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Interview With Rugby Alum (and Current Stanford Rugby Coach????), Matt Sherman

Matt Sherman charging down the field!
Matt Sherman charging down the field!

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 WeedonJoel DiGiorgio, Andrew BlairMichael MacDonaldJohn BuchholzLouis Stanfill, Tony Vontz, Jacques Wilson, and Dave Guest.

Well, this isn't going to help my rep as a secret Stanford-lover.  I've helped coordinate a big interview with the current Stanford Rugby Coach.  Now, I know you are saying to yourself "This isn't Rule Of Tree!"  That's true.  There are 3 or more comments in any individual post.  This isn't Rule Of Tree.  You make sense, dear reader. 

However, you do care about the current Stanford Rugby Coach.  Because he is a former California Golden Bear.  What's the old saying?  If you can't beat em, forfeit.  And if you can't forfeit, steal one of their players to be your new leader.  So, Stanford hired Matt Sherman to lead their young, impressionable men.  I'm sure he is doing a great job, sadly.  Hopefully, he instills a great love for Cal during training.  He has passed along this information for a bio:

This is Matt Sheman, former Cal Rugby fly half.  I very much enjoyed and learned a tremendous amount of lessons from my experience of playing rugby at Cal.  I always look back fondly upon my experience, and it's great to see the program continue to grow stronger and stronger year in and year out.  A very special tradition has been built on hillside of Strawberry Canyon and it was humbling to be a part of at one point, and fantastic to watch it continue to thrive.

Piedmont High Graduate '98
BS from UC Berkeley '03
MSc from Oxford University '07

Cal Career '99-'03: 4 National Championships, 3 Time All-American, Cal Captain and All-American Captain
Post Cal: Randwick (Australia) '04, San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club '05, Oxford University RFC '05-'07, and Olympic Club or San Francisco '07.  
USA National Team - 7 Caps from '03-'05 and 1 Rugby World Cup camp

Head Coach Oxford University Women '06, Assistant Coach at Cal '07 and '08, Olympic Club 7's Head Coach '08, San Diego State Assistant and Head Coach '09 and '10, Stanford University Head Coach '11. 
National Team Coaching Appointments: U18 National Team Head Coach '08, Age Grade Director '09-present, Senior National Team Asst. Coach '09-present.

Very impressive resume.  Many thanks to Mr. Sherman!  Enjoy his answers after the jump.  Go Bears! 


1. What got you interested in playing rugby initially?

I just stumbled across it when some friends older brothers picked me up after school one day after football season and asked if I wanted to play. Best decision I ever made

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

I watched a few games in High School. They were so good, fast and skilled. The venue was also amazing, and history and tradition was something you wanted to be a part of.

3. What is the rugby recruitment process like?

Mine was strange, I actually transferred in after one semester at another school.  So, I contacted Cal, it's a long story, but it all happened very quick. One day I was at another school, and the next day I was at Cal

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

Those didn't exist at the time, and there was a gap in my position, so I was fortunate to get bumped up to the Varsity fairly quickly

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

A lot of skill work, a lot running, and sometimes some team runs. We tried to get better each day

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

I enjoyed running and going to the gym. I also am a generally active person and hiked and did all kinds of active outdoor activity. I also played other sports too, such as ice hockey.

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

Normally went out for breakfast with some friends then just went through a mental routine of my roles and responsibilities. After the game, I usually enjoyed hanging out with my team mates.

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

I really enjoyed how hard we worked and pushed ourselves. There were some painful days, but you learned to love to push yourself and in the end I guess we learned our biggest competition was trying to see how good we could be.

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

We played BYU in 2001, they hadn't played in the National Championship since 1990 (because they couldn't play on Sunday), so they claimed this game (the first in over 10 years) to be a de facto national championship and there was a lot at stake. We had a lot of injuries at the time and had to put in a big performance to come from behind to beat a very good BYU team.

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


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

How hard the players work, yes it's a physical game, but I think the aerobic element is sometimes overlooked, guys have to run and work very hard.

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

There were innumerable off the field laughs with team mates

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

I think winning the National Championship my freshmen year, or beating BYU.

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

Losing to Air Force in the Semi final 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?

Fundraise money for resources and operate the team culture like a Varsity team (both easier said then done)

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

I'm still involved with rugby and coaching/managing, so very influential. The character lessons have also been important in all endeavors of my life

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?

I think it was a regrettable situation, and yes I think the school was hasty in their decision which was overall handled poorly. Yes there is a difference between varsity and varsity club.

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 think it's relatively the same, although I've read that studies have shown that rugby is safer (slightly). I think concussion protection/awareness is improving rapidly now.

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

Legit form and I think the future of the game in many ways here in the USA. It's easier to learn/watch, fast, exciting, high scoring, creates more parity between teams, and commercially friendly.

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

All the time

22. Do you still follow Cal Rugby?



Position Questions: Flyhalf


1. The flyhalf appears to be an on the field coach, making quick decisions for the team in real time. What information do you take into account when making a decision for the team?

Quality of Possession and Position on the field are the main thing. Quality is dictated by momentum, speed of ball, relative numbers of players on their feet for either team. Field position basically means your more conservative and play territory in your own end and vice versa in their end.

