Pelican Rugby Getting Back on the Map at Gulf Coast 7s

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By Stephen Sheehan, FRU Media Intern

For years, the Gulf Coast 7s Tournament was a staple of the Florida 7s circuit. The tournament’s host, the Pelican Rugby Club, put on strong showings before struggling in recent years.

But after winning the tournament last weekend, the future looks bright for Pelican RFC.

Tour Director Jim Orandash, who took over coaching the side in October, couldn’t have been more pleased with the way the tournament turned out.

“Last year we didn’t even have a 7s team,” he said. “We wanted to re-establish the Gulf Coast 7s and bring the tournament back to St. Petersburg.”

The tournament featured five women’s teams and nine men’s teams, as several of the men’s clubs could not participate at the last minute. Orlando won the women’s division and “played their hearts out” according to Orandash.

The former Division III football player is just one of many passionate members of the Florida rugby community, and it’s easy to see why the Pelicans are back on the right track. Orandash was introduced to rugby after college and latched on with the Pelicans in 1992 before shifting to coaching in the late 90s. He spent some time developing the program at Eckerd College before moving on to coach Tampa Krewe in both 7s and 15s before returning home to the Pelicans.

With the team down to just six players when Orandash was asked to turn things around, and while the journey is far from complete, the club’s victory at Gulf Coast 7s was certainly a noticeable step in the right direction.

The Pelicans went 5-1 on the weekend, with their only loss coming to the USF Memorial All-Star team that they ended up facing in the finals.

“The finals came down to the wire,” Orandash said. “In the last seconds of the game they were going to score but we were fortunate to get a knock-on about five meters outside of the try zone. It was a hard-fought match.”

With a talented group of athletes and a strong administrative core, the Pelicans are trending in the right direction as they look to get back to playing D-II rugby.

Besides his own squad, Orandash singled out the Indian River club as one that made a strong impression on the crowd.

“They’ve been in a rebuilding mode but they were tough,” Orandash said. “The score was 0-0 at half. We went on to win handily but they came out and played their hearts out.”

For a self-described rugby junkie who has experience both as a player, coach and administrator, Orandash is excited more than ever to be part of growing the game from within the Sunshine State.

He highlighted the great work done by Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Boca to establish strong youth programs and noted that both Tampa Krewe and Sarasota are looking to follow suit. The sport should only gain more traction with the 2016 Summer Olympics, when rugby 7s will make its return to the world’s premier sports display.

“Once we get the youth involved, we’ll be able to make our club stronger and more money will come into the state,” Orandash said. “The FRU and USA Rugby are really making a difference in making the sport more structured. I think rugby is really going to explode in the next five years.”

Lucas Baistrocchi Growing the Game from the Ground Up

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By Stephen Sheehan, FRU Media Intern

Most boys grow up wanting to be a rock star, baseball player or maybe even an actor. For Lucas Baistrocchi, his life’s dream has always been about rugby.

From the time he first picked up a rugby ball at the age of 5 for Manuel Belgrano, a club in his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to most recently suiting up for the USA Rugby Collegiate All-American team, rugby has been the focus of Baistrocchi’s life.

His rugby journey started back in Buenos Aires, and also included stops with Stade Francais, Nido de Aguilas and Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile. But it wasn’t until 2006 when he moved to Weston, located in South Florida, that Baistrocchi’s rugby aspirations really took off.

With an intense hunger to develop his game, Baistrocchi searched for clubs around the area to play with. However, he couldn’t satiate his appetite and even considered playing men’s rugby with the Ft. Lauderdale club. Not yet 16, he was ineligible to play for Fort Lauderdale. So, as he’s done his entire life, Baistrocchi took it upon himself to grow the game.

With the help of a teacher at his school (Cypress Bay High), and a few friends, the group started the Weston U-19 club. For three years, Baistrocchi not only starred for the team but he also started and coached the Weston U-14 team alongside some of his close friends.

“Luckily, the small operation we started went on to expand and now the kids I used to coach are developing into outstanding rugby players and adults,” he said.

