An Inside Look at Rugby ATL with Head Coach Scott Lawrence
Scott Lawrence's coaching journey began in 2004 at Life University, Georgia. Over the course of Lawrence's 15 years association at Life, players such as Cam Dolan, AJ MacGinty and Dylan Fawsitt have passed through the doors and gone on to professional clubs in both Europe and America.
Performing several different roles over this time, Lawrence was at the heart of the university's success and is now at the helm of Major League Rugby's new franchise, Rugby ATL. Announced as the team's head coach in December of last year, Lawrence is still serving as an assistant coach for the USA Men's National Team, the Eagles, as they prepare for their Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan this autumn.
"It's helped working with professionals and building robust processes to share information to arrive at a best choice game plan in a short period of time." Scott Lawrence started after being asked about how his time with USA Rugby has prepared him for life as a Major League Rugby Head Coach, "Probably, the biggest preparation has been from learning from international coaches that I've been fortunate to work beside."
Having worked closely with Eagles Head Coach Gary Gold for the past two years, Lawrence has seen the effect that Major League Rugby has had on the US national team. A first win over a tier one national side occurred in the midst of MLR's first season when the USA beat Scotland 30-29 in Houston.
"MLR has without a doubt had a notable impact on the performance of the national team in the last two years. The best part is that the league is in its third year and you can see the level of play jumping up each season. If we keep going at this rate of improvement, the Eagles will make the world take pause."
Having watched the first two seasons of MLR from afar, this will be Lawrence's first taste of the competition as a coach. He says that the league has gone from strength to strength both on and off the field.
"From the beginning the standard of play and the fan experience has just gotten better and better. The change from year one to year two was exciting to watch and we have to comment the courage of the inaugural teams to get the league off the ground."
Having lived in Georgia for much of the last 20 years, Lawrence admits that working for ATL will be a labour of love for the former Eagle was easily swayed by his new employers to bring rugby union to the city; "I've been all over the world with rugby for the last 20 years, but have called Atlanta home during that time.
"We've grown to love the city and the vision to bring joy to the city of Atlanta via rugby from our owner, Marcus Calloway, and CEO, Bob Taylor, sold me right away. Hence our name, Rugby ATL, we dare to be the most entertaining team in the league, to be ambassadors and representatives of the city of Atlanta whether we are playing home or away."
Atlanta's sporting pedigree has raised rapidly in recent years. The city recently hosted the Super Bowl and the city's NFL team, the Atlanta Falcons, have started to regularly make the playoffs after many years of inconsistency.
Added to this, Atlanta United, the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise have taken the league by storm. Winning the MLS Cup last season, as well as the US Open Cup and the Campeones Cup, a competition between teams across North America, Rugby ATL hope to become another fiercely popular sporting franchise in the city.
"There is interest and a fanbase here for us to achieve a level of popularity," Lawrence said, "we know that beyond the conversations we have had in the community and the passionate rugby fans who continue to communicate with us and offer their support.
"Our team ran the numbers with certified market research and found that there are over one million people residing in Atlanta that are interested in attending a rugby game. Whether or not it takes off here comes down to the fan experience we provide, our service to the community and the performance product that we produce.
"We have an enormous responsibility to make it happen, which is just as well as we have some very talented and passionate people working on executing that vision." Lawrence said.
With ATL's inaugural season quickly approaching, Lawrence began his player recruitment some time ago, but says not to judge his team for some time yet; "Ask me again in ten months. We started with a profile of the team we wanted to build here and a roadmap of how we see it evolving over our first three seasons in the league.
"We have executed in some places, struggled in others, as you would expect from a team joining the league in year three. However, our goal has always been to develop players and I believe in the coaching staff here to get the best out of the team that we're assembling."
Rugby ATL will be joining the Eastern Conference in Major League Rugby, competing against the Toronto Arrows, Rugby United New York, the New England Free Jacks, New Orleans Gold and Old Glory D.C.
ATL will begin their season with several exhibition games played by their development team, the 404, and will no doubt be making Major League Rugby even more competitive.
Author: Joe Harvey
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Major League Rugby Stories from September 3, 2019
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