Fresh off of their National Championship victory a week or so ago, Cal Rugby is back! This weekend, they have a squad out at the 7s Invitational Tournament in Philadelphia. 7s is a different game than the standard 15s. For example, there are only 7 players on a side instead of 15. The Olympics will be holding Rugby 7s in Rio in 2016, so it is time to start boning up on your 7s knowledge. The players that you watch on national television this weekend might be representing the Red, White, And Blue in 5 years. The schedule for Cal for Saturday has already been set:
The Golden Bears face Ohio State at 10:20 a.m. ET, Louisiana State at 2:10 p.m. ET and Penn State at 4:06 p.m. ET in Pool A, with live TV coverage broadcast locally of the Bears against the Tigers at 11 a.m. PT on VERSUS followed by Cal against the Nittany Lions at 1 p.m. PT on NBC.
Note that that is eastern time, so the first match up is at 7:20 AM in the morning! Ai! Yes, Cal will be taking on the Buckeyes early this Saturday morning. We contacted SBNation's OSU site AlongTheOlentangy to discuss easily the most burning topic for all Buckeyes fans right now: collegiate rugby.
Inexplicably, they were busy. Something about sweatervests, I didn't quite catch what they said. They did say that they knew somebody who followed the sport and would have that person email me. The next day we received an email from Wes Campbell, the Assistant Coach for the OSU rugby team! That's not just somebody who closely followed rugby, that's a coach of the team! Here is more info on Mr. Campbell:
Wes began playing in 1997 at Fordham University in the Bronx. He was the first player to receive a rugby scholarship (the Michael Breslin Scholarship) at Fordham. After college, Wes played briefly with the Manhattan Rugby Club before injuries ended career. He moved to Columbus from New York City in 2002 to pursue a career in employee benefits and investment management. His love for the game led him to join the OSU staff last fall. Wes plays an integral role working with OSU's young backline players.
Wes Campbell was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions about the upcoming match against OSU. As noted above, there are 3 matches that day, OSU, LSU, and Penn State. Although it is unclear if the OSU match is on TV, the LSU and Penn State matches are on Versus and NBC respectively. Another great opportunity to watch your California Golden Ruggers this season.
In anticipation of all this rugged rugger awesomeness, please do join me after the jump to see Mr. Campbell's answers to our questions. We are so appreciative of him taking time out of his assuredly busy schedule to provide us with this information. Good luck to the Buckeyes this weekend (save for when they are playing Cal!). Check out some of their videos at the YouTube Channel. Thanks to Wes Campbell! GO BEARS!
1. Can you tell us a bit about the Rugby program at Ohio State? When was it founded?
1. Ohio State Rugby is proud to be celebrating its 45th anniversary this fall. The "clum" (as it's affectionately known) was formed in 1966 by "two physicians working at University Hospitals, along with the assistance of exiled foreigners and some local talent". OSU has been coached by two former Eagles (Eric Parthmore, 1980-1982, and Steve Finkel, 1988-1991). Today the 15s team is headed up by Tom Rooney and assisted by Ron Bowers, Bill Clifford, Aaron Weir and myself. The 7s program is headed up by Ron Bowers and assisted by Lance Vesely, Bill Clifford and myself.
2. Where do you get most of your players from? Does Westerville still have a strong high school rugby program?
2. We recruit the state of Ohio fairly heavily. The Westerville Worms continues to have a strong high school and U19 program and they regularly send us a couple of players each year. Our outgoing captain, Chad Cochran, and his replacement for next season, Jeff Walsh, are both Worms. Lakewood, St. Edward, and St. Ignatius in Cleveland both have strong programs, as does Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati. We also have several players from the East Coast, including parts of New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C.
3. What are your thoughts on the College Premier Division?
3. The CPD, in theory, is a great idea. It provides a structure that all teams can follow to compete for an eventual national championship. That being said, with the different statuses of different teams (and I use that term loosely) within their respective universities, the playing field is not always level. This past spring was the most expensive in our team's history. The people at USA Rugby, most importantly Todd Bell, have done the best they can in this first year to put a good product on the field that can help the sport grow in this country... colleges and universities have the best brand recognition available and can attract more new fans.
4. How do you separate your 7's training from 15's? Do you have specific ways of training/practicing that are different for each?
