Rugby gets its share of crossover athletes from other sports, and from the other code, rugby league, but it’s becoming more and more common to get double-crossovers.
Several players on the USA team – the Suniula brothers, Luke Hume – have crossed from union back to league and back to union again. And the USA Selects will be looking at another, American Casey Clark.
|Casey Clark first came to our notice back in early 2009. This article was published on our previous website, www.erugbynews.com, in February of 2009. Click here to read it.|
Born in Olympia, Wash. and growing up in Montana, Clark started playing high-level rugby as a youngster. He first played for the Missoula Maggots as a high schooler, and played union through high school and into his college years.
“My first game was when I was 14 or 15,” Clark told RUGBYMag.com. “I wasn’t big, like 5-7 and maybe 150 pounds, but I didn’t worry about that. They put me out on the wing. Generally as I got bigger I played mostly center, but in high school I played flyhalf because I was the most experienced.”
Clark captained Drummond HS to two state rugby championships, and then thanks to connections with his sister-in-law Roxie Lovett (a rugby player and coach in the Atlanta area), he took an extra high school year in New Zealand. Eventually Clark got to play against several touring teams, and with a local club side, where he received coaching from New Zealand great Josh Kronfeld.
He also played 7s there before returning to the USA, this time to Northern California. Clark has aspirations to play at St. Mary’s, but that didn’t work out and he played with Vacaville RFC before being lured to play rugby league for Jacksonville in Florida, alongside his old brother Matthew. Matthew had played a big part in Clark’s adolescence, as their father had died when Clark was 12. The two worked well together, and the younger Clark blossomed.
Clark is a big, powerful runner who still plays center. He loves running with the ball and is an imposing attacker – it takes more than one tackler to bring him down. As a defender he is scary, too, and it seems logical he might give league a try.
“League is a stripped down version of rugby in a lot of ways,” Clark said. “I really enjoyed it. It’s more about running straight lines and running good, effective crash balls.”
But he was disillusioned with the national team setup in league, and when union came knocking, he was ready to switch back over.
Clark has plenty of skills to bring to the Selects. Certainly his ability to run in traffic is a big one, but the tackling is something he’s proud of.
“Tackling in league is different than union,” he said. “In league you always want to prevent the ballcarrier from gaining yardage, so you work to drive him back. I think that’s a skill I can bring to the team and help the team out.”
Clark is only 22 but he has been through a lot of rugby since he picked up a ball at 14. This new chapter could be a big step for him, and he is also eager to show that he started in union and isn’t just a league guy who is oblivious to how union is played.
”I have been working really hard on my field awareness and awareness of the guys running off you,” he said. “When I started I didn’t really pay attention to that stuff, but I have been working and training to get better. I think I can show that I have good field awareness.”
Obviously union differs from league in a few key areas – the scrums, the existence of rucks and mauls, and how you finish a tackle. On that last one, in league the ballcarrier, once tackled, gets up and rolls the ball back to a halfback waiting to make a pass. If he can do that quickly, the defense can’t reset and there’s lots of space to run. So tacklers work to lie on the tackled player and slow down his recovery.
Of course in union that’s done, too, but it’s technically a penalty and following the rugby league way would likely get you in trouble.
Clark said he’s not concerned with that – he’s played plenty of union and knows what’s required.
“Well I’ve always played in the backs, so I didn’t ruck a lot; for a back it’s pretty simple, I think. I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting the hang of it.”
A powerful athlete with speed and tons of experience already, and one who doesn’t back down from a challenge might be exactly what the USA Selects needs.