This Saturday Kern County Rugby is hosting the Kern Rugby Festival. Aside from this being a very large 7s tournament, it will also play host to one of the 5 National High School All American (HSAA) Regional Cup Tournament. These tournaments are for both boys and girls 15s. Bakersfield is one venue, the others being Pittsburg, Denver, Charlotte, and Boston.
Legendary Coach Salty Thompson will be at the Kern Rugby Festival this weekend. For those that don’t know Coach Thompson heads up the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy, as well as being the USA Rugby’ High School All Americans Head Coach! Salty and other scouts will be at Regional Cup Tournaments this weekend looking for the best 50 high school players to compete in the annual Stars and Stripes Camp & Game, July 21-25th at the University of Northern Colorado.
There will be 16 teams playing in the HSAA Tournament (both boys and girls) in Bakersfield. They will have 3 fields set up just for this; the festival will also have youth and adult 7s going on all day as well on 7 other fields which are just being used for 7s.
We got a hold of Coach Thompson to ask him specifically about the Kern Rugby Festival and the high school ruggers he’s coming from Arizona to see. Below is our short Q &A with Coach Thompson.
Rugby Republic (RR): What are you looking for in terms of players? Is there particular size/body type, specific rugby skill, speed, decision making? Are you looking for players who can play a specific style?
Salty Thompson (ST): The body types vary so much between positions but there are certain sizes that fit potential high level players. The front row needs to have size and mobility; between 5'10" and 6', 230 to 260lbs for a mature high school player. Our best high school locks are 6'6" and 240lbs and both are juniors.
Scrum-half and fly-halves are generally smaller but need to be able to tackle much larger players. Ideally centers range between 180 and 220b size in high school and 5'10" and 6'2". The back three, wings and full-back are generally shorter and fast, however the trend is towards taller and thicker players, 6' plus and as heavy as they can be without sacrificing speed!
All players need to have something that separates them from their competition. Any player capable of becoming a High School All American (HSAA) needs to standout from the norm on the field.
To answer the second part of your question with regards to skills, etc. I’m focused on the core technical skills, catch, pass, tackle, lines of running, evasiveness and contact skills are all important for all players. Decision-making, when to pass verses carry the ball, when to offload verses keep the ball in contact, whether to kick or run for a 9 or 10 especially are all important.
Scrum-halves and fly-halves need to control the tactical game and forward decision makers, calling line-outs need to show their ability to make the correct decisions. Different positions carry different skill sets.
RR: Is there a particular skill that you find leads to future success in young players?
ST: All core skills are equally important. So players need to work on developing all their skills.
RR: What have you found that has help high school players in their rugby future? Being athletic or really understanding how the game is played?
ST: Size, speed, agility, strength and power is always attractive and promise potential. However, knowing the game and being a skilled good decision maker is also paramount. The best prospects are athletic, have skills and game understanding.
RR: What advise do you have for young players who will be playing this Sat at the Kern Festival?
ST: Enjoy the day and games. I hope they play to help their teams be successful. Don’t play to the coaches/scouts, play for your team.
RR: Are there some prospects that you already have in mind or are you hoping to find some unknown stars?
ST: Northern and Southern California along with the Washington State Loggers have a lot of known prospects and proven HSAAs. The competitive match ups are among the best in the country so I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome. I know more players will emerge for 2016 at this event, so we are excited.
The Junior Varsity division has a lot of new talent on show and that's important for us to identify younger prospects at freshman and sophomore levels. The earlier we can identify gifted players the more time we have to develop their skills and test them in a highly competitive environment.
In closing we asked Coach Thompson why he is coming out to the Kern Rugby Festival this weekend? Coach Thompson said "It's an exciting time for rugby in the USA. Our young players are better skilled and committed then ever before. Still we have a significant gap between us and the best in the world. Our mission is to close the gap and help the USA become a dominant rugby nation. That means an investment in our youth."