By Trevor Cassidy
I grew up in Rutland, Vermont: a small country town lying in the shadow of the Killington ski resort. These days however, you’ll find me flattening the turf in South Africa most Saturdays, playing rugby for South Africa’s second-oldest rugby club, Villager. This is my story on how I got here.
I played sports all my infancy and youth, starting with soccer, as my father was a soccer player and coach - and someone I owe a lot of my success in rugby to just due to the ethics and discipline he taught me. I also got lucky. I had the opportunity to begin playing rugby at a young age (14) compared to most Americans, who don’t discover rugby’s joys until they get to University.
I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but one day there was a sign-up sheet in my 9th grade history class room for a U19 rugby team. I don’t think I could sign that paper fast enough. On a wave of enthusiasm, the idea was eventually brought to the school board who unceremoniously refused it. But finally, we found a home in the local Rec department.
Five years later I was a fixture in the New York Rugby Club’s first team, playing in D1. It was the result of a series of events put in motion by Aussie, a coach and player at the Rutland Rugby club. Aussie played for NYRC when he first moved to the US from Australia, and put me in contact with a few current and former players of the club who helped me make it down to the city.
My love affair with the sport was in full swing, nurtured by then NYRC coach John Adelaine. I was taking lesser jobs just so I could have the time off I needed to play and train. John expected a lot from me as an up and coming young player and pushed me like I had never experienced before. We only won one game my first season with the NYRC, but the coaches and boys became like my family and I really began to understand rugby was fully about: a truly team sport with little room for ego. Everyone was on the same level on the field, and everyone hung out together off the field. It was perfect.
The summer following my first fall season at NYRC it was announced that myself and one of my best friends on the team, AJ Cush, were to be sent to the West Brisbane Bulldogs Rugby Club in Australia. Words couldn’t describe the excitement that I felt when this was announced. I had dreamed of playing overseas at a higher level to see how I measured up for a long time. The time we spent there was incredible. I ended becoming a regular in the top two teams at the club in only three weeks. It was by far the best rugby I had played in my life and I craved more. So much so that I decided to go back and play a full season at my own expense. It was 2008, I had just turned 21.
The season I spent in Australia changed my entire approach to rugby, and life to be honest. I decided I wanted to make a solid effort of making a career playing rugby. It was just a matter of finding a way of getting that started. A year later, I found that way when coach Danny Stephens arrived in New York.
Danny Stephens came to NYRC from Cape Town, South Africa where he helped coach Villager. That season he coached the NYRC was one of the most enjoyable seasons I had ever played with the club. I was constantly being challenged and learning new things at each session, as well as making great improvements with my technique on the field. When he returned the following spring to coach again, he mentioned that there were possible openings in South Africa that coming June/July. I jumped at the chance and began training harder than ever.
July 6th I was boarding a plane to Cape Town. Sitting on the plane I knew that this was the opportunity that I had been waiting for and could not waste. The coaching staff there comprised of coach Danny, former record-breaking French international prop Pieter de Villiers and former Blue Bulls coach Mike Bayley. I knew I needed to make a good impression and play my ass off if I wanted to be invited back. After a few weeks, and a horrible run of injuries I finally made it into the 1st XV playing 2nd row. I played like a madman and it worked: at the end of the season they invited me back for the 2012 season.
I have often been asked why I felt it necessary to go overseas to play rugby. The answer is that i simply play at a much higher level. Better coaches, players, and competition. That’s not to say we don’t have good coaching in the USA but it’s not at the same level or backed up by the same experience, and that extra experience can only help my chances of becoming an Eagle one day.
The obvious flaw in my argument is that I only played USA D1 and not Super League. But Super League doesn’t interest me. Ten league games for a full season, if you make the play offs, doesn’t make sense. You can’t properly gauge a team or a player over so few games, nor is it interesting for a player to put in all the work for such a stunted competitive season. Back in 2007 I played on the B-side for the Men’s NRU regional team, the last year they did men’s provincial teams. I loved it, it was amazing to get to play with those guys, but they did away with the regional competition and it’s a shame; it’s a great opportunity for players in D1 to get noticed by selectors who seem now only go to Super League games. It needs to be brought back.
I’m getting a better schooling in rugby by being overseas and Ii believe that more American players can do this. I also think it’s good for the US in the long run because when I’m done here I’m going to go back to NYRC and bring what I have learned to them. More players need to be doing this, it’s good for the clubs, it’s good for the kids coming up through the U19 programs and overall it’s good for USA Rugby’s profile to have players playing to a good level abroad. Hopefully the Eagle selectors will recognize such trips as well – that’s the idea anyway!
We have our first games soon. I’ll let you know how they go. But for now, there’s a line-out session to get to!
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