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Thursday, January 13, 2022

2021 Rugby PickEm Awards (The 2nd Annual RPA's)

A touch late on the "end of year" publication, but ... oh well. The deliberations were fiery, no stone was left unturned, and the final pieces to this year's awards have come into place. What a year 2021 was .., and where to begin?

In the face of a pandemic, the MLR went 99-0 (Commish's favorite stat), Gilly hoisted some hardware, the Pioneers got to compete in Tokyo after a year delay, PR 7's was launched, & the college game returned (even though the political infighting continues) ...

How does one cap a big year? The 2nd annual RPA's. No serious analysis involved, just some lighthearted shout outs to the general rugby community. Sit back, enjoy, and dive into the utter absurdity of handing out awards to the Rugby Media Industrial Complex (TM). Tommy NoPiks sits in on a night that captured the true journey that was 2021 ... saddle up!

P.S. If you're bored, be sure to click on all the hyperlinks ... what could go wrong?

 

It's an Awards Show 🤵

2021 RPA Awards



Step of the Year

Tadhg Furlong

Saucy

Putting 2/15th of the Scottish team on the floor with a nice double is quite the feat. The potato enthusiast shifts the big rig like a Transformer



Nate Augsperger

Blonde on Blonde Action

One of the sole highlights for the Eagles that fateful day, but a soul highlight for any scrummy who takes a dart every now and then. Something was on in the set piece, and the result was Damo Mackenzie's jock littered just inside the 20 year line (that's the red zone for you hard core footy heads that don't know gridiron)



Stuart Hogg

Hoggy knows how to dot down

Hoggy has oily hips, and he knows how to use 'em near the try line. Rugby PickEm has always backed Start Hogg since the day he personally tore out the hearts of the Eagles fans in Leeds, during 2015 RWC pool play. His (4x) step was just another in his long highlight reel.



And winner is  ........

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Tadhg Furlong

General Life Lesson, Don't Rile Up Props

Big boy plays hard and mad ... that's why the graceful open field footwork really hit home 💪 Congrats to Taidg for Step of the Year.



MLR Mascot of the Year

Woodgy - New England Jacksquatch

"Ma'am can I show you to your seat? ..."

Pilgrim New England farmers once told tales of a strange sasquatch "creature" that roamed the forests ... a solitary creature, who was rarely seen ... until the local MLR franchise hosted their fist game in Weymouth MA. Now, Woodgy is a mainstay at all FreeJack games (just great with the kiddos).




Koa the Warrior Panther - Utah Warriors

Koa ... Not Afraid to Mix it Up

Koa made a splash this year on his motorbike. But don't let this big cat's antics fool you. He's not afraid to throw down.





Rucky - Seattle Seawolves

Got Rings?

Rucky is without a doubt the most vocal MLR mascot on twitter. He has a mind of his own and isn't afraid to spout off! Just look into those eyes...





Scratch - Houston SaberCats

Friendship Agreement? I thought this was supposed to be a RIVALRY???

We are still in shock and reeling from the above photo. We've always been a #TeamScratch podcast, but this one just stung ... No room for friendship in Texas. Anyone crazy enough to dress up as a game day mascot should know that.



And winner is  ........

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Koa the Panther Warrior

Love it, hate it ... Gotta respect the sack on Koa the Warrior Panther

Can Koa lead this team to winning the West? Time will tell. Congrats to Koa for winning the MLR Mascot of the Year.




MLR Fan of the Year

Broccoli Man (Seattle)

Broccoli Man showed his versatility this year ... well versed in all the produce (you can't escape those eyes)


The Big Guy (RUNY)

Remember when they played out on Coney Island? The Big Guy does.


The Cohort (SD Legion)

Just some casual fans .... headed into battle.


And winner is  ........

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The Big Guy


I've always been partial to the old RUNY logo ... the hat just pops. The Big Guy is the MLR Fan of the Year #LetTheBigGuyCook




MLR Podcast of the Year

W Nation 


Jarom & Banksy take the loyal Utah fan base through the nail-biting season as the Warriors reached the MLR playoffs for a 2nd time in the team's history. There were plenty of arrhythmias in Warrior Nation as the cardiac kids kept the league on their toes each week. These two guys love the podcast game so much, they stuck their faces on the branding. That's commitment fellas.


Road To Glory


Bri is the rock and Roly is the wildcard, but collectively you get top notch week to week insight into everything OGDC. If you play rugby in the Beltway, this is a must listen.


Cat Chronicles 





Can you spot which above podcast is the one produced by the Houston SaberCats? There are evidently lot's of cats being chronicled all the time on the internet, but host Coty Davis and in-stadium announcer / hype man Raheel Ramzanali (previous guest on Rugby PickEm) keep the feed as fresh as possible. No franchise has been through more front office turnover that Houston, and thanks to the  #CatChronicles we get an inside look at the new Saffa staff that have taken the reigns for the 2022 season.


