Kurt Baker – ‘The Group Is Pretty Excited About Where We Are At’
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Paris Malone
With four games left in the regular Major League Rugby season, Old Glory DC find themselves second in the Eastern Conference and have their dreams of reaching the postseason very much in their sights.
It has been a memorable season for Josh Syms’ team, the New Zealander had a significant impact on the group as the team looked to recover from 2022, where the side finished up with a 3-13 record.
Most recently, the team traveled to Toronto to play the Arrows, the game finishing up as a 29-29 draw, with the home side missing a late kick which could have seen them send DC home with their heads in their hands.
What a game! @OldGloryDC and @TorontoArrows end even at 29 each in a draw that saw multiple lead changes, thrilling tries and drama right until the end.
Check out the full match highlights.
🎥 FS2 | #TORvDC | #MLR2023 pic.twitter.com/rXXQiJLHfb
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) May 19, 2023
“If you look at it, it would be quite frustrating from our perspective,” Kurt Baker told MLR. “We had done enough to get back in, we were winning, and we were ahead. We gave them one more opportunity to score, and they took it.
“They missed the kick, and we were happy because it meant we got more points, but if you actually peel back the game, we probably weren’t very happy with how we played as a group.
“You are happy you came away with something, but in hindsight, would have liked to come away with something more.”
That disappointment with not being on the winning team is indicative of the headspace that this Old Glory team is in.
This season, the side has dispatched the competition’s incumbent champions, Rugby New York Ironworkers, and the Utah Warriors, those two victories highlight an overall impressive season.
Baker has been at the heart of changing the team’s mindset, the 34-year-old marrying his playing commitments with coaching duties and working closely alongside his former Hawke’s Bay coach, Syms.
Throughout his playing career, Baker has become accustomed to winning. As a core member of the New Zealand’s men’s sevens squad for 14 years, he won multiple Rugby World Cup Sevens, two Commonwealth Games gold medals, and an Olympic Games silver at Tokyo 2020.
“There are still games we look back on through the year that we have probably let go,” Baker said. “Which I think is a good thing, because we now have more of an expectation as a group to win.
“Last year was a difficult year for the club, so that was a big shift we wanted to make as a playing group, but also as a coaching group; that we are here to win and compete.
“To be disappointed with not winning is a good sign. We want to have a group of guys that are going out week in and week out to win, so a draw wouldn’t meet those standards.”
Out of the team for the past three games in order to return to New Zealand and attend the birth of his second child, Baker’s return to DC has come at a crucial time. The team is only going to benefit from the return of their full-back.
This weekend on FS2, the team hosts the Western Conference powerhouse, the Seattle Seawolves, before visiting NOLA Gold and Houston SaberCats. Then they finish their regular season off at Segra Field as Rugby ATL pays a visit.
As things stand, DC’s position in the Eastern Conference is by no means secure. With 33 points to their name, with New York just a point adrift, with ATL and NOLA also just a stone’s throw from playoff contention.
“Everyone knows our conference this year has been up and down,” Baker said. “Everyone has been all over the place, and it could change pretty drastically within a week or two weeks.
“We have got some pretty tough opposition in the last four weeks, so we are aware that every week counts for us. Which I think is a good place to be.
“It is a good challenge for us as a group to see if we can string together more than one or two performances or more than one or two moments in the games.
“I think the group is pretty excited about where we are, but we’re also not going to stop there.”
Having never reached the postseason since joining MLR in 2020, there is sizable motivation for DC to finish this next block of four games strongly and power into an Eastern Conference Eliminator.
“For us, it is just about making sure that we get better at what we do every week,” Baker said. “You can get caught as teams and as players at looking ahead at your next opposition and worrying a lot about them.
“But at the end of the day, if you watch a lot of rugby games, usually a team’s worst enemy is itself. I’m really big on that as a player, but with that coaching hat on, I think as long as you keep improving weekly, we will have had 16 weeks to get better.
“If you can get to the end of the season and feel like you have improved. We will be much better for that. I think we are starting to see that from our group at the moment, which for me is really exciting.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE ‘MENTAL FITNESS’?
I suppose it is just having things where you can be mindful. Whether that’s exercise, reading a book, or doing nothing at all, but knowing where you can relax and get away from everything.
As you probably know, the world is a hectic place, and it leads your brain to different places. I have always thought of mental fitness as having something that you can do where you don’t have to think, and you can get away from it all.
HOW DO YOU CHECK IN ON YOUR TEAMMATES?
I always like to say ‘hi’ to my teammates in the morning, but I feel like the best way to check in is when it is not a team environment, so it might be on the weekend or two weeks after your season has finished and send them a text. That is probably the times they would least expect someone to check in on them, I suppose.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE STRUGGLING IN SILENCE?
Probably just to find someone that they trust to talk to. I have been in groups where I have had good mates struggle, and they have felt comfortable talking to me. It’s finding someone they feel comfortable opening up to, and trust is big in that.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Probably finding those things where you can be mindful and don’t have to think about rugby or whatever is stressing you out.
Finding those things earlier and making sure you are aware of those things. From a young age, you don’t really understand it, and as you get older, you learn where you can wind down and just get away from it all.
HOW ARE YOU OUT OF 10?
I’ll go with an eight. I’m pretty good, I’m pretty happy. As you get older and your life changes, you get different things that affect your mental fitness.
My wife, daughter, and newborn son are back home in New Zealand, which is probably not ideal for me, and my happy place is with them. So as a family man, you knock a few points off because that is probably not my ideal.
Nate Augspurger – A Lot Of People Have Put A Lot Of Effort And Energy Into The Team
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by John Matthew Harrison San Diego
USA Men’s Eagles to host Stade Toulousain in Utah this September
Following a three-match tour of Europe in August, the USA Men’s Eagles
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