Today, 16 rugby teams from across the nation will descend on Pittsburgh to compete in the Club 7’s National Championship game. Each team representative of the four major regions of the United States. The New Orleans Royale have fought their way into the National Championship games, finishing second in the South Qualifier with their only loss coming against Old White of Atlanta.
New Orleans enters into the competition facing one of the toughest pools in the competition. With perennial rugby powerhouse clubs like, San Francisco Golden Gate, Old Blue of New York, and 1823 (Columbus). They have quite a task ahead of themselves to get to hoist the championship cup.
Gift-Time Rugby Network was able to sit down and talk with New Orleans Royale captain, Bobby Johns, to get his perspective on the teams journey to the championship.
GTRN: Where did the concept for New Orleans Royale come from?
BJ: It was kind of the idea about putting a brand or some kind of a mascot that had been thrown around in officer meetings and whispers from prominent people in the club. So we kind of wanted to just put some kind of a brand on the 7’s season. Unlike some of the past seasons where we had the supple steppers or something that wasn’t even linked to New Orleans at all. So we wanted to come up with something a little different but was also linked to our New Orleans roots, our main XV’s club. So that’s where the New Orleans Royale was came up with.
GTRN: Was this the first year you created a primer side team?
BJ: Well, we had done it in the past. And we had a prominent group of players. But I think what really did it, at the end of the summer, we went up to Memphis Sevens. And we had our core group, and honestly things just went really really well. We had a ton of fun. And I think the total score of the tournament was 285-5. So we pretty much just man handled the tournament. So we basically looked at each other and were like guys we need to do this right, we need to get fit, we need to think fit, we need to practice, put in the time and see where this takes us. We got a good thing right now, we can’t waste it while we have it. Coming into this season we wanted to start early and get our bodies into shape in preparation for this season. And it worked out.
GTRN: What did you do to train and prepare for the 7’s season?
BJ: Well what we’ve been doing, we’ve been working out as a team, um and a, I’m sure you’ve seen some of the stuff on facebook with Metarie Crossfit. And they gave us a great deal. One of the guys is actually a Jesuit (high school) guy that I went to school with, we worked out something perfect where we were able to train as a club and then got them a little bit of advertising as well. So what we’ve been doing is training on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday on Crossfit and then we’d practice on Tuesday and Thursday.
GTRN: What were the goals you guys had when you all started this team?
BJ: When we started this team, we honestly didn’t know what it was at first. We done stuff similar to this in the past, but the main difference was the professionalism that we maintained through this summer. But some of our main goals were to just compete with the top level teams going into Nationals. Second is to make Nationals. Third was to do very well at Nationals. We don’t know how the chips are going to fall, but we definitely very excited about the position that we’re in going into this weekend.
GTRN: What has been the biggest success from this season
BJ: That’s a pretty good question. I would say honestly it’s been a great time playing with some of the guys. I mean it’s a rollar coaster, because you get mad at each other going in the trenches, people get frustrated because there’s just so much time and effort training, practice, lifting weights, working out, and mental thought too. Watching film, we’ve already watched film on most of the teams we’ll already be playing in our pool. There’s so many ups and downs, but the ups have been amazing. We’ve had two tournaments that we’ve actually won cash prizes in and throughout the way we’ve had a lot of fun doing it. One of my favorite things has been, we got a WCW Championship belt from Target, and we have the, I don’t do it justice, (imitating Randy Savage voice) Randy Savage Macho Man Smash. So the man of the match gets the championship belt and the next match he gets to choose the walkout music. So that’s been a great time listening to some of the characters.
GTRN: What has been one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made during the season
BJ: Um…biggest mistake I would probably say is working in more break time. Because the seasons been so long and because we started so early, we got our fitness in check, but some guys basically almost went through and entire cycle where they hit their peak and they got burnt out for a little bit and they took like a week or week and half off and then they started the cycle again. So I would say taking a little bit more break. For the most part that wasn’t to much of an issue. I think we managed it well. But that could be something that we look at next season and down the line and how to schedule it a little better.
GTRN: What are some pre-game rituals you do before you play?