And winner is  ........

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The Road to Glory Podcast. 


A massive shout out to Brianna Kim who hopped on the phone to accept her virtual Rugby PickEm award for MLR Podcast of the Year





Who Is Winning The Rugby Streaming Wars?

FLO Rugby

"And how does this image make you feel?"

Flo has a paywall, and is extremely unpopular in the US rugby fandom landscape. Yet, they continue to double down and purchase additional rights to more rugby content. If you can source a login/password from a fellow rugger, then your obviously going to tune into the Eagles test matches ... but people shouldn't have to pay to watch rugby in the US. Not now,  .. while were trying to land multiple RWCs.


Peacock

All the Rugby One Could Want ... If you like Northern Hemisphere Slop

If you're a Premiership junkie, Peacock is a must. NBC has always covered the Olympics, so Peacock will always give you the best coverage for when 7's rolls around (every 4 years). However, another paywall and monthly charge. Not as pricey as Flo, but still a cost.


The Rugby Network (TRN)

Hooray, finally a site where you don't have to hand over your CC for access! The Rugby Network is a perfect blend of live game broadcasts, mid week content (analysis, talk shows, highlight reels), game reports and more. They have now taken on the professional league in Japan (Japan Rugby League One ... formerly Japan Top League). This OTT network seems to have it all.


And winner is  ........

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The Rugby Network!

Congrats again to the MLR, the Commish and the OTT network for building a vehicle to facilitate growth and awareness in the early years of a budding league (... plus it's free).

You don't get put on the Sports Pro OTT shortlist for "Platform OTY" AND "Best NEW Platform OTY" for no reason ... 


TRN is here to stay and although they didn't get picked to win either of these categories, the short list is the short list... and now they have won an even more prestigious Rugby PickEm Award (the trophy is in the mail).







Best Cross-Over Podcast of the Year

There's only one XO podcast that we know and love. 

The sole nominee and winner is ....
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In a world of hugs and kisses, you have to know how to XO (crossover). Colton (and his massive social-media team of interns) continue to thrive on the DNVR Rugby podcast ... As the Raptors continue to rebrand, the MLR continues to dip their toes in the elite talent coming through the camp. The sky is the limit for this years RPA winner. 

One's a World Class Podcaster ... One's a USA 7s Eagle ... tough to spot the difference tho





Rugby's Hardest Worker

Too many worthy names to limit the nominees. If we are to host the Men's RWC in 2031 (it seems certain at this point), there is a lot of "nose to the grindstone" type of work that needs doing in the next decade. Here's a list of people that are already getting after it ...

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis coaches different age groups (grassroots to elite test rugby) and is always looking to #GrowTheGame

Steve Lewis is a rugby staple in NYC and the 7's game at large. We need more experienced coaches like him to help expand the grassroots effort on all fronts.



Pat Clifton




Pat used to blog on RugbyToday / RugbyMag, but has now taken up more operational leadership roles. Wearing multiple hats is part of the entrepreneurial challenge, and Pat certainly seems to enjoy those challenges.



Commish Killebrew

Pictured Left to Right: Stacey Paetz, Commish, Gilly

After we received an open ended invite to HQ from Commish, we decided it would be rude to to take him up on his offer in 2022. When Rugby PickEm heads to Dallas to witness the birth of Jackals in their inaugural season, you can bet that we'll reach out to one of Rugby's Hardest Workers and wear his MLR Commissioner hat for the day.



Alex Goff


Grassroots rugby reporter Titan, Mr. Goff went through plenty of felt tipped markers in 2021 with his infamous whiteboard. His insights into the high school and college rugby landscape are of great value to the average American who passionately follow the game domestically.



Ryan Kirby (on Twitter)

No Shortage of teams to pull for ..

@USARugbyfan18 may be the most consistent Twitter commenter in the game. Give him a follow and watch him go to work. 





Matt McCarthy


No one goes as hard in the content game than the USA Rugby Media GOAT. Matt is one of the best to ever do it, and his efforts tracking the NCR and D1A college rugby alignment (or lack thereof) are much appreciated by anyone involved in college level rugby. 




Brianna Kim



OGDC Podcaster, sideline reporter, Bri knows no bounds. She's got a knack for reading the vibe of the game and effectively communicating that feeling with the audience. 




And winner is  ........

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Steve Lewis






Sir Stephen Lewis (rumors have it that he's been knighted for his efforts) knows that if we're going to successfully host a Rugby World Cup (or a couple) here in the states, we have to step our game up at the grassroots level. He's tirelessly working to grow and develop the game, so we decided it's only fitting that he wins the RPA for Rugby's Hardest Worker.



