Friday, September 16, 2016

Roland Suniula Discusses Tiger Rugby Work, Aviators

Roland Suniula has played rugby all over the world and now as he enters the end phase of his playing career (he still has more left in him) he's starting to give back. We caught up with Suniula to talk about his new role with Tiger Rugby as well as his season with the Aviators.

TIAR: Having played professionally in France and in PRO Rugby, what has motivated you to move into coaching?

Roland Suniula: One of the motivating factors was noticing an alarming number of Acadmey players from the French top tier (Top14 & ProD2) clubs missing out on pro contracts and flushed down to lower division clubs. With all the resources and money available there seems to be a breakdown in their development most noticeably through poor coaching. In contrast, New Zealand club level, which is amateur, is producing more players in the Mitre 10 Cup teams who go on to sign Super Rugby contracts each year.  This helped spark my passion to coach & to share my career experience to help develop rugby players and strengthen career pathways in the United States.

TIAR: Like yourself, several other Americans are coming back to the United States to play and to coach. Do you think there is a need for players like yourself to step up and support local clubs and communities?

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RS: Absolutely! With rugby being a great success in Rio now more than ever I think rugby's impact & influence will go a long way to help introduce the sport into school curriculum, strengthen teams with recruitment, support groups, and more sponsorships to name a few. This will help teams play in competitive divisions and help grow the game in the country. I myself, alongside Ohio Aviator team mate Taylor Howden, will be running a Tiger Rugby Youth academy in Columbus, Ohio throughout the fall which will run for 5 weeks from Oct 20th to Nov 17th at our local Tiger training facility. Leading up to that will be 2 FREE "Learn to Rugby" days for boys and girls ages up to grades 12 in Columbus (Oct 9) aimed at introducing Rugby to kids in a fun & interactive way who may or may not have heard or seen the game before. Games will be focused around getting kids familiar with the rugby ball, some rugby equipment & terminology while highlighting key rugby fundamentals around the rules of the game. It also caters for students who play or have played rugby and wish to further develop their skills. - for more info: contact

TIAR: What kind of talent have you seen during your time in Ohio?

RS: In our academy we hosted college kids from Texas Tech & Kentucky and saw a mix of raw athleticism new to Rugby and some who have played Rugby a little longer. Our Tiger academy in our residents program are a lot more experienced playing for 1823 in the 7s and club rugby regularly. Just recently we ran a 4 day pre-season & skills development camp with Xavier University, a D2 College from Cincinnati hoping to fight their way into D1. The talent there is exciting & with the right coaching and developmental pathway available to them there is no excuse for Ohio to not have home grown talent relish in their local teams and possibly for the Aviators. Our challenge and focus here at Tiger Rugby is to spot and nurture those types of talent in our own backyards and affiliate teams to offer them a pathway to pursue higher level of Rugby and opportunities. Because in the end all these young athletes want is an opportunity.

TIAR: What is going to be the content focus of Tiger's coaching camps and academies moving forward? Any opportunities for women?

Our mobile coaching camps are available for all high schools, clubs and colleges from all divisions wanting to prepare for 7s or 15s seasons this fall or for next spring. Our expert players and coaches have international and professional experience will be on board to help. Primarily we like to work around the needs of the team but the bulk of the content we tend to focus on handling skills, safe tackle techniques and decision making on attack and defense just to name a few. Moving forward with our Academies we want to create a full time rugby environment for our players with field, S&C and video review sessions over an extensive period--it's a sneak preview into a day & life of a professional rugby player. With group and one-on-one coaching it allows the player/s the opportunity to maximize his/hers learning and development in a full-time environment, twice a day on a day to day basis. Especially for new comers to Rugby there is so much dynamism in the game to learn that one or a few sessions alone may not be enough for you to grasp information then it would be training full time.

Women's Rugby is also a huge focus at Tiger Rugby especially after the success of our national Women's 7's team and most recently at Rio we want to encourage more girls to develop their skills & knowledge through our rugby programs & academies. We in Columbus & Cleveland are holding 2 free 'Learn to Rugby' sessions encouraging girls who never have and wish to give Rugby a go. My good friend and former Eagle team mate Nese Malifa is the Tiger Rugby director in North Carolina where he is currently coaching womens teams in Southern Pines and UNC just to name a few.

