The Austin Blacks have a problem. It’s a good problem, but it’s a problem, nonetheless.
The club appears to be the strongest in Texas, perhaps by a wide margin. That’s a problem because, come playoff time, a strong team in a relatively weak division can be surprised. It takes a special kind of discipline to rise up through that, as Austin scrumhalf Zak Triplett knows.
The Scottish-born #9 was a starter for Cal and helped them win national titles in 2006 and 2007. He knows what it takes to win even after it’s been too easy.
“It starts with our coach [Lachlan Ferguson],” Triplett told RUGBYMag.com. “We’re fortunate to have him. He’s come along here with a much more professional attitude than a lot of teams are able to have, and one of the big things is that he sets goals really high. There’s a pretty good history with the Blacks and our goal is to be the top team in Di in the country, and we have that goal regardless of who we play. It’s the same thing that Coach Clark used to preach at Cal. It’s not about who you’re playing it’s about what you do and your personal standards.”
When Triplett first joined Austin, he was drafted in to help coach, along with experienced prop Mark Brewerton, who took the more high profile job.
Neither was really thrilled about it, but tried to do the best they could. When Ferguson arrived, both were delighted to move back to just playing.
“I’ve been playing since I was seven, so I have a fair bit of instinct for the game,” said Triplett. “I try to help other players with that and show some leadership. But, no, I really enjoy that situation. Half the battle was getting guys out to training. It was difficult. I am glad to just play.”
With Ferguson at the helm, Austin’s numbers are excellent. They field a solid DIII team and new competition rules in Texas make it easier for a DI club to compete with their reserves in DIII. It makes for more rugby for everyone.
“When we have all the guys, the DI guys and the DIII guys, at training it’s great,” said Triplett. “The team’s really come together. We’ve had some good American players come join us from various parts of the country, and as the season goes on your depth is going to be tested, so we’re happy to have those players.”
Leading the way is Triplett, but also center Levi Kereti.
“He’s almost impossible to tackle,” enthused the scrumhalf.”He’s hard-hitting, runs good lines, and is really fun to play with.”
And Will Martin at No.8, along with Brewerton up front lead a solid forward effort.
“We know we need to be better in the scrums, but we’ll work on that,” Triplett said.
The Cal grad is enjoying life in Texas, working for Facebook and playing rugby in Austin.
“I love it,” he said. “Austin is a really, really good place to be. In the rugby it was a struggle for a while. When I came here three years ago we were by no means the top team in Texas. We weren’t even in the top three. So it’s been a rebuilding process.”
Last weekend the Black put everyone on notice with a 43-26 defeat of the Dallas Harlequins, generally accepted to be Austin’s main rivals for the top spot in the league.
“Everyone on our team feels the same way, that the Harlequins games are by far the most fun, the most intense games we play,” Triplett said. “We love playing them. It’s a great challenge for us in part because they play a fun style. The game itself seemed a lot closer than the score shows. We definitely struggled for a while. They were switching direction off the rucks and we had to adjust. But we played well.”
That kind of game can keep a team honest for a while, but the Blacks want to be sure they aren’t complacent. They will go to the Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest in February to play some Super League competition.
But in the end, they have to judge themselves by looking in the mirror.
“It’s not about who you’re playing; it’s about what you do and your personal standards,” said Triplett. “You can’t help who you play so it’s really about analyzing your own performance and trying to get better.”