team on top.


13.  What is the funniest moment during your time as a rugger for Cal?

13. Marc Tausend has already shared his breaking down on the last bit of a fitness run, which was pretty funny. Another Tausend trick is when he scored his only try, him flashing the WWF belt in his oppositions face. That always gave me a good laugh.


14.  What was your favorite moment as a rugger for Cal?

14. Winning the National Championship in 2004 and bringing it back to Berkeley.


15.  What was your least favorite moment as a rugger for Cal?

15. The Semifinal against Air Force when we lost in 2003.


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? 

16. Try to follow the model of finding varsity athletes from high school who don't pursue sports in college.After that, have a good coaching staff who plan out sessions which have a clear and stated objective in everything you do.



17. How has the experience of playing rugby transformed your career after graduating from Cal?

 

17. Seeing how this is what I am still doing, it has given me the foundation to further my career to the highest level.


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?  

19. I think safety in rugby is well looked after. If your fundamentals are correct, the chance of injury is far lower. As in any high impact sport, there will be injuries just because of the nature of the game.


20.  What is your view on Rugby Sevens?  Legit form of rugby or bastardization of the game?

20. I find it enjoyable. Its a great way to promote the sport because of the pace of the game and the excitement that it brings.



21.  Do you still keep in touch with your teammates?

21. I talk to a few of them on a weekly basis. Whenever I come home, I try to catch up with as many of them as I can.


22.  Do you still follow Cal Rugby?

22. As much as I can. Last year I was able to stream the championship game which was cool.

 

PROP QUESTIONS

 

1.  What is your role in a ruck?  PS What is a ruck?


1. A ruck is when a tackle has been made and there is a contest for the ball. The job of a prop would be to make sure the pile went forward and the ball comes back on our side.


2.  What tactics do you use to accomplish your goal in a ruck?

2.To be lower than you opposition and to be aggressive.


3.  What is your role in a maul?  PS What is a maul?

3. A maul is when the ball is taken into contact (either from a lineout or being wraped up carrying the ball, but not going to ground). A props job would be to either be a strong lifter from lineout and/or to be tight to my teammate and try to go forward.


4.  What tactics do you use to accomplish your goal in a maul?

4.Just have to try to be low and strong in your positioning.

 

5.  What is your role in a scrum?  

5 To try to disrupt the prop you are lined up against.


6.  What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals in the scrum?

6. The speed of engagement at the beginning of the scrum and the angle of your head.

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7.  Do you have any special practices that you do to help you as a prop?

7. Core and neck strength


8.  What originally got you interested in being a prop?

8. I never had any other choice.


9.  Are there any other positions you like to play?

9. Either inside or outside center.

10.  Is there anything about your body that makes you a natural fit for a prop?

10. Size. I've always been a big guy so it was just a natural fit for me.


11.  What is your role during a line out?

11. To be strong in the lift and try to make sure the jumper comes down safely.

 

12.  What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals during a line out?

12. Your grip strength and technique


13.  What is the difference between the losehead prop the tighthead prop?

13. The Tighthead prop is the one who anchors the scrum and goes against both loose head prop and hooker. The loosehead prop has a bit of an easier job because he is only lined up against the opposition tighthead prop. 

14.  Which one did you play more and why?

14. Ive always been more of a loosehead. Not sure why, it has just worked out that way.

 

FOOTBALL QUESTIONS


1.  What positions did you play for Cal football?

1. Offensive Guard


2.  When did you play for Cal football?

2. 1999


3.  What did you learn with Cal Rugby that helped you at Cal football?  

3. Nothing. The only season I played football was before I ever played for the rugby team.


4.  What did you learn with Cal football that helped you with Cal rugby?

4. Not too much. Just keep your head down and work hard.


5.  How difficult was it to balance football and rugby at Cal?

5. Not hard because I concentrated on rugby only after my first year.

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6.  How were the rugby practices different from the football practices?

6. The practices were extremely different. In football, I was on the scout team. Meaning that every week, I was trying to mimic what the opposition were going to do. But at the same time, you were only working on one specific skill set. In rugby, you are always trying to better not just one aspect of the game, but every aspect. Whether it be passing, tackling, scrum etc.


7.  How do the football players view the rugby players at Cal?

7. I always got along with them. We would see them in the weight room and around campus and i always felt there was a mutual respect between the two teams. I know that quite a few of them would always come to watch our games, while everyone always go to the football games.


8.  What was your favorite moment on the Cal football team?

9.  What was your funniest moment on the Cal football team? 

8. & 9. Seeing how I was on the team in the years before Jeff Tedford, I would say the rookie show was probably on the top of the list.


