As the Village Lions Men embark on the 2015 fall season, they look toward new coach Andrew Britt to take the insight he’s gleaned from two years of refereeing the club and fashion a title-contending squad in the D2 Empire league.
Britt relocated from Canterbury, New Zealand, to New York City in 2013 and brought with him 30 years of rugby experience playing, coaching and refereeing the sport. He is also on PlayRugby’s board of directors. He has spent the previous two years behind the whistle, accepting the Village Lions head coach position with intimate knowledge of the team and its style of play.
“My impression was that they had some very good athletes, but they looked a little bit rudderless,” Britt said of refereeing the Lions. “My goal, in the very short period of time I’ve been with the Lions, is to introduce more structure of play.”
During the preseason, Britt has been focusing on the forwards game as foundation for success around the pitch.
“I really want to use our big forward pack,” Britt said. “If I look around the clubs that are playing in D2 in the Tri-State area, I think we have, by far, the best forward pack, and I see that as a huge weapon for us.”
The coach sees strength in No. 8 Franco DeLisa; good leadership from Fuzzy Mullen; international experience from new prop Felipe Gili, who played for Chile in the U-20 World Rugby Trophy; power from prodigal son Rob Stabile, who returns from White Plains; and continued inspiration from club stalwart John “Tex” Lechner.
“You have to win it in the forward collisions first,” Britt said of the overall style of play he aims to institute. “You don’t win the forward collisions, then there’s no point in throwing the ball wide, because all you’re going to do is run into the defense all day. For now — and these are early comments because we haven’t had a full turnout at training yet — we’ve got to lay the platform up front if we’re going to see success in the backs, so it’s a very simple game for me.”
“Simple” also means nailing down the basics, which has been another tenet of Britt’s preseason.
“We proved it on Saturday that by doing the basics and performing them well, we can actually win quite handsomely,” Britt said of an 82-38 win over Syracuse. “There are too many teams in this area that don’t do the basics well. Let’s be good at scrummaging, be good at lineouts, be efficient at the tackle — all those things that make up a good team and that’s a good foundation for success.”
And what of the backs? Britt is excited to have Rich Gallina back and healthy at scrumhalf, and looks forward to the halfback combination with Hubert Chan.
“I think he’s going to flourish with having a good forward pack in front of him,” Britt said of the No. 10. “I don’t think he’s had that luxury in the past.”
But it’s not only about performance for Britt, who has a holistic vision for the team.
“One of the things I want to bring in, and we’ve talked about as a team, is the culture of rugby,” Britt said. “At the end of the day we want teams to know that when you go and play the Lions, it’s no easy game, but we also want to be known as the good buggers of rugby. You can have a beer and a laugh afterward and be good guys.
“Some of it’s about on-field discipline as well,” he added. “The guys have really responded and are up for that. The challenge for me as a coach is making sure I set the standard too — that I’m not abusing the referee or yelling from the sideline at my players. It’s something that, to be honest, is going to be a little challenging for me, but it’s a good start.”
Looking ahead, Old Blue and New York will pose the biggest regular-season challenges, and recently relegated White Plains might be a wild card, though their roster took a hit this season.
“We’re going for it,” Britt said of the team’s goals. “We very much want to finish in the top two. We want to be in the playoffs, and it’s that simple. I think we have the ability to do it but it comes down to applying ourselves. We talk about the style of rugby we want to play and how we want to be portrayed as a team, and there’s plenty of things they can do on their own (to get us there) — making sure we’re fit, making sure we’re prepared, making sure we come to training with a good attitude. The guys seem up for that challenge.”
Britt concluded: “I think we’ve got the bones of a very good team. We just need to keep on keepin’ on.”