Editor’s note: The story of how PelhamRugby.com got this story is as good a demonstration as any that Toby L’Estrange is a great guy, exceptional gentleman and true supporter of Pelham Youth Rugby. Toby coached Pelham’s kids a couple of years ago, from little flaggers to big tacklers, while playing on NYAC’s team. His play got him noticed by the U.S. national team, and he was a starter when the Eagles qualified for the 2015 World Cup last month. His play also got him signed by London Welsh, a professional team that plays in the second division in England, though looks on track to move up to the top-flight Premiership. Toby agreed to do an email interview for this site, I sent him the questions, then I heard from Coach Persanis that Toby had badly broken his leg and needed surgery. Five days after the injury, I received this email from Toby: “Sorry for the lengthy delay getting these back to you. Unfortunately, I picked up a pretty serious injury on the weekend but at least it has allowed me some time to sit down and get them through to you!”
Every question was answered.
So here is Toby’s exclusive interview with PelhamRugby.com, typed up while recovering, for the members of the club. If players have questions for Toby, post them and I’ll get them to him to answer.
1. What was it like to qualify for the World Cup with the win against Uruguay? What will the team do to prepare between now and the 2015 tournament?
It was great to secure qualification for the World Cup. The coaching staff, support staff and players all put in an incredible amount of work to achieve this goal, and it’s a fantastic accomplishment. Of course, everyone’s attention now turns to preparing for the big tournament in 2015 and ensuring the Eagles are best placed to put in performances that will make everyone in America proud. There are two games, against Japan and Scotland this summer that take on particular importance because they have been drawn in our group for the RWC. There are also test matches in November, including a match-up with the World Champion New Zealand All Blacks, and then a few more games next summer building up to the main tournament in September of 2015.
2. How has the move to London Welsh been? What is club rugby like there versus here in the U.S.?
I’ve really enjoyed my time at London Welsh. I was fortunate to join a very successful team that welcomed me like I was one of their own. In big games, the atmosphere is fantastic. We had a 10,000 sell-out for the top of the table game two weeks ago. I was happy with the way I was playing up until last week, when I picked up a bad injury which has unfortunately placed me on the sidelines for a decent amount of time.
3. What’s the European game like in terms of speed and physicality?
Training and playing in a professional environment naturally makes the standard of rugby over here pretty high. It is very physical and the standard of basic skills is impressive. Having said that, I don’t think that the top teams in America would look out of place. Certainly domestic American players who get their chance here have shown that they can make the step up and contribute significantly.
4. Now that you’ve coached American youth and you’re playing for the national team, what do you think the outlook for U.S. rugby is? How long until we can challenge any of the big powers (you can be honest)?
While there is no doubt that American players have the athletic ability to succeed, the challenge is generate interest and participation in the rugby so that it can become a mainstream sport. It has to start somewhere and hopefully Pelham can be a leading light in that way!
If the standard of domestic rugby continues to improve and the number of players exposed to rugby at a young age continues to grow, I really believe that the Eagles have the chance to make some serious strides within the next few years. The top teams in world rugby would never see themselves being beaten by an American team in the foreseeable future, but this is a reality we all have to believe in if we want to compete at the highest level.
Matt has been keeping me up to date and I’d like to pass on my congratulations to everyone at Pelham rugby for the season so far. In particular, congratulations to the Pelham Under 16s for a fantastic win against Xavier and their undefeated season so far. You guys are a great example of how quality coaching, a commitment to working hard, and ultimately, enjoying the game with your friends can bring about incredible results. I wish you all the best and please get in touch if there’s anything I can help with.