Tim Lewis, the UCSB Rugby Team’s newest head coach, is planning to bring a bit of New Zealand flair to the team, working with Inside Running Academy — a prestigious New Zealand-based program for rugby player development — to advance the team’s skills.
While acting as the main coach for UCSB Rugby, Lewis is also the North American representative for Inside Running Academy and plans to guest coach at the Academy for two to six weeks each year. Through his close connection with the academy, Lewis plans improve the athletic abilities and skills of players on the UCSB team. Lewis has 20 years of coaching and competing experience in 10 different countries, and has spent 11 of those years in New Zealand, gaining championship titles three different times in the past five years.
According to Lewis, his different guest coaching and training experiences will allow him to become a “fresh” coach every year for UCSB. He said he plans to offer the UCSB team new techniques and advice for adapting to the always-changing rules of the game, adding that he sees a bright future ahead for current players.
“I think the university has a lot of potential. The rugby program’s been here over 40 years and the players I have are really intelligent young men, Lewis said. “So I’m dealing with good people and people who are smart…Rugby’s a thinking man’s game. It’s a full-contact sport but there’s a lot of thinking involved.”
Although the campus’s rugby team is a UCSB Recreational Sport, the team is run like a varsity program and is the only Division I Rec Sport at UCSB, Lewis said.
Additionally, UCSB Rugby has several team members who are actually transfer students from New Zealand, reflecting the greater overall influence the region has left on the university’s rugby team.
John Crooke, a fifth-year year student from Christchurch, New Zealand, said the sport has a lot less popularity in the United States than in most other countries. With such a lack of focus on rugby, American teams are simply not on the same level, making UCSB’s recent New Zealand connections all the more beneficial.
“Rugby here in the United States isn’t on the same level as back in New Zealand due to one basic reason — kids here aren’t raised with it,” Crooke said. “In New Zealand, it’s the national sport so whether you like it or not, you learn the rules, you read the plays, you learn to catch and pass and kick a rugby ball — skills which are quite different in application to football or soccer.”
However, Crooke said his experience with UCSB Rugby has been exceptional, adding that the team’s high quality of coaching and management, as well as the close bonding between players, has been very enjoyable for him.
“It’s a great environment with really professional training, and there are always new ideas being thrown around,” Crooke said. “It’s a very approachable leadership team, and all of the team is really close socially as well.”
The “kiwi boys” on the team, or New Zealand natives, are a helpful addition because they offer a different perspective on the game and help improve the skills of American players, according to Crooke, who added that he would like to see the sport gain popularity in the U.S.
“Right now, the U.S.A. National team is ranked 19th in the world and I’d like to see us ranked in the Top 10,” Lewis said.
Inside Running Academy Manager Dan Ward-Smith said the New Zealand-based program hopes to become the world’s leading rugby academy. Ward-Smith said the connection between UCSB and the Academy will be beneficial to both institutions and could potentially help Inside Running Academy reach its higher international goals.
“I can only see positive things for both our academy, as we are enriched by players from new backgrounds and cultures and UCSB as the player base gains experience, skills and the ability to continually improve long after their time with us,” Ward-Smith said in an email.
Lewis said being head coach of UCSB Rugby is a “dream job,” adding that he hopes to maintain and expand his expertise to increase the popularity of the sport and help his players along the way.
The team will compete against San Diego State this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Harder Stadium.