Friday, March 1, 2013

New Seattle-OPSB Coach Fitzpatrick Hungry For Wins


New Seattle-OPSB* coach Justin Fitzpatrick has only been on the job for a month but he’s already certain what his goal is as head coach: win. “We are in the business of winning,” said Fitzpatrick in an interview with TIAR. “We want to make our mark in all competitions, including the Elite Cup.” With the talented group of players he has at his disposal, including Eagles Miles Craigwell and Mike Palefau, as well as former Fijian international Emosi Vucago to name a few, Fitzpatrick is set up to do just that.

If Fitzpatrick’s name sound familiar, it’s because he has plenty of international and professional experience. He’s a former Irish international with 26 caps to his credit, including one against the United States back in 2000. He also played for Ulster, London Irish, and Dungannon at the club level. Prior to joining Seattle-OPSB Fitzpatrick was on the staff of Dungannon for three seasons. He also had a stint with the Irish ladies as well as led Pakistan in the Asian 5 Nations last summer.

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So how did he go from a position at one of the most respected clubs in Ireland to Seattle-OPSB? “Seattle-OPSB was in the market for a coach and a teammate of mine from London Irish made the connection. We started chatting and now here I am.” Fitzpatrick admitted he is still learning on the job but that he is so far enjoying his time in Seattle. Currently he says he is “getting a look at how things are done and what we can do to improve them.”

When asked what exposure he had to the game in America prior to taking the position Fitzpatrick expressed that besides from the match in 2000, a few camps here or there, and the odd tourist visit he hadn’t had much exposure. So what has been the biggest difference between the U.S. and Ireland in terms of rugby? “What first impressed me wasn’t a complete surprise but was nevertheless quite apparent is the physical attributes of a lot of our players compared to the same tier of rugby in Ireland. Guys are generally bigger than the Irish and in terms of gym and sporting culture are probably further down the road.”

However, Fitzpatrick expressed there is a lot of work to be done. “On the other side, players don’t come into the game at as early an age. Although that is changing here in Seattle and around the country, the rugby IQ of some of the guys at home as a group may generally be a little higher.” He made sure to emphasize that having strong youth programs around the country where kids are picking up the ball at an early age will help improve the rugby IQ of players.

He also expressed that his players are willing to learn. “I’ve been very impressed with the overall attitude and willingness to learn and take on new ideas and concepts. The group is easy to work with. We’ve got many guys that are currently, on the cusp, or on the way to adding to the national program. Our ambition is to develop Eagles either in 7’s or 15’s. We want to make sure we are one of the leading lights in the country.”

In order to develop players the team has taken on an aggressive schedule. In addition to their new position in NorCal DI Seattle-OPSB is continuing to play regularly in Canada. Rather than seeing geographic isolation from other U.S. club, Fitzpatrick sees the geographic proximity to Canada as a good thing. “We are geographically lucky to be so close to the Canadian border. It gives a nice opportunity to make sure we’re getting regular week on week rugby. That’s what I think is the biggest difference from Ireland. Once the season commences you might have one or two week breaks for a week or something here and there but there is competition or some sort every week.” He added that the team “will put our focus on DI and the Cup competition. But being able to bounce across the border and play against good competition gives us that ability to have more continuity.”

Seattle-OPSB is of course known for their 7’s program and while Fitzpatrick expressed an interest in 7’s he admitted that there a very qualified coaches 7’s coaches already with the club. Still, he noted that “obviously we’re both trying to make rugby players. Whether you are playing 7’s or 15’s the fundamentals are the same--pass, catch, evade, and tackle. There are intricacies between the two games when you get into more detail but fundamentally it’s the same game.”

Even though it’s only been a month on the job the positivity surrounding Fitzpatrick’s hiring Seattle-OPSB can be felt around the rugby community. Whether the team succeeds in the Elite Cup and DI this season is still to be determined, but it seems they are in good hands.

*Fitzpatrick made it clear that the team would like to be called Seattle-OSPB in the wake of the two organizations recent merger.

2 comments:

  1. I love this guy's enthusiasm! He seems to recognize the Americans' physicality, strength and physical condition. But he is also aware fo the need to develope more of the intuitive aspects of the game. What a great addition to the American rugby landscape!

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  2. I've had a stint with some Irish ladies as well.

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