Danny Barrett: ‘We Are Going to Be Brash and in Your Face’
Written by Joe Harvey | Photo by KLC Fotos
There is little doubt that 2022 will be a year of immense change in Danny Barrett’s life. Not only will the 31-year-old be playing 15-a-side rugby for the first time in seven years, but it is also the year he will become a father.
Expecting a daughter this month, Barrett is still in California at present, his new Houston SaberCats teammates preparing for their 2022 Major League Rugby season opener against the Los Angeles Giltinis at the AVEVA Stadium.
Best known for representing the USA on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, as well as two Olympic Games and at a home Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament, Barrett’s move to the Houston SaberCats comes after his most recent Olympic campaign.
Photo by KLC Fotos
In Tokyo, Barrett and his teammates finished sixth overall, losing to South Africa in the 5th place playoff after finishing second in their group. Since joining the USA Sevens team, Barrett has only seen his nation’s fortunes improve in the rugby world, a second-place finish in the Series in 2018/19 quite possibly the highlight of his time with USA Sevens.
After seven years of near-constant travel in order to play professional rugby, Barrett’s attentions have now turned to a new challenge. Houston placed at the foot of the Western Conference in 2021, 13 points adrift of their nearest rivals, the Seattle Seawolves.
“It reminds me of USA Sevens when I first joined,” Barrett said. “I will never forget when I first got that email, because I didn’t get a phone call or anything like that. I was at a movie, I came home, I was talking to my buddy, checked my email and I had a contract from USA Sevens.
“When I was talking to my buddy earlier in the day, I said ‘they are not that good. I probably won’t go’. Almost 10 years later, we are a pretty darn good side. We almost won the Series in 18/19 and we were hard done by not to medal in Tokyo.
‘I want people to underestimate us, who better to go up against than the defending champions LA Giltinis in Round 1.’ 💪
— The Rugby Network (@therugbynetwork) January 10, 2022
“So, that’s kind of a challenge I look forward to, because we (Houston) are that wounded dog right now and nobody really respects us in the league. We are going to use all of that to get ahead and use that as a steppingstone.
“We are going to bring a mindset and an attitude to come out and actually dominate people. One of the things with Houston is that I got to sit with the ownership over lunch and over dinner to hear their thoughts about what they want from the team.
“They want to win so bad. That’s all it is about, what we have to do. For them to have the confidence in me and say that I am a key part of that, and they wanted me here to help them win is special.”
Throughout this discussion, the theme of family consistently came up. Family has been at the very heart of Barrett’s rugby journey to date, following in the footsteps of his brothers, Neil and Jim, in picking up a rugby ball, all the way up to playing with one another at the University of California, Berkeley.
“We all got to play together for a few games and that was my parents’ dream; getting us all to college and getting us all to play together,” he said. “We were able to do that a handful of times that season.”
Having spent the entirety of his life in California, it was the pull of a new family being created by the SaberCats in Houston. It is a family being spearheaded by a new leadership group on and off the field.
Much like their new star flanker, Houston themselves are experiencing their own widespread changes. Bringing in former South Africa Head Coach, Heyneke Meyer, as Director of Rugby, along with former Bulls Head Coach, Pote Human, the team’s recruitment this offseason suggests that there could be the winds of change in Houston.
Matai Leuta, Christian Dyer and Maka Unufe, like Barrett, join from the USA Sevens squad, as Siaosi Mahoni and Keni Nasoqeqe are domestic arrivals from San Diego Legion. Juan Pablo Zeiss comes from the Jaguares XV in Argentina, as Willie Britz and Dillon Smit lead a contingent of 10 South Africans to Texas.
With so many new faces arriving in the state’s largest city, it is the coaching group that are encouraging that their players engage with one another as much as possible in order to make the transition to living in a new city as easy as possible.
“My wife got a text message today to join a wives and girlfriends group the team has put forth,” Barrett said. “The organization sent a message and said to reach out to Siaosi Mahoni’s wife who is going to put everyone in a group chat to bring the family together.
“Maka Unufe is down there with his wife and kids, and they are absolutely loving it. The team is bringing the families in for BBQs, because they don’t want to only get to know us as rugby players, but as family men. For me that is a huge selling point.
“You’ve put in the time, the sweat, emotion …
“As well as sacrificed a few fingers, shoulders, toes and knees to name a few.”
— USA Rugby (@USARugby) July 6, 2021
“I don’t know all that many people in Texas, and Texas is a huge state. I might know one or two people in Houston, but my wife doesn’t know that many people. So, for the team to reach out and to do that, not just for us, but everyone on the team is massive.
“We want to get down there and not have to worry about anything. We are going to have a baby; we are going to need help. My family is in San Francisco, hers are in Washington state.
“Then Heyneke and Pote have both offered to babysit for us. How often have you heard of coaches wanting to babysit for you?”
Barrett brings with him immense experience. Having started playing rugby at the age of 14, it was in the 15-a-side game that the back-row made himself known to international coaches. Picked to represent the USA Selects in 2013 after achieving consecutive Collegiate All-American 15s caps between 2010 and 2013 when attending Cal.
Gaining his USA Sevens contract the same year he collected his first 15s cap, Barrett started all four of the Eagles’ Rugby World Cup games in 2015, just a year removed from a trial with English Premiership club, Gloucester.
Photo by KLC Fotos
Having never made the playoffs, there is hope that this new era in yellow and black can hopefully see the team make the postseason for the first time, Barrett believing there is a key way in which he and his new teammates will go about their business to upset the rest of the league.
“I think people should expect us to be immensely physical,” Barrett said. “We have some really big bodies coming in. Everybody knows there is a big South African influence, and the way South Africans play, in my experience, they want to be physical.
“As Americans, we don’t shy away from that either. Especially as Texans – and I am not one myself just yet – but embracing that culture of what Texas has to bring.
“We are going to be physical; we are going to be defensive and at the end of the day, we are going to be brash and in your face. That’s who we are and what we do. I think physicality is our best friend.”
(Nov. 27, 2023) – Major League Rugby (MLR), which represents the highest
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Davey Wilson When Jayson Potroz
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