Written By Joe Harvey I Photo By Dallas Jackals
In the 2022 Major League Rugby season, the competition’s newest team, the Dallas Jackals, finished their inaugural campaign with an 0-16 record. This summer, the team has announced a series of changes at their Choctaw Stadium home and hopes for new horizons in 2023.
Speaking to Major League Rugby, the team’s new head coach, Agustin Cavalieri, discusses his aims for his first season at the helm and his message to the team’s fans as the team hopes to get a first win in franchise history sooner rather than later.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Arriving in Dallas, Texas, Cavalieri has plenty of experience to his name. At 40, the Argentina-born lock forward played the majority of his senior career in Italy, as well as for teams in France, and even represented the country of his birth at age grade level.
Even during his playing career, Cavalieri helped coach at Rugby Calvisano, helping the side to four Top 12 Championships, and most recently, was the forwards’ coach for the Italian U20 side. In recent years, that Italy age grade side has seen much success, with many players graduating to the Test team, while in their Six Nations campaign this season, the side beat all of England, Scotland, and Wales.
“I am very excited,” Cavalieri said. “I am very happy to arrive in a new place, with a new team, a young team, and trying to bring all my experience, culture, and mentality to bring the first win and continue to win.
“I want to win the first game and continue to win every game. We are looking to win 16 games in the season and then go into the playoffs. That is our mentality; try and win every game that we are going to play.
“I think it’s the most important thing we want to bring to a team, winning. I think it is very important.”
Cavalieri is part of a South American influx at Choctaw Stadium. Along with the head coach, the team’s new General Manager is also an Argentine, Santiago Sodini, from the same town as the coach and joining players such as Conrado Roura, Alejandro Torres, and JP Aguirre with the team.
It stands to reason that whichever team first takes to the team in 2023 will look much different in just a few months’ time. Planning for the new campaign from his home in Italy now, the 40-year-old believes that it is only through blood, sweat, and tears can his new charges have a bright future.
“I love working,” Cavalieri said. “Work is the most important word that we can use. To make things happen, work is the only thing. We must work a lot. We have a lot of work to do.
“I think with the players from last season and the new players that will arrive, we must work together and try to resolve what happened last season, try to bring all our new energy, our new culture, and our new work that we want to try to bring to Dallas.”
Photo by Amparo Ayala
In the case of the Dallas Jackals, there was plenty that surrounded the team’s first season of professional rugby. As a result of the impact of Covid-19, the Jackals joined the MLR a year after they had initially aimed. However, the side had put together a team with a variety of experience.
This included the arrivals of English Premiership stalwarts Henry Trinder and Chris Pennell, while the likes of Carlo de Nysschen and Alex Tucci were experienced MLR campaigners. However, even before a ball was kicked, there was discomfort caused when incoming head coach Michael Hodge could not join the team due to visa delays.
Despite this disruption, the team was more than competitive. In their first home game, the team lost to the Houston SaberCats in the final play of the game, and following an off-field incident, a number of the playing group were injured.
As a result, the team had to look to other MLR teams for trades in order to keep their playing numbers afloat. Unfortunately, this chopping and changing of playing personnel contributed to the team being unable to pick up that first victory in the eyes of their new head coach.
“I watched all their games, and I think the problem they had last season was that they changed too many players in every game,” Cavalieri said. “I think they used between 60 and 70 players for 16 games. That is a lot of players, no?
“A lot of players, I think, was the biggest issue they had last season. When that happens for a team, I think it is hard to go into a system. I saw too many problems with the attack and defensive systems.”
Photo by Amparo Ayala
In the MLR Draft, the Jackals set out their stall with the selection of Sam Golla from the University of California, Berkeley, first overall, and the recruitment of Ethan Hager, Kyle Fulton, Matias Caramuti, Nolan Buckley, Mazvita Nyamarebvu and Jason Tidwell.
Each will undoubtedly lend themselves well to the Jackals’ cause in 2023, while the coaching staff has been buoyed by the arrival of Willie Blanco and Argentina rugby legend, Mario Ledesma.
Ledesma’s coaching experience is varied and reaches across the world of rugby; the former hooker resigned as the Head Coach of Los Pumas earlier this year and will now be an assistant coach and consultant for Dallas.
With his experiences on the biggest stages and bringing those experiences to Dallas in their second season, the 49-year-old is sure to be a major help to Cavalieri in his first season in MLR.
“He was a star as a player, and he has got great results as a coach,” Cavalieri said. “He went to a World Cup Final with Australia, and he was the first head coach from Argentina to win against the All Blacks, so for me, it is just a pleasure to work with him.
“We started working together one month ago; for me, it is a great help, a great resource of experience. I am learning every time with him.”
For fans of the Jackals, there is certainly new hope for 2023. Supporting their side well, Cavalieri is more than aware of the task at hand and has a message for those who will be manning the bleachers in the coming months.
“The message to the fans, we want to say that we are working,” Cavalieri said. “We are working now to arrive in the preseason ready, make the best preseason that we can do, and try to win the first game for the Jackals and continue to win, bring the Jackals a lot of wins and bring a lot of good rugby.”
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