2. What is the role of the flyhalf in the open field?

Control the attack (when, where, and how the team attacks).

3. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals in the open field?

Run, Kick or Pass are the actual options, but to set those up, the main skills are vision to identify the situation and then best option, and then communication to organize the team to execute an option.

4. Do you have any special practices that you do to help you as a flyhalf?

I think mainly just working on all skills to be able to run, kick or pass.

5. What originally got you interested in being an flyhalf?

On my high school team by my senior year I was essentially the only option with the skill set to take the position on. I wasn't happy about it at first, as I originally played in the forwards, but it ended up being a good fit.

6. Are there any other positions you like to play besides flyhalf?

I liked to play center and fullback, but I really wasn't athletic and quick enough for those

7. Is there anything about your body that makes you a natural fit for a flyhalf?

Too slow for the other backs positions and not big enough to be a forward. I was stuck.

8. What is your role during a scrum?

You essentially call what play will be run from the scrum and then usually take part in trying to execute it, usually receiving the first pass when the ball comes out of a scrum.

9. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals during a scrum?

Communicate and read the defensive set up to look for the right option

10. What is your role during a line out?

Same as the scrum

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


12. What is your role during a goal kick?

Usually to make the kick (I didn't always take the goal kicks)

13. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goals during a goal kick?

Focus and consistency, just like golf, if you can hit the perfect shot/kick once, you can do it every time. The trick is being consistent with your swing

14. How do you determine the appropriate times to do a tactical kick?

This varies on a lot of things, but I'd see some of the more important aspects are where you are on the field (you kick more often near your own goal line to play for territory), when the defense leaves space behind (if they put everyone up in the front line to stop you from running the ball you often need to kick behind them to keep the team moving forward), and quality of ball (if the team is going backwards and playing slow, it's better to concede ball possession for field position)

15. What tactics do you use to successfully accomplish a tactical kick?

Identify an opportunity or the type of kick you want to execute and make an early decision to kick (versus kicking reactively), set your hips toward the target/direction you want the ball to go, finish with your head down and toe pointed toward the target




All-American Team

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

It was a great honor and proud moment.

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

They get selected form in-season performance and a representative regional all-star tournament

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

A high standard, but also a lot of fun to be playing with a new mix of guys from all over the country

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

Traveling the world, making new team mates and friends, and competing at a high standard

5. How did it feel representing America abroad?

Very proud

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

The All-American brand is obviously something unique to America, but international rugby is quite big around the world, so in that sense it's well respected as a junior national team that is a stepping stone to the senior national team in America.

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

How to train and compete at a high level.


1. What interested you in joining Oxford?

One of my coaches at Cal (Ray Lehner) had studied at Oxford a few year before, and in telling me his experience I became interested.

2. What is the selection process there for Oxford?

Different, the team is picked by the captain, not the coach

3. What were the practices like for Oxford?

Cold- during the English winter and at night

4. What was your favorite moment playing for Oxford?

We went on two excellent tours, one to Japan and one to South Africa and both were great. We also played Tonga at home one year and almost turned them over, that was a fun game to be a part of.

5. How did it feel representing American rugby in Oxford?

It was challenging at times, but overall I enjoyed it

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

I left the cockney accent across the pond.....mate

7. What did you learn at Cal that helped you succeed with Oxford?

How to train and compete at a high level and constantly work to get better

8. What is the average day like for an Oxford rugby player?

Class, Gym and Training, and I also worked a few days in the week. Not too dissimilar to my experience at Cal


1. You coached with SDSU. When and for how long did you coach at SDSU?

Two years, 2009 and 2010

2. What were your roles when you coached for SDSU?

The first year I was the assistant coach and the second year the head coach

3. What was that experience like at SDSU?

Lots of fun, really enjoyed working with the other coaches and the players were rewarding to work with, they worked very hard.

4. What did you learn at Cal that helped you coach at SDSU?

Most things, too many to list

5. You coached with the US National Team. When and for how long did you coach with the US National Team?

I've been an assistant with the US team from 2009 to the present

6. What were your roles when you coached with the USNT?

Backs Coach

7. What was that experience like with the USNT?

Challenging but also rewarding and fun

8. What did you learn at Cal that helped you coach with the USNT?

How to be as prepared as possible

9. Now, you coach for Stanford. What's up with that? Seriously! That's like Eisenhower playing for Russia!

Eisenhower would look good in Cardinal.

10. How long have you coached at Stanford?

Last year, 2011 was my first, this next one will be my second.

11. What is that feeling facing the Cal team on the opposite bench?

It's like any other team, except that Cal is different because the opposition I obviously have my own personal connection, but when I coach now the experience is about the player and the team, not my background. In that sense thought it's still bigger with Cal because it's Cal v Stanford and because Cal is such a strong program

12. Admit it, when Cal beats Stanford, it makes you happy!!!!!

Up until 2011 it did.

13. What is the average day like for the Stanford rugby coach?

Reviewing past performances and trainings, meeting with players, preparing for training and matches, and coaching the team

14. What are your goals with Stanford rugby and how close are you to achieving those goals?

There are many, but the overall overreaching goal is to build one of the strongest programs in the country. This will include on field success, off field organization, top level coaching, alumni network and financial support, and status within the University. We have a lot to do, but I believe we can get there.