Stan South: ‘We Knew the Wins Were Going to Come’
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Paris Malone
Coming out of their second bye week, Old Glory DC’s Stan South spoke to majorleague.rugby about the team’s 2022 season to date and how the side are preparing for an encounter with the New England Free Jacks.
In his second year at Segra Field, South has quickly become one of the Flags’ leaders both on and off the field. The 25-year-old Englishman came to America with experience with English Premiership clubs Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs, England U20s and French team, Brive.
UP AND RUNNING
Until mid-April, Old Glory had been unable to pick up a maiden win of the 2022 Major League Rugby season.
But a clash with the Utah Warriors on April 15 ended in a 22-21 win in Leesburg, Virginia, the relief on players, coaches and fans faces there for all to see after finishing as the losing side on the previous nine occasions.
In the end it took tries from Junior Sa’u, Peni Lasaqa, Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz and Fintal Coleman to overcome their visitors, a result that was sharply followed up with a win a week later over the Dallas Jackals.
Despite their early season form, South says that although results going their way, Old Glory still maintained their self-belief.
“We actually don’t think that any of the teams are better than us,” South said. “We actually let them back into the games or we didn’t come out of the gates fast enough, so everything was us. We were the ones to blame.
“We knew where we needed to improve, some weeks we would improve it, but then we would lack somewhere else and then pick up where we left off the week before and then we would improve somewhere else.
“It almost turned into chasing your tail. You were trying to fix it, but you were actually getting a bit worse, and the coaches and players had to take a step back and say, ‘how can we improve this, and a vast majority of things?’.”
A constant throughout Old Glory’s struggles was that in most of their losses, not all that much separated DC and their opposition.
Against NOLA Gold, Rugby New York and the Toronto Arrows in late-March and early April, the losing margin was never more than nine, the team improving as the weeks went on, culminating in their recent form.
In that time, Old Glory have had a change in coaching, with Nate Osbourne coming in as Interim Head Coach following Andrew Douglas’ midseason departure from the team after their seventh loss of the season.
“We knew the wins were going to come, but obviously they came a lot later than we would have wanted them to,” South said. “We only had one game where we were beaten up, and that was against Austin in the second game of the season.
“Every other game, we made the opposition work for it, and sometimes the scores didn’t reflect that, but every single game we put our hearts on the line, and it did show. At the end of the day, things had to change.
“On the whole, we were on the up and up throughout the season. We were definitely getting there; we were just too late.”
LEARNING TO LEAD
Having made his Harlequins debut back in 2015, South went on to play for Exeter Chiefs and Brive in the years that followed, arriving in Washington DC with seven years of professional rugby experience.
As such, the 25-year-old was one of the most experienced players in the team. Playing 10 games in 2021, South says that he has learned from last years’ experiences and come back as an even more effective player in the group.
“I sort of came in and spoke, but I probably spoke too much,” South explained. “That is definitely one of my improvements this year; just biting my tongue and letting other people answer.
“I feel more like a leader this year, not just through my game, but during the off-field stuff, during training, and helping out some of the other guys, but also staying open to feedback.
“As soon as you get to that point where you feel like you know best in every single situation, that us where you are going to fall down.
“It doesn’t matter if someone is in their first year of rugby or if somebody is in their 20th year of rugby, you have got to be open to feedback. I am not great at it, but I am definitely better than I was.”
With these lessons on board, South was named as one of the members of the Old Glory leadership group heading into the 2022 MLR season.
Approaching a decade of being a professional rugby player, this newfound responsibility is something that the lock forward has relished at this stage of his career.
“I was lucky enough to be named as one of the leaders inside the squad,” South said. “That is something I have wanted in every team I have been a part of.
“I have always wanted to have that responsibility, for people to come up and see me as someone who has that knowledge they can use.
“I have enjoyed it, I have really enjoyed having that responsibility, and I just want more. I want to carry on enjoying my rugby, which I am at the moment.
“With the responsibility, I don’t feel like there was any more added pressure, I just felt like that was part of my job and that is what I had to do.”
PLAYING THE CONFERENCE LEADERS
Playing New England this weekend at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Old Glory will be coming up against a team that has just set the longest winning streak in MLR history.
A record held by the Toronto Arrows, who closed off their 2019 season with seven consecutive wins on their way to the playoffs, DC will be heading up to Massachusetts with their own winning streak to extend in what will be a clash between the Eastern Conference leaders and bottom-placed side.
Despite going into a bye week following their second win, it all adds up to the perfect motivation for the lock and his teammates when it comes to Saturday afternoon.
“Once you are on a roll, you want to stay on it, but at the same time your bodies are sore and you do need that mental and physical rest,” South said. “I think that it has been a good thing for us to have this bye week, but we have had to start fast this week.
