The Runner Sports

Tadhg Leader: St. Louis Royals DIII Champion, Co-Founder Rugby Consulting USA

Very few in the United States combine the rugby acumen and passion for the sport as does St. Louis Royals player/coach and Rugby Consulting USA co-founder Tadhg Leader.

I had the opportunity to interview the captain of the Men’s DIII National Champion St. Louis Royals about playing DIII, the development in the US, and the Wolfhounds High School Rugby Clinic his consulting group is spearheading.

Jason Graves (JG): How long have you been playing rugby?

Tadhg Leader (TL): I started playing once I could crawl! I have two brothers all of a similar age so we would be playing sports all the time with rugby being the main one. As a result all of have had decent careers with Dara currently a top level professional with Connacht, winning a Pro 12 title last year.

JG: Who are your player and coaching influences?

TL: As a player I always enjoy watching Owen Farrell, he has all the skills and composure a world class player needs. Closer to home I always enjoyed playing alongside Robbie Henshaw. We spent a few years together at Connacht and every day he flicked the switch mentally once we started training and was looking to get the most out of the session possible. From a coaching perspective I learnt a lot from Pat Lam. He was big on doing the basics at a speed and accuracy other teams couldn’t. Nothing was too fancy but it was efficient. As a coach I spend a lot of time on laying solid foundations rather than looking at fancy plays. You have to learn to walk before you can run is a phrase I often use on the pitch.

JG: Is there anything in the US that compares to the Connacht Academy?

TL: I spent three years in the academy system. Two of those was full time with the Connacht first team. Currently there is nothing in the States that’s at a similar level to my knowledge. Hopefully if the MLR takes off they can get proper academies in place to develop the next generation of Eagles. I was fortunate to be in an amazing academy. We had a fantastic coach in Nigel Carlon and he developed the likes of current Irish players Robbie, Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dilane etc..

JG: I watched the DIII Championship match, you could clearly play at a higher level, why do you play DIII?

TL: Thanks. I’m currently wrapping up my studies at Lindenwood. I was deemed ineligible to play for the university due to my time with Connacht. So that was difficult to take but you have to move on. I spent last season playing in the ARP with the Wolfhounds but that was draining. I had to fly out to Boston or NYC at the weekends and at the end of the season I decided to pick up 21 credits so knew I couldn’t travel again. I was disappointed to leave the Hounds as it really is an incredible family club and have taken fantastic care of me. I’d highly encourage players to join them. St Louis Royals approached me and asked would I be interested in taking up a player-coach role. It was one of the best decisions I ever made for my coaching career but also for education. The guys were great to work with and really took everything on board. It was very pleasing to see how much they progressed over the three months, reaffirms for me as a coach that things are working! The fact the team voted me captain really meant a lot to me. Always a great feeling when you get the honor of leading the team. The Royals hold a special place in my heart for sure now. Some of the guys were so emotional once we won as they had been chasing the title for 10 years. I was privileged to be a part of the success. Great team but even better people!

JG: What surprised you the most about rugby in the US; good and bad?

TL: My biggest shock was seeing how serious the college game is taken. I saw the training programs\schedule of Lindenwood. It was very similar to that of the Connacht. Except that’s full time professional and you don’t have to worry about classes! Biggest shock in a negative was probably in the skill set of players. I’ve watched quite a number of games nationwide and I don’t believe there is enough of an emphasis placed on this facet of the game.

JG: What would you like to change about rugby in the US?

TL: The perception in certain quarters that the game is a social sport played by drunks. There are many guys who have jobs/study yet they put in more effort than some of the pros in Europe. These guys deserve more respect. Hopefully the MLR will provide a level of rugby that will make people stand up and take notice of the type of elite guys playing the game.

JG: Tell me a bit about the Wolfhounds High School Clinic. How did that come about?

TL: I have coached at the Wolfhounds for the previous two summers and noticed there was a number of people hosting camps etc… When we looked at what they were doing we believed we are capable of offering a superior experience for the player at a cheaper price. So we got to work on it a few months ago and have the likes of Olympian Carlin Isles and USA U20s captain/USA 7s player Malon Al- Jiboori assisting with the coaching. We also have some of the top college coaches in the area attending to assess the talent on offer in the region. So far the interest has been fantastic. People are amazed a clinic of this level is taking place in Boston! So we urge people to register before we reach our quota.

JG: Do you have any ideas on how to bridge the distance gap, how to scout players from coast to coast?

TL: Yeah that’s a major issue for USA rugby. Just the sheer size of the country is daunting. Region academies funded by USA Rugby would be ideal but I don’t think that’s realistic from a financial standpoint. If the MLR is a success you’d think more people would be keen to invest in the game and from there the academy system can develop.

JG: I’ve always said it’s not the rugby player or fan development they need to target but the ones that don’t know they are fans or players yet, what’s your approach to rugby recruitment?

TL: Yeah that’s massive, tapping into the non-traditional market. I just encourage people to talk about the game any chance they get. I’ve shown countless people clips of rugby and not one has had a negative reaction. Most question why they are only being exposed to the game now. Getting the Eagles game on primetime TV is absolutely essential. Thankfully the game vs Ireland was aired so that’s encouraging. If it’s in the public eye that will be a great recruitment tool. Dan Payne as CEO I think was a great choice and he has the passion to drive the game onto the next level and get the game into those untapped markets.

JG: What is Rugby Consulting USA all about?