4. 7s is such a different animal. It's fun each year to see 15s guys trying 7s for the first time...they are always shocked that we spend as much time working on fitness as we do on skills. While we do a certain amount of
weight training and conditioning for 15s, most of those practices are spent working on things such as ball handling and set pieces (lineouts, scrums, defense, etc.). In 7s, we spent about half the time working on speed and
endurance and about half of the time working on skills. Every drill we do in 7s is also geared towards fitness.
5. How do you select the players for your 7's team?
5. This year's selection were especially difficult but in the end it comes down to a couple of things. We use the beep test (a fitness test) and 40 times as one measure. And we film practices and games and look for guys that are giving effort 100% of the time. You can't take time off in 7s...or you'll find yourself down quickly. We want guys that are going to break through that wall and give constant effort every practice and every game. In the end, it sounds generic, but we chose guys who we felt gave us the best chance to compete.
6. Who are some of the Ohio State 7's players that we should be watching for this weekend?
6. Most everyone who has seen us play knows about our flyhalf, Nate Ebner. He is a former U20 national team player who switched over to the OSU football team as a safety two years ago. He can do it all and can take over
a game in a heartbeat. Chad Cochran is our captain and plays #8 in 15s but will slide down to hooker in 7s. His ability to keep his feet in contact made him one of the top players in our conference this spring. Kyle Harmon
will be at scrumhalf this year after a successful 15s season as our regular fullback. He is very quick, very strong and has a high rugby IQ.
7. What are your thoughts on the Cal Rugby program?
7. Cal is the standard. They are where we all want to get to. Anyone who knows anything about the Cal rugby program knows they are the best because of what they have done both on and off the field. And for us, that is what
makes this year's CRC so exciting...the opportunity to test ourselves against the best. Many of us watched their CPD semifinal win over Utah and one of our players referred to their performance as "surgical". They are impressive to watch on film and it is exciting for us as coaches to pick a team to compete with them. What Coach Clark has built in Berkeley is amazing and they have raised the bar for the rest of us in CPD.
8. What does Ohio State need to do to beat Cal this weekend?
8. We just have to play our game. Watching Cal's performance last year in the tournament, they simply forced their will on most of the competition. They are methodical and will play very smart rugby until you make a mistake and they rarely fail to capitalize. We hope to limit our mistakes and play our own brand of smart rugby.
9. What do you think needs to be done to make rugby more mainstream in the US?
9. That's the big question. 7s seems to be taking a step in the right direction, although there are those rugby purists out there who don't like to see 7s become the face of rugby in this country, which I can understand. The CPD was a step in the right direction but without significant financial backing from the universities and major corporations investing money in the sport from a marketing standpoint, it might end up being difficult to sustain. With the excitement of 7s becoming an Olympic sport in 2016, now is the time to make significant gains. Coach Bowers works with schools all over Ohio this spring implementing USA Rugby's Rookie Rugby program and we hope continued youth development will only breath more life into the game here in the US.
10. OSU has drawn some gridiron players to its roster. How have these footballers adapted to 7s rugby? What strengths do they bring with them? What challenges must they overcome?
11. OSU seemed to have a very tough start to the year, losing 7 in a row at one point. But then you closed the season with 7 straight wins, including wins over several teams that had previously beaten OSU. What caused this sudden and dramatic improvement?
11. We were VERY young this year and while that kind of youth is exciting to coach, it can bring with it some tough times. We really grew as a team as the year went on. Our freshmen started playing like upper classmen. We
trained hard in the weight room. We started grasping the concepts Coach Rooney and Coach Bowers laid out for us to be successful. This season was a tough one in the beginning but we ended on a high note and that, coupled
with an infusion of new talent next year, means we expect even more from ourselves next year.
12. Do you feel that OSU will play better or worse in the Sevens format?
12. There were a couple of names everyone who was at the tournament last year became familiar with. Cal's Keegan Engelbrecht was one. Thretton Palamo of Utah was another. We feel like Nate was one of those players too. While we'd like to have Nate year round, he has always been a dominant sevens player and he brings something to the table that few others in this tournament can. Having him back to go with some new blood like Nevin Heard, Chad Cochran, James Georgiades and Jason Suhy means we have very high expectations for this weekend. Having said that we don't like to differentiate between our 15s guys and our 7s guys. We can only compete in a tournament like this because of the efforts of all of the players in our program.