Baistrocchi’s list of accolades from his early playing days include playing for the Florida Thunder U-20 on a North Carolina tour, playing for Rugby Academy of America U-20 against Georgia U-20 as the curtain opener match for the Rugby World Cup Qualifier game between USA and Uraguay in 2009 and playing for the Florida Juice U-20 against a New Zealand touring side. It was through his experience with the Juice playing at Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest that Baistrocchi would be introduced to the University of Florida Men’s Rugby Club’s coaches and players—a moment he will never forget.

“After I met Coach Ken Simmons and Gary Byrne and was introduced to the elite group of players representing the university, I knew that’s where I wanted to study,” he said. “I wanted to be part of that family at all costs.”

Ultimately, Baistrocchi’s dream came true and he quickly became an integral member of the Gators squad. During his four-year career at UF, he enjoyed both individual and team success, often through an incredible work ethic that trickled down to his teammates.

Matt McGee, who played alongside and also lived with Baistrocchi, was floored at his teammate’s dedication both on and off the field.

“He was so strict with his nutrition and measured and tracked every little thing that went into his body,” McGee said. “He’d stretch and foam roll multiple times a day, did yoga and anything that was necessary to get back to full strength. He watched film all the time, and it showed as his knowledge of the game is impeccable.”

Robert Roux, who played rugby for the Gators for five years, met Baistrocchi before he had even been accepted into UF and immediately knew there was something different about him.

“Even though I had only been playing rugby for a year, I could tell he was a special player,” Roux said. “He already had all the rugby skills needed to be a great rugby player in college, but that didn’t stop him from working harder than anyone else. During the four years I’ve known Lucas, I have seen him develop into an extraordinary rugby player but more importantly I watched him become a great leader in the club and a person who everyone can aspire to be.”

With Baistrocchi dictating the game at flyhalf, the Gators captured three Florida Cup championships, won the inaugural SCRC championship, made two appearances at the Collegiate Rugby Championship and won second place at the SCRC 7s Championship. Of course, he couldn’t have done it without the help of his teammates, coaches or his father, who he named as his biggest inspiration.

“My father cut his playing career short when he suffered an accident working underwater,” Baistrocchi said. “Ever since I was born he has been there for all of my accomplishments. Just watching him succeed in the professional world and making my mom and siblings happy serves as my constant motivation to improve as a person and make him proud every single day.”

While many players are satisfied with just playing rugby in college and perhaps for a men’s club after graduating, Baistrocchi has been and continues to be intimately involved with growing the game in the United States. He interned with Florida Rugby Union, where he got a firsthand glimpse at the dedication it takes to help grow the game he’s loved since the age of 5.

“Getting involved with the day-to-day operations and all the planning involved to grow rugby in Florida gave me a better insight to just how hard people like Evan Haigh work to expose our athletes to higher-level rugby,” he said. “During my time as an intern, I was able to sharpen my time management, organization and research skills. These skills are fundamental to success in any aspect of life, so I believe that any time I was able to work on them I got better as a person and as a player.”

Following his final game with the Gators in the SCRC semifinal against LSU, Baistrocchi set out follow his dream of working for USA Rugby. The sport management major went through a thorough application and interview process with the organization before the exciting news came. This summer he’s working in the Youth Development department, which is a great fit with his experience starting the club in Weston.

“Moving to Boulder was a smoother transition than I thought, and so far I’m loving it,” he said. “To see rugby grow across the nation is my motivation to always give 100 percent in everything I do.”

Baistrocchi’s summer has been jam-packed, as he was named to the USA Rugby Collegiate All-American team after a grueling four-day training camp that he described as one of the toughest moments of his playing career. Never one for settling, Baistrocchi’s ultimate goal is to be an Eagle.

“I don’t think there is a greater honor than standing with the best of the best in the country representing the United States of America,” he said. “Our generation has the power to move American rugby in the right direction and eventually compete with tier 1 nations. I think we are getting very close to that and I want to be able to say that I was lucky to be involved in that movement.”

Of course, there comes a day where any athlete’s playing days come to an end, but Baistrocchi hopes to be one of the pioneers of growing the game on the home front. He’s a classic example of never forgetting where you came from.

