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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Checking In With Sacramento's Luke Gross

By Derek Sagehorn

This Is American Rugby spoke to Sacramento coach Luke Gross about the second week of Pro Rugby preseason and their game against San Francisco.

This Is American Rugby: How has preseason training been for Sacramento so far?

Luke Gross: Well we’ve been working with less than ideal conditions. Our long term plan is to use the redeveloped Sacramento Army Depot as a training facility. We’re actually based out of the Officer’s Club right now. But the parade ground is being turned into a grass pitch. While we are waiting for that to occur, we’ve been using Sacramento parks. Unfortunately California is getting some much needed rain and a lot of those fields have been closed. We’ve going to use that adversity though and find ways to get better off-the-pitch in spite of it.

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TIAR: Any initial impressions on the squad? How have they been adjusting to the professional experience?

LG: The boys have been great so far. We really prepped them before—during our interviews—about the change from amateur to professional. You know, mind your body because it’s going to be a shock with those strained backs and tight hammies. Few of these guys have been in a professional setting so far but they are loving it and their attitudes toward the hard work have met and surpassed our expectations. The players with professional or representative experience have turned into leaders, which really helps.

TIAR: Has your experience as a professional rugby player informed your coaching?

LG: Absolutely. It was a shock for me to go from playing this game that I saw as an outlet from stress to the cause of some it. Playing rugby became my day-to-day grind, my paycheck. I’ve told the boys that there will be times when you’re not going to like rugby, but you’re going to have to dig down and remember why you love this game. For me, it was conversation with an old Welsh 2nd row who pulled me aside and reminded me how lucky I was to be playing this game.

TIAR: What kind of attitude or style are you looking to instill your squad with?

LG: We’re very excited to try and play an open style. There’s a lot of work to do to establish the combinations and trust for that to happen. But I want to instill attitude in the team that we can always be better, that there is always more work to be done in terms of skills and fitness.

TIAR: You have some international players on the squad, what do they bring to the team?

LG: They bring a lot. Not just in terms of on-the-field awareness or skills or fast rugby, but also in terms of leadership. They’ve been in unfamiliar set-ups where people don’t all know each other. They know the importance of reaching out to people. They also set an example to younger guys on how to interact with the public. That is invaluable.

TIAR: You also players like Val Lee-Lo that grew up playing in the very competitive Sacramento high school rugby league. What value does that bring to the squad?

LG: Having the local guys helps in a lot of ways. First, they are more comfortable and have support structures in place. Second, it’s gotta be extra motivation for them playing in front of that hometown crowd. Finally, it shows the youth rugby players coming to our games that they can one day be a professional with a lot of hard work.

TIAR: Are you looking forward to playing at Bonney Field?

LG: Yes, it’s a great venue for rugby. They have some really nice grass, which helps the rugby. But it’s also an intimate venue where the fans can really soak up the action. Given its placement in CalExpo [home of the California State Fair], it will be a great place to bring the kids and family.

TIAR: Finally, any thoughts on the NorCal derby coming up on April 17th?

LG: The local guys have let me know how important this one is to them. They’ve been playing against a lot of the San Francisco squad in PRP and Division 1 games week in and week out. Some of them have played against or with them since high school. So it’s nice to have a little extra motivation for the next couple weeks. 

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