Matt Heaton: Leading the transition from ATL to LA

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2 months ago

The opportunity to define the unique culture of a new sporting team excites leader Matt Heaton every time he laces on the boots at Rugby Football Club Los Angeles.

The hard-working flanker is well aware there’s a race to fine-tune a multitude of moving parts for the Major League Rugby kick-off at home against the Dallas Jackals on March 3.

That’s all part of the thrill of putting together a rugby jigsaw with new players, establishing key combinations and setting up foundation values.

“Starting a team is something special. You really get to define the culture of the club and what it stands for come the day you leave the jersey for the next man,” Heaton said.

“You have 40-plus rugby clubs in the greater Los Angeles area so getting the support of that community behind a MLR team is one of the club’s goals.

“Every player on our team has come through the grassroots of the game themselves. Whether it is a training session with a local club, helping at kids’ clinics or whatever we want to be a resource to grow rugby generally.”

Heaton’s experienced leadership is a key building block for RFCLA because he’s earned respect as an international for Canada in 21 Tests and through more than 40 MLR games.

Heaton in action for Rugby ATL. Photo: Robert Beck
Heaton in action for Rugby ATL. Photo: Robert Beck

He was a foundation player for Rugby ATL. He scored their first try in MLR in 2020 so he has to be up front about the club’s relocation from Atlanta.

“It was shock because my roots were pretty settled in Atlanta but I also know that challenges have always excited me and this is one. I listened to the vision for RFCLA. I’m all in,” Heaton said.

“You always carry forward a little piece of your previous club. That’s a good thing. That might be as simple as when and how we do our video analysis from Atlanta days or the connection that guys have had previously at New York or Toronto before they arrived in LA from the dispersal draft.

“We have a leadership group with players who have experienced different teams. It’s good to have those diverse opinions.

“There’s also a good comfort within this squad with all the connections players have brought to it.”

So much is new or yet to be discovered. Heaton added with a laugh: “We just haven’t nailed the right clapping sequence to finish training.”

Heaton and wife Erica are in their first year of marriage and are expecting their first child in April. He’sbuilding a new life on and off the field.

“It’s a health-conscious, outdoors-ish, laidback feel to where we live in LA so my wife and I are loving it,” Heaton said of his new home base.

MLR and Rugby Canada vetran Matt Heaton Photo Getty
MLR and Rugby Canada veteran, Matt Heaton. Photo: Getty Images

On the training field, Heaton, 31, is enjoying what coach Steve Brett brings to the party ahead of the March 3 opener at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“Steve has good energy and creativity. He’s a recent former player so he understands things from a player’s perspective. He bats for you,” Heaton said.

“He’s a good guy you want to play for.”

Heaton knows as well as anyone that early success and radiating the positive values of the club in the way they play is the best way to woo fans.

“Training has all been about building a game style and trusting what we do together,” Heaton said.

“We have micro-goals and we must be a team that can problem-solve as we go. Things like, ‘Who goes to which breakdown?’ and ‘Who folds here or where in defence?’, are coming together but you don’t stop working on those things because clarity of roles is vital.

“We trained one day in the rain. It was chucking it down and a lot of ball was dropped. A few of the attack leaders took it on themselves to say ‘Let’s do another walk through’. The players put their hands up for more work to get it right. That’s what you want to see.”

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