Life West seeking first national championship

This weekend (June 14th) the Life West Gladiators from NorCal take on Wisconsin Rugby in an effort to win the DII National Championship! This will be Life West’s first national championship, but what is impressive is that this is their 2nd year of play! Last year the Gladiators finished runners up in the national DIII championship.

This year the Gladiators have run the table in a very competitive NorCal DII going undefeated and for the most part overpowering other DII sides in the National playoffs.  Life West has a  “program” which drives their play vs just great play. The roster has 85 players which adhere to a program set by both Life West and first year Coach Adriaan Ferris.

We caught up with Life West’s Head Coach Ferris as he is working to get his club ready for this weekend’s  National Championship. In order to allow him time for his club as well as his work for the NorCal Pelicans (Select Side) who also plays this weekend whom he coaches we did a quick Q&A.

Rugby Republic (RR) : How are you preparing your side for this weekend’s national championship game?
Adriaan Ferris (AF):  No changes really. We aren’t looking to change anything. We intend sticking to what we’ve done all season, sticking to what has worked for us. I guess we aim to be crisp and accurate in our execution this week.

RR: What would winning a national championship mean to your program?
AF:  Winning a national championship would certainly be a positive thing for the college; in many ways it would be validation for all the hard work and sacrifice that has been made by a lot of different people. That’s not just the players but also the coaching staff, the administration, our families and loved ones etc. A championship is tangible reward for the effort and sacrifice from everyone involved.

RR: What would winning do for you next year?
AF: To be fair, we aren’t too focused on next year; as our priority is solely on this weekend and the challenge we face from Wisconsin. To answer your question - if we were looking ahead, I guess it would help the continued growth and development of the program by illustrating that we are a serious rugby organization that is genuinely committed to helping grow the game in the US.

A key objective for next year is to enhance individual player development process. To do that we would need to do a full review of the season, work with everyone in the club and identify what worked and what didn’t. By looking back on the season, we can address areas that were too flash. Ultimately, regardless of the result this weekend our program will look to grow and develop.

RR: To what would you attribute your teams’ success this season?
AF:  To me, it was laying the foundations for success in the preseason phase. We had a goal of being the best-prepared team in the nation, and whilst we will never know if we reached that goal, our overriding aim was to be professional in our approach to all areas of our program. From the outset, we established protocols that defined our rules and regulations; basically we defined what it took to be a member of Life West Rugby. We defined our expectations as a player, a coach, an administrator and so on. We clarified what type of behavior – on and off field would be tolerated. We established clear expectations and demanded accountability for these standards. In the end, we set about to shape our team culture. Throughout the season, if issues came up or we strayed from these expectations, then we addressed them immediately - often with brutal honesty. This was done individually or as a team.

RR: Any strategies for this weekend you’d be willing to share?
AF:  All season, where possible, we’ve reviewed film on our opponents. Every Monday we look to review our last game to identify areas of improvement. At these sessions, we also preview our next opponent and prepare a training plan for the week. We then discuss what each team unit needs to focus on; this helps drive player input and accountability.

We’ve seen a little bit of footage on Wisconsin and know they are big, physical guys who have the ability to play this game well. We aren’t planning to change our approach or game plan for Wisconsin; we will look to use the strategies that helped us get here. Naturally, we have a few tactical options we’ll seek to use in an attempt to exploit and/or take advantage of, but at the end of the day; we need be energetic and have the right attitude to play this game.

In my opinion, whichever team comes out with the right attitude, with a willingness to play positive footy and has the energy and enthusiasm to impose their style on the game, will win. We know Wisconsin are an experienced, well-organized outfit and have been to the final before. We know we are going to have to front up for the game.

RR: Last question. What is the highlight to your season up to now? Other than competing for a national championship?
AF: As I said, playing for a championship at any level is a big thing. For me personally, as a coach, it has been watching players grow and develop over the course of the season. Helping players improve is what good coaches do well and the aim of all coaches should be to prepare and promote players to play at higher levels. Mose Fualaau, our 19-year-old Outside Center has been offered an academy contract with Clermont Auvergne (of the Top 14 professional league in France). To see a young guy like that get an opportunity to be part of one of Europe’s most successful clubs is immense. It’s rewarding to see the hard work paying off for him. We also have players such as Junior Helu (18yr), Devereaux Ferris (20yr), Tino Mafi (19yr) to name a few, who are coming through our program. If I were involved at a US University that had rugby scholarships available and was looking for undergraduate players, Id be touching base with these young guys before they were taken. Our style of play is similar to what’s played in the Southern Hemisphere. To see these young American players play that type of game, with the confidence to express themselves like young men do back in New Zealand or Australia - that is very rewarding. Some of these players will go on to bigger and better things, whether that is being part of a development academy, national selection, or ultimately playing rugby as a professional career. To be part of their development this season is a distinct highlight for me.