“The dedication and passion that many of the FRU members have for this sport is very encouraging for the future of Florida Rugby,” he said. “I believe that the state has some of the best athletes in the nation, and due to geographical distances they are hardly ever recognized. If I can help other players from Florida reach out and play competitive rugby at a higher level I think I can become a small part of the movement to put Florida Rugby on the map.”

Nominations for Men’s VP

We are soliciting nominations for a new Men’s VP until July 6. On July 8 we will post the candidates and their bios to be available for review until July 13. Voting will take place online from July 14 to July 19.  Interested candidates should send in an email with their intent to run along with a short description of what experience they have that will make them a good candidate for this position, and if there is anything else they feel may be pertinent to the position, such as ways to improve men’s rugby in the state.  Below is a description of the position, but the ideal candidate is someone that is fair and unbiased. They will assist with dispute resolution if and when needed, and is able to respond to emails/inquiries within 2 business days at a maximum. Our previous VP, Frank Tito, needed to step down, but he is an excellent example of someone who was level-headed and fair to all parties. Please send nominations to President Kerri O’Malley at floridarugbygu@gmail.com.

VICE-PRESIDENT MEN’S RUGBY. The Vice-President Men’s Rugby shall perform all duties incident to such office and other duties as may be required by law, by the Articles of Incorporation of the FRU, or by these Bylaws, or which may be prescribed from time to time by the Board of Directors, including, but not limited to, (1) being the primary person of contact for all men’s senior rugby football clubs in the FRU or those touring within the FRU, (2) organizing and coordinating league fixtures, playoffs, championships, and tournaments within all divisions of men’s rugby football in the FRU (3) organizing and coordinating select sides, (4) establishing such subordinate personnel as needed by the Vice-President Men’s Rugby to perform all duties incident to such office with the consent of the President. “Men’s Rugby” consists of all member clubs that play:
1. Men’s USAR Division 1 Senior Club Rugby;
2. Men’s USAR Division 2 Senior Club;
3. Men’s USAR Division 3 Senior Clubs;

AGM – Meeting Notes & Agenda

Florida Rugby Union 

Florida AGM 6/29/14 at 12PM

Renaissance Orlando Airport Hotel

  • Meeting Called to Order by Kerri O’Malley, President.
  • Quorum established by Evan Haigh, Administrator.
  • Agenda item number 7 moved to start of meeting. Motion FAU Women, Second Jax Women, unanimous vote.
  • Motion to accept Indian River Women by Fort Miami. Second Jax Women. Unanianmous vote.
  • Motion to accept Tallahasses Rugby Club into the GU (leaving True South). Motion Gainesville. Second Fort Miami. Majority in favor. St. Petesburg dissent.
  • No elections necessary. Two year term. 2015 vote for new directors.
  • Motion to all the board to fill resignation of Frank Tito at a later date. Motion Gainesville. Second FAU. Unanimous.
  • Termination of inactive clubs: Daytona Women, St. Augustine and Pasco.  Motion by Fort Lauderdale. Second by Jacksonville.
  • Revision of bylaw. “In the event of a conflict between FRU disciplinary policies and USAR disciplinary policies, or if FRU bylaws or policies are silent then USAR disciplinary policies will govern.” Motion Indian River. Second Jacksonville. Unanimous.
  • Committee to review FRU disciplinary policies include Amanda Laber, Roy Monk, and Jane Bolin.
  • Meeting called to close. Adjourned 3:15

Presentation Notes

Meeting Agenda

The purpose of the Annual General Meeting is to elect the Board of Directors and otherwise update the Members. Items for New Business must be submitted by Members in good standing, in writing to the Board of Directors no later than 30 days prior to the meeting. The Annual General Meeting shall be conducted as follows – links to reports are provided as hyperlinks follow agenda item:

1. The President will report on the affairs of the Union during the period since the last Annual General Meeting – will be provided in a written report 30 days prior to the meeting, highlights given at the meeting, and open for questions.

