Commitment and Camaraderie. Those two things are vital for a rugby team to be successful. All the talent doesn’t matter if the athlete isn’t committed. All the talent can’t overcome a lack of camaraderie, trust, or connection long-term.
When I was a rugby player playing for a club that was making runs at nationals, aside from the talent on the pitch there was a commitment and camaraderie. That’s what rugby is about (camaraderie in battle). Guys where committed to the team and winning. This meant they were on-time and at all the training (there were the exceptions and those guys are forgotten today). The guys all worked hard at training, running, doing the drills and not thinking they were above the team. In addition we had gym sessions and while all the guys didn’t go to the same gyms (some when to traditional gyms, some did CrossFit, others strength and conditioning gyms), at each gym there was always 4-5 guys working out doing the hard work in the off season and during the season to get better. When you’d see the other guys working hard in the gym or training then you also put in the work. You had to. If didn't do the work you’d never make it on the pitch and you would also stand out in negative light if you weren’t doing your best to get better and help the team. On a Sunday, soar, hung over and bruised you had to be willing to meet up with five to six guys and go for an hour run. Commitment was key.
The same was true for the camaraderie. That was as big a factor as training and talent. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined camaraderie as: A feeling of good friendship among the people in a group. Another definition is A spirit of friendly good-fellowship. That was build off the pitch. It didn’t happen at once. It was over time, but guys were committed to being teammates and that lead to activities and opportunities to bond. It can be as simple as staying engaged year round, it is having a good time together at the socials, or post practice drink. It was just doing fun things together like river floats, camping, BBQs, a dinner with some of the boys on a Friday before a game. It was the banter on social media and emails. When you create that type of relationship, that is when you get buy-in and commitment to the team. You now work harder in the gym. You work harder on those sprint drills, you make sure you are making your tackle in the game because you don’t want to let the other guy down who is doing the work.
We share this so you’ll understand what the East Palo Alto (EPA) Razorbacks are doing. Its only two weeks into the NorCal league and so it’s early to crown any club including the 2-0 Razorbacks. The Razorbacks won out in NorCal’s DI last year not loosing a game in the regular season. They fell to Dallas at Nationals (it should be noted that the Razorbacks went into that game with a number of starters injured or out after the California Cup). The year before that they finished toward the top of the league as well. However there was a big dry spell with the Razorbacks in the previous few years. After winning the DII National Championship in 2009 the Club moved up to DI, and at the same time half the players split off to form the EPA Bulldogs (now disbanded). Those years were a struggle for the Razorbacks and most seasons they finished at the bottom of the standings.
Some additional factors may have been that most the players who were part of those runs were getting older or retiring. Once you’ve gotten to the top and you are getting older it is hard to stay motivated, to remain hungry and so that may have played a factor with some as well.
The key was the Razorbacks didn’t give up and kept working though undesirable records. Then a few years ago with an influx of really talented players from their youth program the Razorbacks began to get competitive again. Once the Razorbacks began to gel their play improved and their play started to result in wins and the wins created a hunger to win big . With a few veterans left from the championship team who understood what it takes to win the boys began to put the effort for something big (nationals).
So what is different now with the Razorbacks? In the past few years the Razorbacks have commitment and camaraderie! That’s where you see the biggest turn around. These Razorbacks play like the Razorbacks of old (maybe better). Follow these guys on social media and you’ll see what we are talking about. Sure the boys have always been close (some of it is because there are familial relationships), but there is also an effort by the boys to build those relationships. They eat together, attend church together, socialize together, etc. It’s not just on Saturday.
What may surprise people is their commitment to training. Now lets be real, this is not a dis, but it is a perception that some people have that islander teams/Polynesian love to play rugby but don’t like to train. That is a perception some people have (true or not). The Razorbacks are destroying that perception (for those who are paying attention). The Razorback players show up to training regularly. They now train year round not just running touch, but training in the summer for 7s, in the fall and winter for 15s, this includes organized team runs, to gym sessions. Now the Razorbacks are not a team with a significant financial support, so they don’t have their own gym/facilities to train in. It’s the guys paying their own way and showing up together at a regular gym to train. You don’t need a facility to run, you need guys willing to show up in the off season to run, run hills, or run sprints on the street.
How many teams prep for 7s tournaments? Most just show up and play. The Razorbacks not only practice, but this summer they ran, they did the conditioning off the pitch to prepare to compete and win those tournaments.
There are sides that have the facilities to do this, there are teams that are currently organized to do this work and those are the sides that are rising to the top of the competitive NorCal field. That is part of it, but the difference is doing the extra. Super Rugby’s Crusaders begin each season in a class room with a few days of discussion (before they take the pitch). The discussion is why each player plays?
It’s a question of commitment. Why do you play? The Razorbacks play to win a national championship. They also play for each other, the “Razorback Family”. That is what sets them apart from some of the competition. Talent is great, but is the talent committed to a shared goal? Is the talent willing to do the work to achieve the goal? The other is the camaraderie. Who are the players playing for? Do I know each of the guys around me? Am I involved with them? If you want to just show up on Sat and play, you’ve missed the point of rugby (camaraderie in battle), and it will show with the outcomes of your game.
Until a team (talented or not) comes together as a team, is committed to doing the work (that may be working hard in practices, studying the game, working out on your own time), committed to a shared goal, and most important committed to each other, success will be hard to achieve.
The Razorbacks have all that and that is why they are having the success they currently do. That is why they play so well (they know what they want and where they are going). They know who they are playing for (the Razorback Family).
For teams who want to see how they bridge the gap, or how can they improve their competitiveness it may be more than just talent. It may be more than fitness. It may be a need to create a commitment and camaraderie.
There are still eight games left in the NorCal DI season, as well as two rounds of league playoffs and there are a lot of good teams in the league, so we aren’t saying the EPA Razorbacks will be the winners, but we can tell you they will do better than the clubs who don’t have commitment from all their guys and camaraderie.
This weekend the EPA Razorbacks will clash with Life West. It will be a good one.