Independent Podcast of the Year


Stories Unleashed Podcast - Chez Waihi

Kiwis love fresh kicks

Chez is a young podcaster from Aotearoa who seems to have the knack for drawing out the best stories from his guests. The podcast feed launched only a few months ago, leading off with insightful interviews with the multifaceted David Still and the lightning fast Malik Bryant. Excited for what's to come from this young content creator. While he's plugging away thousands of miles across the globe, we'll be watching his growth as a podcaster!



Rugby on the Rise - Max Dacey

Max repping Fort Hunt Rugby back in the day ...

Max Dacey, aka "Fear the Ears" got one thing right .... The ears are meant to be feared. 

But it's not just astute listening skills that drive the Rugby on The Rise podcast. Max has walked the walk as he advances his professional rugby career. His conversations with young players seem to come at ease to someone who has already walked the path. A rising tide lifts all boats ... and in this tide, Max Dacey is a full moon.



Rugby Hive - Dallen Stanford & Robin McDowell 


Rumors are swirling that Dallen has taken up beekeeping and really leaned into the podcast branding. If he's not calling a game, or helping the MLR churn out content, then you can find him collecting honey with Robin McDowell via the sweet nectar of rugby tales past. If you're a part of the #HiveMind ... well be sure to get your merch!

And winner is  ........

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Rugby on The Rise - Max Dacey


Subscribe to 'Rugby on the Rise'

A special thanks to Max who came in studio for an in-person interview. His podcast is a great platform for young rugby players to listen and learn about their craft. If you aren't listening, you are now. Congrats to Rugby on The Rise for the Independent Podcast of the Year

Thanks to all the Rugby PickEm faithful who are still riding with us since 2018. Many exciting things to come in 2022 and beyond.

PICKEM!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Matt Johnston - International Sevens Game Analyst

As professional rugby intersects with the information age, statistical trends and historical data are crucial to the success or failure of a professional team. At the test level, coaches and selectors are handed a treasure trove of information about their player pool. All of this comes to life on the back of a talented rugby analyst. 

Titan of Rugby Analysis: Matt Johnston

Matt Johnston (Aussie by birth, but currently morphed into a global ambassador for footy) is one of the most knowledgeable rugby analysts I had ever met to date. Better yet, he was patient and kind enough to walk me through some of the areas about rugby video analysis where I was completely clueless. In a couple weeks time, he instilled the confidence in me to start flying the drone myself and biting off an additional role in the U-23s fall camp. To top it all off, he's a class bloke and one of the more easy going human beings I've met. 

Here's a snap shot of what we covered in the conversation.

How does World Rugby design a player pathway?

It's not just getting into the right locations to scout talent, but making sure that they're accessible to the young players of the region. According to Matt, "You've got to build the base of the pyramid, then you can help push people toward the apex."


How does World Rugby grow the game (outside of player development)?

Awareness, Enjoyment, and a lifetime participation in the game. We need people playing a full career of club footy, then picking up the whistle to coach, organize or officiate. Developing casual fans is important, but developing and retaining "fans for life" is also imperative.


What is it like being an analyst for a high performance team?

According to Matty "It's one of the best seats in the house." Matt got into analysis in order to help his coaching. He learned by sitting in with the best minds, and absorbing their knowledge, patiently asking questions and acquiring knowledge of how to break down film. Soon knowledge turns into know how. It soon became another form of literacy for Matt. 


How does an analyst balance what the see in the numbers vs. their "gut instinct"?

"The numbers aren't there to steer the direction of the conversation, but more to act as an accelerant." Matt knows and stresses the importance in allowing data to paint a bigger picture, but it's never a complete substitute to the bigger coaching picture. A good analyst will stay connected with the coaching staff at each possible moment to inform and educate them on what statistical data can help compliment their decision making.

Four screens, one set of eyes ... this analyst has a demanding job come game time

To anyone in the American rugby landscape who is interested in growing their skills in analysis ... The TIME IS NOW! Make some phone calls, get plugged in with your local expert. Or just head online and learn as much as you can from available online sources. No excuses, get on your horse and help #GrowTheGame !

Thanks again to Matt Johnston, a top bloke. If you see him at one of the International 7's stops, be sure to have a yarn!


PICKEM!


Monday, December 27, 2021

Isaiah Ashley (Rugby Rent Scholarships #1)

When you start something (without the full plan of what it's going to look like), you get results that are often unquantifiable. After all, you didn't establish the ground work. You don't know what a "success or failure" looks like. You haven't done the hard work that goes into laying out a coherent, justified, deliberate end goal.

Begin with the end in mind. 