“When we were back in on Monday, we had to be switched on and ready to go because we are against one of the best teams this weekend. They are on an eight-game win-streak at the moment, so they are on a high and going well.
“We have got something to look forward to, to try and take that away from them, because we are on a roll, we are feeling good about ourselves and all the staff and players know what we are capable of, and we know what we want to play and who we want to play for.
“We have just got to take that energy and that want and that desire into this game against the Free Jacks.”
MLR mental fitness
- How do you contribute to your mental health on a daily basis?
Our team manager said to us early in the season, that if you make your bed in the morning, as soon as you get up, you have already completed one thing, so no matter how the day is going to turn out, you have started with one positive thing. You make your bed, then you go to work and you do all your normal things. But once you come home, doesn’t matter if you have had a good day or a bad day, you are coming back to a bedroom that is ready for you to go to bed, and it is clean and it is tidy, I feel like if you have cleaned your bedroom, you have a clean mind. I know boys do it with their boots, after a game they clean their boots and get rid of everything that has happened in the game, so it is a mental thing, but you are backing it up with a physical thing as well.
- How do you define being “fit” both physically and mentally?
Everyone is different with it. Most of the time you can see when someone is physically fit. But, mentally it is a lot harder to see when somebody is struggling. That’s where your friends and family come in to pick you up, recognising the places where you are not normally like that. We have all been through something hard, and you think you would know your friends well enough to pick them up or recognize when something with them isn’t quite right.
- How important is mental clarity for you on game days?
It is very important to me. I feel like I have got to know all my roles and responsibilities on the field. So, for me it starts when I enter the locker room. I set up my locker the same way every week. Everything is in height order, I have things in special places and then I take those things in height order, but they also go away in order as well. So I will have a water and a Gatorade, but they are in height order, so I have the water first and then I start sipping away at the Gatorade. Then I have my tape’s in order and I use those tape’s on different parts of my body. That helps me mentally prepare for a game, but then also when I come onto the field, I do the same warmup, for the same amount of time, the same passes, because I feel like that, throughout my career, has helped me get ready physically, but also mentally, for a game. Once you feel like you are comfortable in something that you are doing, you will then have a better game. It is obviously not every time, and I guess it can fall under superstition, but if you have a clear head of what you need to do, how you need to do it, then you won’t be thinking. It is almost natural and it is just happening throughout the game. I feel like if you have a clear mind of what you need to do, and how to do it and you portray that onto the field, I feel like you have a better game.
- Do you find that physical activity and exercise helps you mentally?
I feel like sport in general helps everybody get out of their head. Any sort of activity – running, badminton, table tennis, cricket, golf, whatever it is – because you are focussing on that, I feel it does allow you to be outside of your head, which everybody needs to do, because being inside your head the whole time is not healthy. For me, I prefer team sports, somewhere where I can be around other people and then I can also talk to those people, because they are people that I trust. Then there are occasional sports I do like, like golf, where you can play that by yourself, where you can get away from everybody and reset or you could play with friends as well, and that is four hours you can talk about complete rubbish whilst you are on the course, or things that you feel like you need to tell somebody, to help get it off your chest. You want to be speaking to the right people, and if you are, you will get the right feedback, even if it is things you don’t want to hear. But that will help. Sport in general is very, very good for the ability to improve your mental health.
- How do you mentally overcome a tough loss or injury?
Injuries are the worst part about professional sport. You want to be playing rugby for as much of the season as possible, so if you get a long-term injury it hurts. Because you are no longer able to do what you want to do or what you love, you are watching everybody else do it. Rehab can become very, very repetitive and very boring very quickly. That side of rugby is pretty undocumented and a lot of people don’t really see it, because you are out of the limelight, but it is a hard place to be, which is why you need to stay within the group, go to the coaches and ask how you can help the team in the week. Whether that is reviewing the team we are going to be playing at the weekend, the team you’re playing in two weeks time, so you are helping the coaches there. You can help the players review their game, but it is very easy to fall out of the squad when you are injured, because you are not where everybody is. It is important that you do stay within that group, because otherwise everything can become a lot harder.
No one likes losing, everyone loves to win. So, when you are competitive, it does creep up on you. We went through it a few times this season, we had nine losses in a row and it almost started to become the normal thing every week, coming in and asking why we didn’t win. It is the ability to stay honest with each other and to be able to take criticism. No one likes being told that they are wrong, but you have got to stay open and know that the information being given to you is coming from the good side of somebody. They are not trying to knock you down and make you feel even worse, it is there to make you a better player and a better person, to then improve yourself and the team.
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