By Peter Borlase, Head Coach
Following what was perhaps one of the most challenging seasons in the 12-year history of our Glendale Rugby organization, we have had to make some very tough decisions moving forward. As you may have already heard, our head coach David Williams was released earlier this month and I know I speak for the entire club when I wish him all the best for in his future endeavors.
Williams had been a part of our Glendale Rugby club since well before the team went professional. Prior to being named head coach, Dave served as a skills coach for us, before going to coach the PRO Rugby Denver Stampede Team in 2016. Most recently, he returned to Glendale to lead the Raptors into the next frontier, the Major League Rugby (MLR) competition.
David has a great rugby IQ, a strong work ethic and did his best to build a strong foundation for this team. We had such a promising first year in the league with the Raptors winning its first seven-straight games in 2018, before ultimately finishing runner-up to the Seattle Seawolves, who defeated the Raptors 23-19 in the first-ever Major League Championship match last June.
It wasn’t long after that loss, however, in which we could feel a turning of the tide. Throughout the off-season and well into 2019, our team continued to struggle to get a foot-hold in the expanded MLR. We lost our first two matches and unfortunately played consistently inconsistent throughout the rest of the season. With a record of 7-7-2, the Raptors Rugby Club found itself finishing in sixth place out of nine teams and, ultimately, with one of our worst seasons in club’s history.
Even with that said, these decisions are never easy, and unfortunately, in the world of professional sports, a coach’s job is very performance driven. However, my job as the Director of Rugby is to ensure that the needs of the organization and the needs of the players align; and the final decision was made to restructure.
We can now announce that Peter Borlase will be returning as Head Coach of the Glendale Raptors for the next season. Born in New Zealand, Borlase played top-level professional rugby for several years overseas before coming to Colorado and putting down roots in Denver. He has been with the Glendale Raptors for just one season, but prior to his time in Glendale, he coached the PRO Rugby Denver Stampede, the Denver Barbarians Rugby Football Club, the USA Under-20 National Team, and Gernika RT, a team in the top division of the Spanish league.
More personally, I have observed Pete coaching at various levels over the years and he not only has the expertise needed for this level, but has a player-centered approach that works well in this modern era. We are convinced Pete will be a great leader for this team moving forward.
We have also confirmed that Luke Gross will be the Raptors new defense coach, Stephen Brett has signed on to be the new attack coach and Nico Rithner will serve as the strength and conditioning coach moving forward.
Gross is currently serving as Glendale’s Director of Amateur Rugby. He is also the Women’s Premier League head coach in Glendale, but with this new position will be stepping down as the head coach of the Glendale Merlins DI Men’s Team, a position he has held for the past two years. He has a tremendous amount of coaching experience to lend the Raptors program, coaching for more than 10 years at the highest levels of the game in the U.S.He also has played professional rugby overseas, and has participated in three World Cups, accumulating 62 U.S. National Team caps over his tenure with the U.S. Eagles.
Brett is also a retired professional rugby player, playing Super Rugby for the Crusaders and Blues, before leaving New Zealand to join the Japanese club Toyota Verblitz and then playing for Bayonne, Lyon and finally at Narbonne in France. He stayed in Narbonne, following his retirement and has been coaching for the club there, but is looking to relocate to Colorado as soon as possible.
Rithner is a long-time strength and conditioning expert, who has lived in the Denver area for more than a decade.He is the president of the International Kettlebell Lifting Federation and has worked as a professional coach with the Colorado Weightlifting Club and Colorado Kettlebell Club, in addition to his many seasons working with the Glendale Rugby teams, coaching athletes to take their training to the next level.
More additions to the staff will be named before long. Thankfully, we have a bit of time during the off-season to get these selections right and start building a group of talented and similar-minded staff as we move into our third season in the MLR.
Speaking of the third season, I have to admit, this next season will no doubt be just as demanding as the last. With three more expansion teams announced heading into 2020, the format for this upcoming season will now see the MLR split into two conferences. Next year’s schedule will include 10 matches, home and away against teams in the western conference, and also 3 home and 3 away matches against the members of the eastern conference. It’s not only the length of the season that lends to the challenges for our staff and players, but also the speed of expansion that leads to many teams having to pull talent from wherever they can, as our domestic player pool grows thin.
However, with that said, we are really looking forward to this off-season and working closely with our staff in hopes of recruiting more and more talent to Colorado. We are hopeful that with the right preparation, we will find ourselves back on top of the MLR standings for 2020 and beyond; and we wish to thank you all for your unyielding support as we build our team into everything we know it can be – the standard for professional rugby in the U.S.