Sun, Fun and Rugby: Los Angles Rugby Club

Los Angeles Rugby (LA Rugby Club) is one of the oldest rugby clubs in California. It’s also a club with a winning history. Currently, LA Rugby is playing in Southern California Rugby Football Union’s (SCRFU) Division I. We wanted to see what some of the SCRFU DI clubs were doing to get ready for this coming season so we reached out to LA Rugby. We were able to chat with Nate Heiselt who is the DI Representative, and Chris Sweeny who is the Club’s President.

Below is our conversation with the boys for LA Rugby. To be more concise we have combined Chris and Nate's responses as “LA Rugby” responses vs quoting each one of them.

Rugby Republic (RR): LA Rugby has been able to hold its own in SCRFU’s DI. How much of a focus is it to make a serious rugby for the California Cup? And is the playoffs the focus or the California Cup?

Los Angeles Rugby (LA Rugby): So we were in Nationals for DI just two years ago. We took 5th in the nation that year, and last year we came up short, but we know we can play at that level. So we are really looking to Nationals. There has been some confusion with the California Cup, we aren’t sure if that will actually be played as there are a number of questions. For example who will go? Will it be the number 1 and 2 seeds, or will those go to Nationals and so it’s the 3rd and 4th place teams? You’d want to send the top two sided to the California Cup, but the way it was last year clubs had to play in that right after the regular season and before nationals. For teams its additional games going into Nationals and risking injures. If that can be part of the National Playoffs then it’s beneficial for the teams.  We don’t want to play teams in the Cup and then end up traveling to Texas of wherever the Nationals are and end up playing the same teams again. If Cal Cup can be a regional playoff then it works well for all.

So for now our goal is to get back to Nationals.

RR: How is LA building on last year’s success in preparing for this season (good retention, better numbers at the start of the season, or just off season program)?
LA Rugby: We are working to build a brand. The LA Rugby brand so we can attract players. We want to keep players engaged so we don’t really change much for the off season. This summer we run a 7s program from July to September with training, etc. but we did go more social tournaments. We did want to go lighter in the summer so to avoid injuries after a long season. We really go dark for October (which this year coincided with the Rugby World Cup which worked out).  We had our youth 7s side win two of seven tournaments this summer which is great for our future. We also go to mix in some of those youth who will be coming to the men’s side this year with our veterans in some of the 7s as a way to bring them up slowing and build those relationships. We have a stand out from our youth program Dejuan Johnson who will be transitioning to the men’s side this year.

RR: What are some challenges you anticipate this season? Schedule, numbers, not enough B-Sides Games?
LA Rugby: We have a concern with B-Side games. We were lacking sufficient B-Games last year which does hurt numbers and development.  Most sides forfeited their B-games vs us. That was a big issue for us. We need to make sure that teams know ahead of time going into the week if there will be a B game. SCRFU is stepping up to help with requiring sides to confirm ahead of time the games vs negotiating a B-Game right after the first game.  This year, all DI-B’s will play as DII but (a division in DII vs the other DI Bs) this will allow them to play for playoffs, and to have their games count. Also USA Rugby is recognizing the B-Games and teams can enter info for their players and B-Sides into the online reporting system which we couldn’t do before.

One of the things that we are working is to have the B-Sides’ play first. This is how we build up the Bs and build up to the A side and games. We can have the guys playing in the B-s game play for a spot as reserves on our A side. It also allows them to be showcased.  So guys have to play and play hard. If they are playing well, then at about 50min we can pull them and have them rest up and be a reserve on the A-side.

RR: How much parity is there currently in SCRFU’s DI right now?
LA Rugby:  There is great deal of parity right now.  It’s going to be interesting in DI as there are a number of good teams and we think we are in that top group. There are also some good teams on the rise, such as Pasadena who is now in the mix.  Las Vegas are the only ones we aren’t sure about with them being 6hrs away.  LA and the Old Aztecs (San Diego) are very similar sides. Both are active and also have numbers to where we will get two games in and some times three games in when we play them.  It’s going to be competitive this year.

RR: Is the fact that there are a number of quality clubs in your area creating issues in building up clubs that can sustain long periods of success, or does that just add to the competition?
LA Rugby: The credit has to go to SCRFU here to organize the leagues to ensure there are limits on new clubs being brought in. That will help with parity, numbers, and also push players wanting to play to one of the numerous existing clubs in the LA area. LA is large, but there are a number of clubs. For some transportation may be an issue, but clubs like ours can work with player and coordinate rides to get them to training, so to be able to play with existing clubs vs trying to put new ones up near a few guys.

RR: Do you have some players you feel could or should be considered for the select sides/Griffins? Who? And how do you feel that the Griffins will help SoCal rugby?
LA Rugby: YES! This will be a big plus! There is a big push to help build this program and it will help all the clubs. The select sided will help players to showcase for more of a national audience and that along will get more guys to take up the game as now they can not just play but if good enough they can play for the selects and get seen for other great opportunities. We think it can help also draw younger players to stay with the game. We do have a number of players interested and we feel there are a few who have a good shot at making the side including some young players.

RR: How strong is the LA Rugby Youth program and how much does that play/help in getting your side to the next level?
LA Rugby:  We didn’t really have an official youth program until six years ago. The return on investment has taken over four years or more, but it’s now starting to pay off. We have our own players now coming through the ranks and developing. They are tied in with the club and culture. We now have guys starting to come to the men’s side. We’ve been working to mix them in during 7s so they don’t suddenly come into to compete for a spot on the 15s without knowing guys. One of the guys we mentioned Dejuan Johnson is one of those guys who’s come through our system and is being transitioned into the men’s side.  Having a youth program helps with sustaining numbers which we need to stay competitive.

RR: How does having year round rugby help in prepping for the season and how do you get guys to stick with it year round?
LA Rugby: We pretty much have our off season run the same as the regular season with training on T/TH so that doesn’t change. During the summer we do the same for 7s. We do move to more of a social aspect in September and October with touch on the beach (August-October), fundraiser and/or more social stuff.
We have a standing team CrossFit session every Wed (but the guys can workout on their own as well). We start to get back into training for 15s in November with our pre-season and get read for the season.  We have a social side and a culture which really helps us keep guys together in the off season and to do the work year-round.

RR: Last words to the readers out there???
LA Rugby: We are one of the oldest clubs around and we work to operate at a high level both on the pitch and off. We do leverage the social side with our youth and make sure it’s a fun atmosphere. We want to get to the next level such as our own pitch, club house, etc. so while we aren’t a professional club we don’t feel that we can’t act like it.

For anyone in the area, we are near the beach (a plus)! For anyone who lives in the south bay area of LA (Hermosa Beach to Torrance) we encourage them to come out. Especially guys who played in college or guys who are done with college and are looking to play a sport still. We tell guys don’t put it off. Play now, as your youth will pass, and the best time to play is when you are still young (although you can play this game for life).        

LA has been to Nationals twice in the past few years which is not easy in SCRFU, so we are a high level club, but we are a club!  We know each other, play with each other, hang out, train, etc. There are other clubs who are also competitive but they’ve lost the club side to them, it’s just play and go home.  We play, we do the social and we have fun. We are a club!

Thanks to Chris and Nate from LA Rugby. They are starring up soon, so if you want to play with the rugby check out their website which as information on their youth and men’s sides as well as information on the up coming training/practice. Follow them on Twitter @LARugbyClub. Good Luck Boys.