2. The Treasurer will report on the financial affairs of the Union during the period since the last Annual General Meeting – will be provided in a written report 30 days prior to the meeting, highlights given at the meeting, and open for questions. – Florida GU Budget May 2014

3. The FRU members shall elect the Directors for the following year

4. The FRU shall address any scheduling issues related to upcoming year, as a whole group or through subcommittee meetings organized by divisions – This will occur in specific break-out sessions for each division – 45′ total time for review and planning

5. The FRU shall address the budget related to upcoming year – 2015 budget – Draft, still in revision

6. The FRU shall consider any new business

  • Termination of inactive clubs (added to agenda July 23, 2013) – Kerri O’Malley
  • Revision of Discipline Section of by-laws to be consistent with USAR policy (added to Agenda April 18, 2014) – Kerri O’Malley

7. The Members will consider any applications for Union membership by new clubs

8. Review of procedures for confirming and requesting referees – Roy Monk, FRRA – added by Kerri O’Malley April 1, 2014

9. Breakout sessions – Club improvement – 20′ each (added April 1, 2014) by Kerri O’Malley

  • Club Management – Jane Bolin
  • Coach education – Evan Haigh

Florida Burn Turn up The Heat at Fiji 7s

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Coaching and playing 7s has been the focus of Brian Richardson’s life. For the past 10 years, he’s played and coached for Daytona Beach Rugby, leading the team to three consecutive top-10 finishes from 2006-2008, including a plate championship over the Super League Chicago Lions in 2008 and a bowl championship over Super League OMBAC in 2012. 

Despite Daytona’s frequent success, the club saw its captain retire, co-captain move to Denver and many of the players play Rugby League for the Central Florida Warriors during the summer. So with the rugby desire still burning and many players from around the state still looking to play 7s this summer, Richardson, the Florida Director of 7s, embarked on a quest to put together a competitive 7s squad that will try to qualify for nationals.

Of course, with Florida’s official color being orange, he named the team the Florida Burn and the early results have been promising.

The Burn, who mostly consist of players who Richardson coached from Daytona, recently won the Fiji 7s tournament in Miami a few weeks ago. They took down a physical Fort Lauderdale squad that had a strong showing itself in Miami.

While many clubs benefit from continuity and familiarity, the Burn aren’t as lucky. 

“Most of the players like this have been strong players for their own club teams and sometimes have a hard time deferring to players with better skills in a certain area,” Richardson said. “I feel I have developed a simple system that caters to players’ strengths and hides their weaknesses.”

One of the biggest challenges is actually finding enough players to travel. Considering the team typically shows up early for tournaments to practice and work on game plans, it’s impressive that the Burn are able to play at such a high level. 

Despite the uncanny practice schedule (or lack thereof), the Burn put on a sensational showing in Miami. Richardson said the team started with just seven players in the first game and made zero mistakes against Miami in the first half before the rest of the team showed up. He was happy with the Burn’s strong start against Fort Lauderdale in the third pool game before the ball took some bad bounces and the team lost its composure.

Luckily, the Burn got their act together against Orlando, going up 24-0 before conceding two late tries. The win set up a rematch against Fort Lauderdale, who won a thrilling sudden-death semifinal game over Boca to get to the championship.

Even though the starting seven logged a ton of minutes on the day, they torched Fort Lauderdale by a score of 33-0.

“We executed in all areas, even set pieces and structures where we did not have lots of practice,” Richardson said. 

A few players stood out in Miami, including captain and lead recruiter Jeff “Moose” Brill from Krewe and Adrian Salazar, who captained the squad in Miami.

“He had a very strong game from tight head, winning battles in the scrum, running down a breakaway and forcing a turnover in the try zone,” Richardson said of Salazar. “When your tight head can lead a stat sheet, you will win a lot of games. It really was a team win and the players became comfortable in their roles, embraced their roles and excelled in their roles.”

The Burn hope to build on their cup championship in West Palm this Saturday at Surfin 7s. The team will debut their uniforms this weekend and enter the tournament battle-tested. 

