Steve Brett: Exciting New Dawn for Rugby in LA

2 months ago

The energy for success and a unique identity radiates from head coach Steve Brett whenever he talks about Rugby FC Los Angeles, the city’s newest professional sports team.

The shrewd leader entrusted with shaping Major League Rugby’s fresh venture sees a clear mission on and off the field to galvanise the strong rugby community in the West Coast’s biggest city.

“A new squad, new adventures, a new race, let’s go,” Brett says.

In a nutshell, Brett has captured where RFCLA fits in the rugby landscape and the concerted push to lift-off against the Dallas Jackals at home on March 3.

It is not Rugby ATL simply airdropped into a new city although the club will proudly embrace qualities of the club founded in Atlanta in 2019 and a core of 11 top players.

It is not a reworking of the LA Giltinis, the first MLR presence in Los Angeles from 2020-22. LA’s first flirtation with MLR did show the potential juggernaut that rugby can become with the right attention to nurturing the community game, enhancing youth and junior pathways and embracing the enthusiastic fan base that already exists for the game.

“We have our own models for a whole new group of boys. We are starting from scratch in one way but with a head start in another because of the vibrant rugby community that already exists in LA and our MLR background in Atlanta,” Brett says.

“One of the key values of our club is community and growing the fan base will come off that. It can be massive.

“There’s established rugby infrastructure in LA. It was clear to see visiting a Belmont Shore v Santa Monica game and a UCLA v Cal State match.

“We’re a pro team but you’ll see our players out there doing coaching clinics or the club supporting academy programs. There are good players in the local rugby scene we will also bring into the professional environment.”

LA Coach Steve Brett playing for the Auckland Blues in 2011. Photo: Getty Images

Brett, 38, was immersed in the New Zealand rugby system for the majority of his own playing career. Playing with the likes of All Blacks legend Richie McCaw at the Crusaders in Super Rugby taught him the value of experience is priceless.

“One of the key building blocks I saw for RFCLA was bringing in experience. That enables you to concentrate on detail in game style and planning rather than always teaching how to play,” Brett says.

“We have a very experienced leadership group and a high rugby IQ within this club. I’m talking about the experience of (Canadian international) Matt Heaton, Jason Damm, Alex Maughan, James Stokes, Rory van Vugt, Will Leonard and others.

“I played a lot with Richie McCaw in the past. Matt is another who leads by his actions, speaks when the moment is right and is a true professional to set standards.

“We were conscious of connections when recruiting because cohesion comes a lot faster that way so there are players with experiences together previously.

“For example, uniting Dan Hollinshead, Rory and Ben Strang from their NZ background is a connection that was part of our planning.

“Dan is an experienced No.10. It’ll be my first time working with a Kiwi 10 in Major League Rugby and I know I’ll be able to pass on a lot of information to him which he can put into action.”

The connection with Tel Aviv Heat means another familiar group has joined up from the Rugby Europe Super Cup, including classy Fijian Semi Kunatani and Englishman Niall Saunders, a former Harlequins halfback.

Steve Brett and All Blacks great, Sonny Bill Williams in 2010. Photo: Getty Images
Steve Brett and All Blacks great, Sonny Bill Williams in 2010. Photo: Getty Images

Brett is bringing plenty of acumen to his key role. He had a respected career as a smart running and distributing flyhalf for the Crusaders, Blues, Canterbury and NZ Maori in NZ rugby before his overseas playing experiences in France and Japan.

His head coaching nous has been enhanced by all he learnt with Rugby ATL and his assistant coaching role with the USA Eagles.

Why has Brett dived in with RFCLA? It’s an obvious question.

“It excites me to be involved in a rugby club that is starting from fresh. You get the chance to establish the team’s values from the outset. LA is a whole new city of possibilities if you create the right recipe,” Brett says.

“As a coach, I’m building my craft to push some boundaries around attack so, personally, there is also high motivation.

“Obviously, we have a pretty short runway into our first season. The MLR competition is going to be hard because it improves every year but I believe there has been smart thinking to get a lot of good things in place already. We’re playing at a really good stadium (Dignity Health Sports Park at Carson) for one thing.”

Three of the club’s opening four games are at Dignity Health Sports Park which is the ideal opportunity to show fans what the club stands for.

“That’s a real home game block so we are definitely chasing a strong start to 2024,” Brett says.

The squad’s February visit to the Coliseum for the NASCAR Cup series was a fun team-bonding day.

“There was plenty of enthusiasm that’s for sure,” Brett says.

“’Fast and Furious’ is our creed for the season. We’ll be fast and agile while also being furious in defence and contact.”

Like Brett said, “Let’s go.”

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