Ben Roach is a name that has only recently come to American fans after his signing a contract with La Rochelle in the French Pro D2. His story is pretty unique and a great story of an American creating opportunities for himself. We were lucky enough to have Ben answer a few questions about his career and about France.
This Is American Rugby: You played one year at Providence in the U.S. and then decided to make the move to Ireland. How did that move come about and who did you play for in Ireland?
Ben Roach: Playing at Providence College was the jump start that kicked off my rugby career. My coach Mike Cox had me starting as one of three freshman on the senior side. He saw my potential on the rugby field to grow and mature into a better player. Originally from Ireland, he gave me the confidence and guidence to look into other opportunities. I contacted a few teams and University of Limerick Bohs academy decided to take me in. Ian Costello, who was the academy director at the time was also coaching Munster as well as working with the Munster senior squad so it was a great opportunity. I decided to leave Providence and move my education to the University of Limerick. While studying and playing rugby in Ireland, I moved through the Bohs academy to a senior squad Young Munster. While playing at Young Munster, I was asked to represent Munster Colleges, which is the best university players in the Munster province brought together to play against the other three provinces.
TIAR: Now you've signed a contract with La Rochelle in the Pro D2. How did that come about and why France?
BR: While my season in Ireland was coming to an end, I knew that if my career wanted to go anywhere I needed to move away from Ireland. The IRFU had placed strict international player restrictions so it's almost impossible to make a pro squad there without at a UK passport. I reached out to my development officer Andy Brace of Munster, who had me apply to La Rochelle's learning centre. After I applied, I attended trials where they offered me a development contract. I have the opprortunity to train with the senior squad as well as their second side. Since I am a young player still (20) they want me to really learn the program as well as learn the language. I knew France was the perfect opportunity for me as they have accepted many international players and really shown the importance of giving their younger players the opportunities to succeed and grow.
TIAR: It seems that Ireland is a good place for young Americans to start a rugby career (yourself, Scott LaValla). Why do you think that is?
BR: Ireland seems to be a great place for American players due to the abundance of clubs and universities that have teams of all levels of competition. It's a great atmosphere to still enjoy a college community as well as focus on rugby.
TIAR: How can other American players get that opportunity?
BR: The opportunity for the players is out there. They just need to film themselves, work hard and put themselves out there. The world can't discover them if they don't put themselves out there. I received many rejection letters before teams like Young Munster and La Rochelle decided to give me a chance to prove myself.
TIAR: What position do you prefer to play? What position does La Rochelle have you playing?
BR: I prefer to play outside centre, but I have been playing wing and fullback as well. I have really become a utility back. La Rochelle would like to continue to build me as a utility player, but also as a centre who can create opportunities for their wings.
TIAR: You picked up a bit of knock and haven't been able to make your debut, but what has it been like training with the team?
BR: Over the summer I decide to play sevens for the Olympic Club under Matt Sherman ( AA Coach). I really wanted to impress and get my name out there for USA rugby. Sadly, however, I tore my hamstring. So I was not only late to preseason but was coming injured; which was not the best start I wanted, but through everything it's what you make of it. A little set back wont hold me back for fighting for that top spot. Training with the team has been amazing. Unlike any other team I have played for. It's structured but very open as well. It's is based off the growth of players of making mistakes and learning from them as a team. The team is very much ( 1st and 2nd side) into making each other into better players. If a spot gets taken its just part of the job from number 1 to number 33 to the learning academy, we are all there to help eachother improve. Its been an amazing experience so far and I can't wait to get fully settled in.
TIAR: Have you been involved with the age grade national teams here in the U.S.? Is that something that is a goal of your?
BR: I sadly have not had the opportunity to participate in any US age grade national teams. I have really flown under the radar. I would love to represent the all Americans as well as the Eagles if I am given the opportunity. It is something that I work towards everyday. My goal isn't to just be a professional rugby player, it's to be a start for La Rochelle, as well as to represent my country at the highest level. I won't quit until I'll have an eagle over my chest and a chance to represent my country.
TIAR: In 2010 you won a Kevin Higgins Scholarship. What did that entail?
BR: My senior year of high school at Bellarmine College Prep I was given an opportunity to apply for this scholarship from my coach Matt Ghallager who went to SLO. I never thought I would have been selected to represent such an amazing rugby player. It was one of the highest honors I have been given in my rugby career. It also gave me an opportunity to represent my school which grew from 15 scrappy boys to 60 my senior year to almost 100 players this past year. I would recommend all high school rugby players to apply for this scholarship as it not only helps you as a player, but it's a great honor for your school and club.
TIAR: Lastly, what would you like the rugby community in the U.S. to know about you?
BR: I wish I knew how to answer this haha. My entire career has been flying under the radar. I would love to continue to inspire young players to follow their dreams, even when the odds are stacked against them. I work with the Santa Clara youth rugby every chance I get to show them that it is possible. I hope to be given a chance to represent my country and to continue to be the best ambassador for USA rugby that I can be. All the support and encouragement is more than appreciative.