TIAR: How do you see Tiger Rugby as a pathway for gaining international exposure?

RS: It helps that we're a nationally recognized developmental rugby program as a pathway for players who wish to utilize the game of rugby for so much more. We want it to be beyond just the game, however all the while creating a sustainable platform so that we can expose talent to international experience. Through the academy those who excel may get an opportuinty to play in local & national 7s tournaments. Many get the opportunity to be invited to Tiger 7s tours and USA 7s camp from our programs. Some of our most noticeable graduates are recent Rio Olympian Perry Baker who has been this past season one of USA 7's stand out performers and Spike Davis after an impressive Pro Rugby season finishing as top try scorer earned himself a contract with the Tasman Mako's in the Mitre 10 Cup down in NZ. Mikey Te'o, JP Eloff to name a few who have attended Tiger 7s tours in the past both making their mark in the Eagles. One of our up and coming and new Tiger recruit to watch out for is Sam Mcguffie former NFL player who has impressed in his development earning a spot on the pro rugby roster for Aviators and in the summer playing 7s with the 1823 team. He was part of the teams success helping them qualify for nationals in Denver couple of weeks ago. In the off season Sam represents USA Bobsled team at the winter olympics. With more Tiger projects in the pipeline we will bound to see more Perry Baker's and Spike's come through the ranks.

TIAR: Who are some of your favorite coaches and what have you learned from them?

RS: One who's had the most influence on me was Nigel Hotham from my younger days at Kelston Boys High in NZ. He taught us the importance of training the basics and doing them well he focused a lot on handling skills, defense & conditioning which made us miles ahead of other schools in skill level & tempo. We held many local & national school titles because of him. John Mckitrick & former All Blacks Walter Little and Frano Botica from my North Harbour academy and developmental sides helped hone down on my inside centre and pivot roles and opened my mind up to playing fly-half. After missing out on a pro contract with North Harbour John encouraged me to look into my player eligibility for the United States as he was also former Eagles 7s coach himself. Al Caravelli gave me my first USA 7s opportunity, Scott Johnson, Adam Friend played huge roles in my early development into the Eagles enviroment. Eddie O'sullivan and Matt Sherman gave me my test debut and RWC dream and I learnt a lot on leadership and preparation also from our team leaders like Todd Clever, Alec Parker, Mike Hercus, Macca, J.V.G, Nagus, Cactus to name a few. Matthieu Lazerges from my club in France was a genius on attack, also through the eagles I learned a lot from Dave Ellis (Defense coach for France & Tonga) and Phil Bailey (NRL, Super League, Kangaroos)  on Defense.

TIAR: Circling back to PRO Rugby. In comparison to your previous time in France and with the Eagles, how does the standard of play compare?

RS: With the Eagles theres's no higher level you can play then test rugby. The high tempo and physicality against the world class players and teams will test you both physically and mentally. In France it was not as intense but a little more set piece focused, kicking penalties, grinding games out with the forwards while the inside & outside centres chase long kicks down field, players were a little bigger and play dirtier lol a lot more illegal rucking and sucker punches escape the referees blind mirrors at the bottom of those rucks  - PRO Rugby was a breath of fresh air from French rugby for me - lot more expansive and I got to run more with the ball, at Ohio we liked to throw the ball around and I enjoyed doing that.

TIAR: What were your big takeaways from the season?

RS: Discipline- it cost us crucial moments in games through out the season. I think at one point we were the most penalized team.

Team identity - probably the biggest one because here were 32 guys from all over America and the world for the first time in a city unfamiliar to most of us to live & play rugby together for 5 months, so we sat down with the coaches and agreed before the season started that we had to find or create an idea that we could all identify ourselves with as the Ohio team. This eventually became the foundation to which we built our team culture on and felt it was a positive reflection on how we trained and played.

Preparation, work ethic and attention to detail were other big take aways for me from the season. Whoppa and Holmes were positive influences in helping me nail down some good habits in my training & preparation.

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