TL: We are all about setting a simple structure that allows players to flourish. We harp on the basics but expose the player and coaches to ideas they have never seen before. Coming from a professional environment I was working with some of the world’s best coaches. A lot of the drills we do are ones we loved as a player and want the American players to experience them. We decided to start the business due to demand. A few teams approached Brian Moylett and myself asking could we run a few sessions for them. We obliged and really enjoyed it. We both had extensive coaching experience but never worked as a duo but we really clicked. Brian is an extremely intelligent forward who played to a high level back in Ireland so he can handle the forward stuff and I take the backs. Together we collaborated and run the attack and a defense system. So far it’s going to plan.

Our first major project together was coaching the St Louis Royals and we ended up winning the national championship. Obviously we were blessed to be working with a highly motivated group but we just looked to implement some structure and really challenged the guys to set their expectations higher than they did in previous years. We did a four-day clinic in River City, Iowa and there we worked players of all ages and abilities. We also sit down with the coach and discuss effective game plans and how best to implement them. Some regions are looking to have us come into town and work with the local youth teams, high school, college, and adults teams, male and female. We encourage this as more teams the merrier. We are both so passionate about coaching we want to be doing it 24-7!

JG: What do you find to be the biggest challenge for Rugby Consulting USA as you conduct your training?

TL: Sometimes it can be frustrating as some players overlook the basics. They want to progress onto the more advanced stuff before they are ready. Some rather practice behind the back off loads like Sonny Bill but fail to execute push pass over 5 yards. We are all for enthusiasm and players expressing themselves but there is a time and place! Thankfully we haven’t had this too many times but it does get under my skin!

JG: Let’s talk a bit about the Royals; what did this championship mean to the club?

TL: I touched upon it briefly earlier but it was a massive occasion for [the] club. The club lost the final in 2010 and some of the guys that played that day were back again. To get the opportunity to play alongside those guys was amazing. They were so emotionally invested in it. At times in the lead up we had talked about not letting emotions take over. We knew if we remained composed we would win, at times we let it get the better of us but overall the guys were great. Seeing some of the old boys crying at the final whistle really put it into perspective for me. Our 9 Danny Grzeskowiak hugged me after and said “Thanks for making my dreams come through,” that blew me away. No one person can take credit, the club had been building towards that title for many years and I was just thankful to play my role.

 

JG: St. Louis was well represented in the Finals and I know college powerhouse Lindenwood is there; what’s the rugby environment like in the area?

TL: Yeah it was fantastic to have the Bombers in the D2 final, plus the Sabers reached the 2nd last stage of Nationals in Arizona. So we had a few teams in the shake-up. Rugby is definitely on a high with the success of the clubs plus Lindenwood is always challenging for titles in 15s and won the 7s, both men’s and women’s. Now it’s about harnessing this positive energy and grow the game even further. If I had things my way I’d love to see all the clubs put a massive effort into developing youth rugby to ensure long-term success in St Louis. We at Rugby Consulting USA will be doing our upmost to try [to] inspire the next generation and build relationships with all the clubs in the area. We are not just here to make the Royals stronger but rather the entire rugby community.

JG: Do you find St. Louis area fans to be knowledgeable about the game?

TL: To be honest there isn’t a massive supporter base so I don’t come across many fans. The ones I do meet certainly are passionate.

JG: What’s an average attendance to a Royals match?

TL: 100 at best. Hopefully the recent success will help get more out to watch the guys in action.

JG: Do you think St. Louis could support a Major League Rugby club, maybe surprise people as the Columbus, Ohio suburb Obetz did?

TL: I think there is potential for something like that to happen but probably not in the first two years of the league. Another season like the one we just had in St Louis will go a long way to making it happen and it might inspire an investor to make it happen. For now let’s just focus on developing youth rugby in the city!

JG: How much media coverage do the Royals, Bombers, and Lindenwood receive in the local area?

TL: Not a great amount in the normal season but in the lead up to the finals some TV stations popped out to have a chat. We could do with more coverage but I understand the guys in the media have lots of things on their plate and fairly pay more attention to the higher level teams.

JG: Have you run across any players or coaches here in the US that deserve more recognition than they’re receiving? Undiscovered talent if you will.

TL: Yeah 100%. For example I coach a guy in Boston, Danny Collins who for one reason or another hasn’t been recognized at the next level. He’s only 23 and I’ve seen him tear apart ARP teams. Hopefully he will get an opportunity to display his talents soon. There are a lot more guys like Danny out there but due to the size of the country some slip through the cracks. I spent some time working with teams in Alaska last summer and there are a few very talented players up there too but have never got the chance to play at a higher level due to location I can only assume. Also I believe it’s vital you are at the right club or college to be given that chance. Sometimes the players coming from the perceived smaller clubs are overlooked. That happens in every country though. 

JG: Lastly, is there anything else about the Royals or Rugby Consulting USA that you want people to know about.

TL: ‘Rugby Consulting USA’ has worked with youth teams right up to men’s Eagle players. We have brought success to every team we have worked with and can do the same for your team. We are here to work alongside your current coaches rather than threaten them. Sometimes a fresh voice is exactly what a team needs. If you are interested please reach out to us at rugbyconsultingusa@gmail.com. Have a look at our Facebook page to get a better feel for who we are and what we are all about!

JG: Thank you Tadhg, I look forward to hearing more about you and Rugby Consulting USA in the future. 

 

 

-By Jason Graves