“We should have a deeper roster and will put aside an overtime semifinal loss to Orlando at Indian River and a semifinal loss vs. USF at Todd Miller,” Richardson said. “It’s cliché to say those losses hardened us, but for a team that thinks they should win, to lose but come back stronger is a lesson learned not to take anything for granted in 7s.”

If the Burn can outright win the Florida Cup at Surfin 7s, they can qualify for New Orleans where they could win the first ever Southern Conference Championship. If they win the SCC, they would fly to Seattle three weeks later, but finding the funds is a challenge. 

Luckily for the Burn, Richardson is a well-established rugby pillar not only in Florida but around the United States. He started playing for UCF in grad school after playing four years of Division III football. His playing experience includes stops at the Florida Select Side, South All-Star 7s team, Orlando Rugby and Daytona. He also has been involved as a coach and administrator and is proud to have had six players over the years invited to try out for the Eagles 7s pool team. 

As the Florida Director of 7s, Richardson organizes and schedules tournaments for the summer 7s season. He hopes to add a High Performance 7s team that will play year-round. Growing the game is one of his main goals, with the Burn being a prime example. 

“The goal is to get players from not just the Burn from Florida on Team USA and to host more high-level 7s tournaments in Florida.”

Annual General Meeting Reminder

This is a reminder that the Annual General Meeting will be held this upcoming Sunday, June 29th, in Orlando.  Details can be found at the following link:

http://floridarugbyunion.org/fru-annual-general-meeting/

Each team should send a representative, preferably President and Match Secretary, as we will be discussing the schedules for the upcoming fall & spring. The format for these competitions will be decided in group break-out sessions during the meeting.

Coach Gordon Campbell Brings Wealth of Experience to USF Rugby Program

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By Stephen Sheehan, FRU Media Intern

In the game of rugby, experience means everything. Luckily, the University of South Florida happens to have one of the most well traveled coaches around in Gordon Campbell.

Campbell has served as head coach of USF’s rugby club for 10 years—just a snippet of his 60-plus years around the game.

“My first match playing rugby was in the 1950s. My last match played was in the 1990s,” Campbell said.

His playing career included stops in England, Australia and Japan. For Campbell, who knows intimately the challenges of coaching players who often don’t learn what a scrum or ruck is until college, there’s a critical difference between rugby in the United States versus abroad.

“When I was 14-15 years old, I was playing 15-25 matches a year,” Campbell said. “When I was in Australia, we had five men’s senior teams, two college teams and maybe one other junior team. It’s been 26 years since I’ve left there and there are now over 20 teams.”

While most American kids grow up playing football, basketball, baseball and other traditional sports, rugby is typically low on the totem pole, if at all. It’s that experience gap compared to other countries that has held the United States back.

Despite the challenges, Campbell’s USF squad continues to show well in both 15s and 7s competition under his careful watch.

USF made it to the cup final of the Todd Miller 7s tournament but fell to Orlando by a score of 19-5. The Bulls once again found themselves in the cup final at the Sunshine State Games after a thrilling extra-time win in the semifinal. Unfortunately, the Bulls came up short against the Tridents by a score of 26-17. Even though his team had to settle for second in consecutive tournaments, Campbell is proud of the team’s development even though the roster fluctuates depending on who’s in town for summer classes.

“We have a larger batch this year, so we were more able to select the better people and also have good reserves,” he explained. “The number of people we have who are pressing for selection means we can play our replacements with confidence.”

The game of 7s demands incredible levels of fitness, and USF’s practice are centered around one simple facet: running. No matter if it’s running with or without the ball, every drill during the team’s three weekly practices is based on sprinting.

It’s clear the team’s hard work is paying off through their final results. One of USF’s most dangerous threats has been Brandon Gonzalez, who scored six tries at Sunshine State Games and leads the team with 10 tries through three tournaments. Andrew “Raptor” Woolston trails by just one try and has also been a major threat with the ball in his hands.

Seeing the development of his players is sincerely a joy for a man whose life has been intertwined with rugby. Campbell is truly a teacher at heart, a thinker who tries to get his players to see and feel the game with their instincts.

