Gavin Hickie, former Leicester Tiger now California based Rugby Coach
Former Leicester Tigers hooker Gavin Hickie must feel like a boy in a sweet shop with just 10 pence in his pocket.
The affable Irishman left Welford Road in 2008 after two seasons with what he called “an amazing club” and headed to America to spread the word of rugby to a nation bred on American football, baseball, ice hockey and basketball.
He married an American girl called Jessica and has just been appointed forwards coach of Belmont Shore in Los Angeles.
While selling rugby to the Americans is not quite as tough as selling ice cream to the Eskimos, it is still some task.
“Every time I speak to someone about rugby over here, I always get the same reaction,” said Hickie.
“They think we are crazy to play such a tough and physical sport without any padding.
“They also find it hard to understand how a referee can have so much influence on the game.
“In American sports like football, baseball and ice hockey, there are referees all over the place making sure that all decisions are spot-on.
“It’s black and white for them. There is no subjectivity like there is in rugby from one person in the middle with a whistle.
“They also take up the game a lot later than we do. Because it’s not played in the schools, they are getting involved around 21, 22 years of age, and that can be tough to pick up the skills involved.
“There are certainly the athletes out here for the game to really take off and there are already some very good players and a lot of commitment.
“If we can get people into club rugby, learning about the game, the physical skills and mental attributes will come.”
Gavin Hickie‘s first experience of American rugby was eye-opening.
Having left Leicester after a lack of first-team exposure in his second season, he arrived in Los Angeles on a Tuesday and was playing for Belmont Shore in the Super League on the Saturday.
He said: “At Leicester, everything was done for you and laid on a plate, even your laundry.
“America was a serious culture shock. We flew to Seattle, hired some cars and drove to a park in the middle of nowhere. We put 50 points on them and flew straight home.
“That Super League is falling apart at the moment because they are all amateur clubs flying all over America to play games and there just isn’t the money to do so.
“But here on the west coast, we are hopeful of getting a league up and running that will be of a good standard because there are some strong clubs around in LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Las Vegas.”
“For 300 days of the year, it is bright, warm and sunny. People are active 24 hours a day with roller blading, surfing and the like. It’s incredible, I love living here.” While Gavin Hickie faces a battle at work, his time away from the pitch courts envy, and he said: “I am lucky enough to be living in an affluent area of America near Santa Monica and the lifestyle here is infectious.”
Gavin Hickie’s personal coaching is run through his website at www.lineoutcoach.com and was set up thanks to a huge amount of help from the RFU’s specialist forwards coach, Simon Hardy.
Thanks to Martin Crowson of the Leicester Mercury.
Leicester Mercury interview with Gavin Hickie
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com #busy