BJ: Well, myself as long as I have my hand-band, I’m covered. Tons of hydration. But then uh, some of the fun things. Like i mentioned before, Macho Man of the Match gets to choose the song for the next game. One of the songs were (Ace Hood’s) I woke up in a new Bugatti. And we broke it down and then the music was blaring in the background. And someone was videoing and you see us all walking on to the field and then you hear the part, “I woke up in a new Bugatti!”, and right when Bugatti hit, all seven of us, it wasn’t synchronized we didn’t even know what was going on, all seven of us dubstepped and jumped up in the air. It was pretty nice, it was just exciting. And going into a game with that mentality and having a little pep in your step, having a little flag whatever you wanna call it, it juices you up. It gets you excited.
GTRN: What has been one of the toughest tournaments you guys played?
BJ: I would definitely say South Qualifiers just because it tested us a little bit mentally because we had to play a team back to back. So going into the final game, we really had to overcome obstacles because we were down 14-0. And it was interesting because we played them in the semifinals we were down 14-0, and we changed some things up and then we overcame that and ended up beating them 26-14 in the second half. But then when we played them again in the finals, and this is the same Atlanta Old White team, they pulled out a bunch of different ringers, so it was a solid side. So once we played them again in the finals we went down 14-0, but honestly I felt uh, I think the team would say, we didn’t, we might have eased off the brakes a little bit knowing we already qualified. I think that tested us in that once we’re down how we were going to come back, so i would say that was the biggest challenge, so far, going up against another team, mentally.
GTRN: You have been considered the underdog of your pool. Do you believe that the loss to Old White might have affected the perception of the Royale or does that status help you in the long term?
BJ: It was definitely better for us in the long term because it gets us to that mental battle with ourselves on the rugby field. I mean every guy on the rugby field, you can prepare, you can lift weights, you can run sprints, you can do whatever you want to train. But a major aspect of the game is all mental. And it’s telling yourself to keep going when once you’re just at that wall where you got nothing left. That’s just Seven’s in a nutshell. That loss some guys might have hit that wall and quit, and other guys might have hit that wall and kept going. Either way the more time you spend at that wall where you know your body is done is a good thing for all of our players. So I think a lot of our players grew from that moment and that game imparticular. So I think we’re gone take a lot out of it. And we don’t pay attention to much of the articles and the media, at the same time any underdog stories fuels us a little bit further.
GTRN: How have you been able to balance training for 7’s and normal life?
BJ: It’s been tough. It’s been tough. Shout out to my girlfriend, Madeline. For putting up with me and all those nights when I wanted to train. But it’s been tough, and it’s been tough for a lot of guys. But for the most part everyone’s understanding, if you have something that you’ve had to miss. There’s been a night or two that i’ve had to miss practice because of work, um, and some of the other guys as well. Life happens, it’s just been, it’s been good though because everyone wants to be there. There hasn’t been any situation where, you know, I’ve sacrificed something at work, or sacrificed something with my girlfriend, or sacrificed another aspect of my life, and then I go to practice and I don’t get something out of it. Once you’re making sacrifices for the practice sessions or for the lifting sessions you really feel after you leave that lift or that practice, you really feel like you’ve grown and you’ve gained something. So, it’s been a lot easier to sacrifice your time and devote that time towards rugby, because you know you’re building, you know you’re getting better, you know you’re getting stronger. Yes, there’s been sacrifices, but it’s been totally worth it.
GTRN: Who have been your biggest supporters through this season?
BJ: There’s so many to name. We’ve gotten a ton of support from out New Orleans Old Boys, Mike Carrigan, Jack Biven, Tom Crosby, Tim Falcon, you know, the guys that have through and through spreading the word of New Orleans rugby. And so, shout out to them. Thank you for all the support. We’ve been able to cut our travel funds for, we’ve been able to give a $250 stipend for all of our athletes to kind of reimburse them a little bit for their flights, and what not, traveling to Pittsburgh. That’s through our old boys and donations. Our hats goes off to them. We appreciate it so much. Because it really is hard for a lot of these guys to shell out the money that they can because a lot of our guys on our team are very very young. So we they don’t have those life long careers just yet.
GTRN: We wish you the best of lucky on Saturday. Show them what Louisiana rugby is about.
BJ: No problem, man. Thank you so much.
USA Rugby Club 7’s National Championships begin at 8:00am. You can watch the New Orleans Royale play on http://www.usarugby.org/tv/
Interviewed by Gift Egbelu