The Dallas Jackals: Building For Success
Dallas Jackals have been a Major League Rugby team for nearly two months. In that time the side has announced an array of signings, had four picks at the first ever Collegiate Draft and announced a hugely exciting coaching staff.
The core three members of staff all come with unique experiences. Allen Clarke, Head Coach, joins the Jackals with 18 years of high-level coaching experience, most recently with the Ospreys in the Pro 14 and played internationally for Ireland, as well as domestically for Ulster and English side Northampton Saints.
Leaving Ospreys late in 2019, Clarke is extremely excited to be arriving in Texas to take up his new role in person. Currently in South Wales, Clarke says that the offer from Dallas was far too good to turn down, with the opportunity to do a completely unique process that he had never experienced before.
“The prospect of building a squad from scratch, having a blank piece of paper,” Clarke said. “Going through the recruitment process to put a team together and a management team together. I wouldn’t have got to that stage if it wasn’t for the competence of people like Elaine Vassie and the owners. Having spoken to them and exploring more about the Dallas area, sports in Dallas, it grew a seed of excitement. Something that I have thrown myself into.”
Elaine Vassie, Assistant Coach and Assistant General Manager, comes to the Jackals having coached the Dallas Harlequins for the past two years and also has experience as a professional coach with the English and Scottish Unions. Vassie even made headlines in the United Kingdom when she became the first female to be a Director of Rugby at the National League level with Manchester RUFC.
Vassie has already recruited from the Harlequins, bringing in young Scrum Half Mun Jin Ho. Heading up the recruitment and research team ahead of the Collegiate Draft, Vassie is passionate about the promotion of local talent and developing a system to develop American players in the Dallas area to represent the Jackals and, potentially, the national team in the future.
“In terms of understanding rugby in Dallas, the pathway for an American athlete coming through, some of the challenges that come with that, that is probably the greater asset; understanding that part of our pathway and how that is going to link to our aims of developing domestic talent,” Vassie said.
“On the professional side of rugby, we know we have got a really strong fan base and pathway for players, in terms of the volume of players in the Dallas area. In terms of the program, we are very much looking at running a fully professional program to help facilitate that domestic talent. This will be done drawing in the experiences that myself, Allen and Lee (Radford, Defense Coach) have had.”
Selecting Conner Mooneyham (wing/center, Life University) first overall in the Draft, Dallas also selected Tommy Clark (back row, American International College), Levi van Lanen (center, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater) and Bronson Teles (back row, University of Arizona). Also taking part in a draft with LA to select players from Colorado, Clarke is extremely pleased with the side’s recruitment.
Having already announced the signings of former Colorado players, Dallas have brought in the likes of Chad London, Chad Gough, Kelepi Fifita and Carlo de Nysschen. So far only one player coming to Dallas has come from overseas. Back row player Wian Conradie headed to Texas has represented Namibia at the past two Rugby World Cups and spent last year with English side Doncaster in the Championship.
“Fundamentally, they (the players Dallas have recruited) are good people,” Clarke said. “I have spoken to them all on multiple occasions, they have got rugby pedigree behind them and they are all ambitious. I think that they have all got their best rugby ahead of them. Chad London, and I’m sure he won’t mind this, he is the only player that we have recruited who is over 30.
“The majority of the squad are under 25, in fact in their early 20s. You look at Carlo de Nysschen, you look at Fifita, look at Chad Gough, these are people with real rugby potential, and I see them being a tremendous addition. Wian Conradie is of the same substance, young and has been to two World Cups, but is still incredibly ambitious and an incredibly good person.”
As fall approaches slowly but surely, attention is beginning to turn to MLR 2021. Clarke hopes to arrive in Dallas for October and help his team prepare for their first season. He will be coming with Defense Coach Lee Radford, who is coming to the Jackals with over 20 years of experience in professional rugby league.
“Ultimately, I am going to be judged by our success on the field,” Clarke said. “What does that look like in year one? It is a credibility, a style of play, what we are about on the field, the attitude that we show. Success is winning our home games and seeing what we pick up on the road. I am ambitious and you have got to try and manage expectation.
“None of us should fool ourselves; we are in this for winning. There is a level of performance we should never drop below and there is a level of effort within that. How we conduct ourselves off the field, how we grow the game in Dallas. Down the line, the building blocks are put in place as the foundations of Dallas rugby for the future. Because you want to leave a legacy.”
Vassie has, in some ways, been preparing for this role for much of her time in Dallas. First coming to the area in 2013 to coach the Dallas Griffins, a side co-owned by GM Phil Camm, she is hoping to create a unique and special environment at the Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
“Off the field, first and foremost, bringing the players, the fans together, linking to the community off the field, building that family within our squad and the wider community,” Vassie said. “On the field we want to be credible, we want to be competitive. Part of that drive is linked back to developing American players to deliver and I think it will be an exciting first year.”
Written by Joe Harvey; Photos provided by the Dallas Jackals and Griffins Rugby
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