How the men’s rugby team has changed their game
Photos from Silhouette Photo Archives
Following a successful 2017 campaign that saw the McMaster men’s rugby team bring home a provincial bronze medal, the Marauders will be looking to build upon that success. While the core program remains similar, there have been quite a few notable changes to the team in different areas.
“Every season there's a bit of turnover right,” men’s rugby head coach Pletch said. “We lost a few experienced guys, especially in some of our forwards up front. But we're quite happy with our first-year class this year. This is probably the strongest group that we've had sort of overall as a group in terms of our recruit class.”
Coach Pletch noted that the rugby team this year features a strong balance of players spread out in every position, which gives the team good overall depth. In addition to that positional depth, the team features a solid mix of upper-, middle- and lower-year players that make up this year’s roster.
“It's kind of where you want to be as a program, to sort of have these veterans and young guys,” said coach Pletch. “You know you have good performances during the season but you're also developing for the future. I would say this is the best-balanced group that we've had.”
As with any group, leadership is imperative to the team’s success. Being a large program of 60 players, that leadership is taken over by a group of six captains who are selected by the players.
“We do a postseason survey and we ask them questions,” coach Pletch said. “Things like who's the hardest worker on the team, who is the biggest rugby nerd, who kind of watches the most rugby. There's other stuff like who is the best academic student on the team. We have a kind of committee of captains and then I actually let the captains decide each week for the varsity game-day captain, like the one who does the coin toss and goes to speak to the referee but they kind of share the leadership as a team.”
Leading this particularly strong rookie class is wing EJ Rerri, who scored his two first career tries in Mac’s win over the Trent Excalibur on Sept. 9.
“He started the first two games for us this season,” said coach Pletch. “He is very athletic, he's got good game sense. He is a really great finisher, so if he gets the ball with a little of space there's not too many people that can track him down.”
In addition to solidifying the roster, coach Pletch continues to adjust how the program operates, tweaking how training camp is run and putting more of an emphasis on recovery, video and review in his fifth season at the helm. The team is also doing yoga regularly as part of their training.
A high school teacher when he is not coaching varsity rugby, coach Pletch has also been trying to implement an academic-inspired approach to coaching. He’s brought problem-based learning methods that are used by health science programs into their method for teaching the playbook to players. He was able to do so successfully this offseason and is seeing results already.
“We're really trying to get away from sort of the traditional, explicit style of coaching where the coach is basically just telling the athletes what to do,” coach Pletch said. “We're trying to do that with our coaching where the coaches sort of create different drills and games and looking at videos where we kind of set up the situation that we want the athletes to learn from and then we try to get them to problem solve and find answers for themselves.”
“I think it's a more effective style of learning and also players just seem to really enjoy it, I think they get sort of a sense of ownership from it,” coach Pletch added. “They enjoy being involved in the actual creation of what we're trying to do out there. The kids are having more fun I think than we've had in years past.”
In addition to changes on the field, the Marauders added a new member to their coaching staff in April. The Marauders welcomed back one of their own, Aaron Carpenter, who was recently named to the McMaster hall of fame and is Canada’s all-time leader in appearances on the senior men’s team. Pletch actually played with Carpenter during their collegiate days, and in this reunion, the new assistant has already made an impact in his short time with the team.
“It's great to have him back,” said coach Pletch. “He just recently retired from playing professional rugby in England and playing with the national team. So having a guy like that and just his technical and tactical knowledge has been a big bonus this year. He’s a Marauder through and through.”
As the team notched another win under its belt, winning 38-20 over the Brock Badgers over Homecoming weekend, there is still a lot of season yet to be played. As they move on, it is clear the team’s culture and makeup has prepared them to dominate Ontario University Athletics.