And it's not just the long term vision ... good execution comes down to the little details. Long before we launched the  Rugby Rent Scholarships website in July of 2021, Isaiah Ashley had already been in touch about playing rugby out west. Pat Kane (North Carolina based rugby coach) connected us, and Isaiah got on his horse ... he showed up before the house had even begun it's full renovation. 

It would prove to be a summer of changes.

Big Man Can Rumble ...

Isaiah first gravitated to rugby in order to get out of football spring conditioning (smart AND honorable). Grimsley HS was one of 3 teams that offered in the Greensboro, NC area, and he immediately took to the game. His size was an immediate asset, and the ability to size people up is always a fun endeavor (... for the bigger guy ... usually).

Raised in a "football first" family, he accepted a football scholarship to Furman with intent of playing football and rugby, but after 4am alarms became pretty old (he also only touched the ball 3 total times ... exciting fumble recoveries), he narrowed his focus to the rugby pitch.

Isaiah did the work and transformed from a 300lb offensive tackle back down to a manageable mid 200 mark. Learning how to pass and get around the pitch is often the hardest part of the game for big fellas to pick up quickly. Isaiah made it a point to put in the reps to close the gaps in his game, and it showed in his time at Furman.

If you're gunna grow out your hair, just do it

Isaiah's time playing 7's with the Denver Barbarians was unfortunately cut short due to an ankle injury sustained in training. He made the most of his short stay in Colorado, rooming with Uncle Johnny and the Rugby Rent Scholarships house. Even as he was hobbled on crutches, he still managed to get his passes in each day in order to improve his craft.

He and Uncle Johnny gave glowing reviews of each other as roommates (espousing more and more wisdom with each trip to the bathroom), and Isaiah even gave us some insight into his content creation ... The Thiccman Inc. Podcast.

Thanks again to Isaiah for the great interview, and best of luck to him and his future rugby endeavors!

PICKEM!

PS Listen through the credit to hear Uncle Johnny talk about life as a Jimmy Johns Delivery Guru!


Stoke The Flame That Lights Your Life


End of Year Blizzard of Content ...

As is Rugby PickEm tradition, we give our listeners (and readers?) an end of year blizzard of content before the year ends. The following is an recap/update on the 2021 fall season. Over the next few days, we'll keep the feed fresh with some old interviews we did throughout the year. What a year it was.


Rugby PickEm stayed busy in the fall of 2021, but here are some behind the scenes stuff that has grabbed most of our time and attention.

1) Coaching Grassroots Rugby 

We've always been a grassroots first podcast. In the rugby world, one reaps what one sews. Spending time at the high school and collegiate level developing the game is essential. Over the past 5 years, we've been coaching the same group of kids since middle school. It has been a long and crazy journey, but all the hard work from the players resulted in a start-up high school team hoisting their first hardware!

2) Rugby Rent Scholarships

This newly launched initiative had a wild first fall season. There were some massive successes, and also some serious lessons learned during the first 4 months of operation. As inflation and the continued pandemic makes it harder and harder to find affordable housing, this initiative is all the more imperative to the success of young players in their 20's as they attempt to relocate their life to pursue the highest level of club rugby.

3) USA U-23 High Performance Fall Camp

Was privileged to have the opportunity to help manage a 9 week camp where some of the best young talent was assembled in Denver, CO. The goal was to introduce players to the professional environment, and show them what it takes to be a professional rugby player. From early morning weights, to 2 a day training sessions, to eating healthy and diving into the film, the players were pushed on just about every front. 

Some players arrived with the professional mindset already instilled in them. Some grew substantially over the 9 weeks. Others failed to rise to the occasion and squandered their opportunities. I learned so much about what goes into creative a high-performance / professional environment. The relationships garnered from this camp are invaluable, and I am excited for these young players to show the world what they can do on the pitch. Keep an eye out for some interviews to come in January as we lead into the 2022 MLR season!

4) Reading Books

Yes ... reading BOOKS! Not staring at screens or reading online articles on the phones / tablets. Let's get back to ink and paper! Here are some great reads that Rugby PickEm loved in 2021 ...

My Life and Rugby - Eddie Jones

- Eddie has seen it all. From the amateur's game developing into full blow professionalism, he navigates his career and gives insight into his brilliant rugby mind. If you live to coach like Eddie, this is a great read.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey

- Tired of spinning your wheels and feeling like you're just keeping your head above water? This book will help instill principles of effectiveness that have stood up for centuries.

Big Magic - Creative Living Beyond Fear - Elizabeth Gilbert

- Do you have a creative itch you've been wanting to scratch? Willing to produce some "content" in a world full of trolls and haters? Liz Gilbert brings you into her mind and passes on ideas that will make you think twice about caring what other think. Unleash that creative edge you've been storing for far too long. 

More content to follow (including Uncle Johnny's stories of being a Jimmy John's delivery specialist ... p.s. he was Freaky Fast).

PICKEM!