10.  Do you still keep in touch with any of your football teammates?

10. I see a few around every now and then, but bot too much a constant basis.

 

ALL AMERICAN TEAM


1.  What was it like to be selected to the All-American team?


1. Making the All American team was always a very proud experience. My second year, USA rugby restarted a touring squad to travel to Ireland. In that squad, there were quite a few National Team members in the making. So looking back on that team, it's great to see how good of players we actually had.


2.  What is the selection process there for the All-American team?

2. For me, it was just how i performed throughout the season.


3.  What were the practices like for the All-American tour?


3. Practices were always different because you were trying to get players from all different styles of play to be on the same page in a short amount of time.


4.  What was your favorite moment playing for the All-American team?

4. My favorite moment is when we beat University College, Dublin in our second and last game of the 2001 tour. We beat them which left us undefeated on our first tour in a long time.


5.  How did it feel representing America abroad?

5. Representing your country is always a very special honor.


6.  How is the All-American team viewed abroad?

6. Although they never said it to our face, I think they thought we didn't really know what we were doing. Although after the game, they realized that we had skill and were always very physical.


7.  What did you learn at Cal that helped you succeed with the All-American team?

7. Being in a team with many good players at Cal, it allowed me to trust players on the All American team to do their job rather than trying to do it all myself.


US NATIONAL TEAM QUESTIONS


1.  What was it like to be selected to the US National Team team?

1. The first time I was selected, it was an eye opening experience. I had never really felt that kind of emotion run through my body before. Representing the USA is a very surreal experience that is one of my career highlights.


2.  What is the selection process there for the US National Team team?

2. When I was selected my first time, Coach Clark and Coach Billups both had a hand in it because they were both involved in the National Team set up. With them being involved with my progression every day, they thought i was ready to be put to the test.



3.  What were the practices like for the US National Team tour?

3. Similar to the All American training sessions to where you are trying to get everyone from different backgrounds on to the same page. Luckily, there is less turnover in terms of people coming in and out of the team every year opposed to the All American team that would change every year. We would normally assemble a week before our games so, they would be intense because there were a lot of thing to cover.


4.  What was your favorite moment playing for the US National Team team?

4. My favorite moments would be my first appearance against Fiji in Samoa in 2000, my first start, against Canada in 2001 and the World Cups in 2003 & 2007.


5.  How did it feel representing America abroad?

5. Its always a honor. Wether it be walking down the street or on the field. Representing your Country is a very special thing.


6.  How is the US National Team team viewed abroad?

6. As years have gone by, I think teams have grown a bit more respect for us. More players are starting to make inroads into european teams which helps give us credit.


7.  What did you learn at Cal that helped you succeed at the US National Team team?

7. Hard work has to be done to reach the top.


8.  Did you play in the Rugby World Cup with the US National Team?  If so, what was that experience like?

8. I played in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia and the & 2007 in France. Playing on the biggest stage of your sport was awesome. Knowing that you took part in worlds third biggest sporting event is great.


ENGLISH TEAM QUESTIONS


1.  Which European teams have you played for?

2.  What interested you in joining the English teams?

 

1. & 2. My first year, I was in Worcester and for the last five, I've been in leeds. Both of which are in England.


3.  What is the selection process there for the English teams?

3. It's normally a meritocracy. There is always rotations to keep you fresh, but for the most part, If you are good enough you play.


4.  What were the practices like for the English teams?

4. Because rugby is what we do, trainings a very specific. Before training, we have meetings to talk about how we will approach the week ahead. After meetings its on to the field to put into action what we have just talked about. Our sessions are broken up into skills or units, followed by team attack or defense. Because the season is so long, they try to set a length of time to be on the field and stick to it as best they can.


5.  What was your favorite moment playing for the English teams?

5. Being named the captain of the team in the '08-'09 season and staying in the Premiership last season.


6.  How did it feel representing American rugby in English?

6. For people over here, its a novelty for Americans to be over here. Once you prove that you belong and you have earned your spot, it feels great knowing that there are players in America that can do the same thing.


7.  How is your English accent?  Can you do a really good cockney accent?

7. Whenever I come home, people say I sound British. Yet when I come back to England, people say I sound even more American. Its almost like I'm a mutt, just a mix of the two.


8.  What did you learn at Cal that helped you succeed with the English teams?

8. Being at Cal gave me a great base of knowledge of the game and helped me grow into the player i am today. Having Coach Clark and Coach Billups around every day helps bring out the best in you.


9.  What is the average day like for a professional rugby player in England?

9. Normally starts with physio around 8-9. Meetings for about 30-45 minutes. on the field for 60-75 minutes. From there we are done for the day or, a weight session a couple hours later in the day. If there are no weights, we are normally done around 1:00 but when we do have weights, closer to 3:00. Its not too bad of a life.

 

 

Thank you so much to Mike MacDonald for answering all these seemingly endless questions!  GO BEARS!

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