BY LIAM MADIGAN-FRIED
Recently, I wrote an article detailing how the PRO Rugby San Francisco squad has all the right pieces to be an early leader in the league’s inaugural year. Almost immediately, I got a few emails from readers who seemed to believe it would be Denver emerging victorious by the end of this summer.
So, I decided to delve into whatever information I could, and make a few observations as to what it could be that sends Denver over the top in 2016.
1) Denver’s ultimate success this season will be built upon the foundation laid by their Head Coach, Sean O’Leary.
Denver chose to reach into the collegiate pool of coaches to find their team’s first leader. O’Leary, who most recently served as Head Coach for the Notre Dame Rugby team, has also had coaching stints with the USA Eagle’s U-19 and U-17 squads, as well as other coaching positions with Northeastern and Boston College Rugby.
“He’s been working for Notre Dame with a lot of success.” Says Kieran Browner, a member of the Denver team media department when asked about whether O’Leary’s success could carry over into the professional level. “College in the United States is the closest to a full-time rugby environment you can get.”
That experience in a full-time rugby environment is exactly what will be needed, especially when it comes to guiding young players who are new to the professional side of the industry. But in the end, O’Leary is going to have to prove that his system on the pitch can succeed against the likes of other squads.
2) They’ve got southern hemisphere players who are too good to ignore
Early on in the international signing process, Denver made a splash when it inked former Springbok Pedrie Wannenburg to a tier-1 contract.
Most recently making his pitch appearances with the French Rugby Union team Oyonnax, Wannenburg made a name for himself by being a fierce back row player for South Africa’s Rugby Union team The Bulls, as well as getting a National Team cap over 20 times in his career.
Not too much longer after securing Wannenburg, Denver furthered its international talent arsenal with the signing of Newcastle Knights standout Timana Tahu. Tahu is an absolute beast of a human being, as well as a try machine, scoring over 121 times in his Australian club career, as well as getting capped several times for the international team.
What wins matches is ultimately getting points on the board. Both of these players have the ability to smash through defenses as well as to bring fierce opposition in the rucks. Look for many of the games this season to come down to the big plays made by the internationals.
3) Denver’s area clubs bring in a high-quality pool of talent.
Much like what the San Fran squad did with its collection of Life West Gladiators, Denver pulled much of its domestic talent from the clubs of the surrounding areas. Most notably the Denver Barbarians and the Glendale Raptors.
“The league wanted players for teams who were already established in an area. It’s a good thing (with the Raptors and The Barbarians) because they are the very best. Their level of play is such a high standard.” Says Browner in regards to some of the reasoning behind the large number of players from each club (7 Raptors, 5 Barbarians).
That high standard Browner mentioned will go hand in hand with the biggest advantage that these players bring to the table. And that is the knowledge they have of one another, and the subsequent chemistry that it brings with it.
Many of these players have not only played as teammates but as opponents as well. When you play as teammates, you focus on one another’s strengths. But with an opponent, you are studying their weaknesses. The perspectives being brought together by both sides should enable the club to be a much more cohesive unit, both on and off the pitch.
If Denver can capitalize on all the pieces they have, then San Francisco better be worried, as should all others.
About the Author
Liam Madigan-Fried is a rugby player from Boston, USA, currently attending college and playing for the Lyndon State Hornets RC. As a major of English and Film Studies, he tends to spend his time binge-watching Rugby, NFL and Trailer Park Boys. While writing articles for Ruck, he also runs his own exciting NFL/PRO Rugby Blog at www.penguintundrasports.com