“It’s important that you’re big and fast. You can’t coach speed, but you can improve speed. You can get in the gym and improve your bodyweight,” Campbell said. “A good, smart, big, fast player will most likely beat a small, fast player. But I believe playing rugby matches in a competitive environment will increase your rugby IQ. If you have a high rugby IQ, you can beat guys even if you’re not as big or as fast.”

Campbell also added, “The guy on the field is going to make the decision. All you can do is give them the tools to make those decisions and trust them to make the right ones.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the summer and the 2014-2015 year, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for the USF rugby program. Campbell said the team’s goal is to win at least one remaining 7s tournament. When summer 7s is over, the team will shift its focus to 15s, which is a totally different ballgame when it comes to building a talent base.

“Everybody’s going to have ups and downs unless you’re a team like Life or Arkansas State or Lindenwood that has the structure that they can go out and recruit,” Campbell said. “Florida, Florida State and other state schools don’t have the funding, so we’re very reliant on who gets into USF on an academic standard and then we have to convert them to rugby players.”

While back-to-back D1-AA champion UCF is set to lose a majority of its starters, USF is lucky to have 12 of 15 starters coming back for the 15s season. That represents a solid core, but the team must still recruit for depth purposes.

Whether its 7s tournaments or 15s competition, USF is in good hands with Coach Campbell leading the way. And even if his players don’t have aspirations to play after college, there’s always something to take away from being part of the rugby family.

“Playing rugby gives you life lessons that you need to learn if you’re going to be a successful person in life.”

Orlando RFC Off to Hot Start This Summer

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By Stephen Sheehan, FRU Media Intern

With nearby UCF winning back-to-back D1-AA championships in 15s, the city of Orlando has become a rugby haven of sorts. However, the Golden Knights aren’t the only successful rugby club to emerge from the area, as the Orlando RFC continues to put itself on the map.

Established in 1970, the Orlando RFC competes in the USARFU South Division II and Division III. Orlando also features the Lady Griffins, who were established in the fall of 2005. A staple in the local community, Orlando RFC is active in charitable organizations and hosts many different events and socials.

Daniel Gordon and Evan Haigh serve as co-coaches. Gordon coached Orlando’s 7s squad last summer before Haigh joined this summer. So far, the results have been fantastic.

The club claimed the men’s division title at the Todd Miller 7s in Orlando just two weeks ago, putting on a great show for their home crowd.

“I was really happy with our defense and the players’ commitment in every game,” said Haigh.

According to Haigh, the team trains twice a week with a focus on 7s game awareness and decision making. The early results have been promising, including a huge win over UCF at the tournament.

“Our standout game was the dominant win against UCF in the semi final,” Haigh said. “Sam Nelson scored three fantastic tries in that game.”

While Orlando’s success at Todd Miller 7s was certainly a step in the right direction, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

“Our weakness was the ability to focus throughout the tournament,” Haigh said. “We are still learning how to play 7s, so there are lots of things we can improve on.”

Ironically, Orlando was once the powerhouse 7s club in the state. The team is looking to build a strong and balanced club in order to get back to that mantle of Florida’s premier 7s club, Haigh said.

Helping Haigh in that quest are several key players, including captain Will Doherty and the speedy Daniel Forshee. Those players, along with 15s head coach Eugene Louw stand out as three impact members of the 44-year-old rugby club.

Orlando is lucky to have a coach with Haigh’s experience. He has played for several clubs across the world, including the ACT Brumbies U19s, Canberra Vikings, Currie RFC in Scotland, Darlington RFC in England, OMBAC in San Diego and Seattle OPSB.

His coaching resume also includes several high-end stops. Haigh coaches the Bermuda Mens 7s team at the 2013 NACRA 7s Tournament and also served as a coach at the USA Rugby Academy for both the men’s and women’s teams.

With a strong coaching staff, a dedicated core group of players and a hunger to reestablish themselves as a great 7s team, Orlando RFC has a clear direction for the summer. Earning the championship at Todd Miller 7s is simply the first step in what promises to be an exciting summer of 7s rugby.