Back Bay Rugby Club has been holding it down for Newport Beach for 30 years now. Back Bay has been one of those clubs in the Southern California Rugby Football Union (SCRFU) which has vacillated between Division I and Division II over the years, and having success at both. Last year Back Bay dropped back down to DII to reboot and ended up having a great run in SCRFU DII making it to the California Cup as the SCRFU’s DII representatives.
We caught up with Back Bay’s President Brad Davidson and Vice President/Old Boys Bob Sweeney, to preview this coming season. Below is our conversation (to make it easier we share the response from both as Back Bay vs quoting each of them on each question).
Rugby Republic (RR): Back Bay had a great run in DII last year making a serious run for the California Cup; will you have most those players back to make another run this year?
Back Bay (BB): The boys really stepped up last year and made the California Cup. We took Life West (the eventual DII National Champs) to the brink before falling by two points. We then got beat by a great team in Tempe (which is coached by the legend Salty Thompson). Tempe is a DII team but a lot of that is because there is no DI set up in Arizona. We played two teams that went to Nationals closes, so we can play. Our goal is always to make it to Nationals. We hope that last year’s success will get more guys out and allow us to have greater success this season.
RR: How has last season’s success helped in preparing for this season (good retention, better numbers to start this year, more off season work)?
BB: We started our pre-season in October. We usually start with 30 guys (and most are regulars). We do keep our preseason short. We do anticipate more guys coming out as the World Cup Ends, and also getting new guys as a result of the recent Rugby World Cup. After a long season we did have more social rugby in the off season (including Sharkapalloza) and that allowed guys to rest and great a break after a long season (8-9 months of rugby). We didn’t totally stop as you want to keep the momentum from last year, but rest and recovery was also important.
RR: What are some challenges you anticipate this season in making it back to the California Cup?
BB: We have the same coaching staff back, and we are going through a rebuilding process right now, but we have a year left in our rebuilding plan. We want to get back to DI but want to build the numbers and system so we can be competitive back at DI. We need to have depth; if we have depth then we can win out in DII. As of now if we win DII again we will have to up to DI. We are starting up early this year to we have time to allow new guys and younger players develop. We want to be able to develop guys and fill in with old boys and veterans.
RR: How much parity is there currently in SCRFU/SoCal DII right now?
BB: We spent four years up in DI. Right how DI in SCRFU is top heavy with three to four teams at the top that really have a shot at wining league. In DII right now there is more balance. We have tough competition and can get the players through competition, but we can compete and have players really develop from the play. We came back down a few years ago from DI to regroup, build back depth/numbers. Two sides dropped down this off season and a DI side dropped down, but with that shuffle there the top 5-6 teams are very evenly matched and so anyone can win out. Back Bay is in the top four or five sides and can be competitive with just a bit more organization and discipline.
RR: Is the fact that there are a number of quality clubs in the area creating issues in building up clubs that can sustain long periods of success, or does that just add to the competition.
BB: The issue is that we have a number of teams, but we also have a number of clubs that have teams playing in several divisions at once (DI and DIII or PRP and DII, or some combo). When you move down to maybe regroup you risk loosing players who want to play up a level, so they can go to a number of other clubs locally, but then they may not make the first side at another club and get stuck playing for their DII or DIII sides and so they don’t get what they want and the club they left looses numbers which makes it hard for them to have the depth to move up. So it is difficult with just so many clubs and so many different levels with clubs. Our focus to address that is to recruit locally, get local guys. We don’t really go out and recruit or seek to bring in foreign players, we look for consistency and that can be done with local guys. If you build on foreign players who are able to play at a high level you risk loosing them to local Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP) sides.
RR: Do you have some players you feel could or should be considered for the select sides/Griffins? And how do you feel that the Griffins will help SCRFU rugby in general?
BB: There is a big push by SCRFU as well as our club to get guys out for this. Our current understanding is that there will be open regional tryouts, but Club’s have been asked to send their players who would be able to compete for spots vs just having everyone go. So while open, clubs need to identify guys. From the open tryouts SCRFU will pull guys from the regional tryouts and then have them play compete together to select the actual side. We think this is great as there are a lot of good players from a lot of local clubs who will get a chance to get showcased through the select sides for possibly national consideration without having the change clubs or move, etc. The tryouts are set for end of the month, and will run all through November.
RR: With Back Bay starting its pre-season here in October are you looking to challenge the boys in the pre-season with a high volume of matches, or will you be building slowing towards the regular season?
BB: We plan to play in the annual Huntington Beach 15s Tournament which is a good test for us. There are teams from various divisions there in an open format so we’ll get a chance to play and win some games while also getting tested in others. We will take on Pasadena on December 5th which will be a great test. Pasadena is solid side which is on the rise right now and just playing at a higher level. We are also looking to play in the Las Vegas as well.
RR: What do you see Back Bay needing to get to the next level as a club?
BB: We need more internal completion and for that we need more depth/numbers. That allows us both develop the level of play, develop our players and to be able to move up. We really need numbers and numbers consistently to be able to move up and stay there. In the USA or at least in our area there is little or no interest in rugby outside the rugby community so that makes it hard to get sponsorship or donations. Without those revenues it does make it hard to grow clubs, and we can’t just build off the set cost (dues, etc.). We have a great core, good administration and we have a great tournament (Sharkapalloza) which helps us, but the money would really help.
RR: Anything you’d like for us to share with the readers?
BB: Back Bay is celebrating its 30th Anniversary so we’ve been around for a while and have a great core for anyone wanting to give rugby a try. We are working to promote the game locally and to build our numbers with local players versus bringing in players from overseas.
We understand while we play competitive rugby a big part of the game is the social side. We do number of our socials as a team, we have guys bring their families and look to make those evens a great club experience for everyone.
We are here in Newport Beach, our pitch is right here on Balboa Island next to the beach! It’s free to come watch rugby games (home or away), so we encourage people to come check it out, even if not as players just for the entertainment. At this year’s Sharkapalloa a local who was watching from a house on the east side of the pitch said “Thanks for the Entertainment”. Initially we through it was a bit of sarcasm, but the person said they got to watch some great games all day and it didn’t cost them anything.
We are a local team, people locally can come watch for free, or if they want to give it a shot we welcome them to play as well. We are a fun group of guys who feel all are welcome.
Thanks to Brad and Bob. For more info visit their website www.backbayrfc.com or follow them on Facebook or Twitter @bbrfc