As well as getting reactions after games or finding out more about how our players prepare we want to help London Irish fans get to know the new guys on the team a little better, so Matt Merritt from @RugbyLI caught up with US Eagle Bryce Campbell to see how he found his way to Irish and how he’s settling in now he’s here. (You might notice this interview is presented differently, this is definitely not because Matt failed to record their chat correctly…)
Bryce Campbell has been one of US Rugby’s shining lights, the physical centre who describes himself as a powerful runner whose job is to make meters for the team is an imposing physical presence, a powerful option at either centre spot who is not afraid to get stuck in as demonstrated in an imposing debut at Vallis Way. Asked how he felt after the game, Campbell responds positively. “Yeah, really good. There’s lots more to come and the team weren’t nearly at our best.” It’s an honest assessment that belies a strong second half performance despite a number lads making their debuts.
I’m always intrigued how people in ‘non-traditional’ markets find themselves playing rugby and in Bryce’s case it was a chance invite from some friends in Indianapolis who were playing at a local team. “In (American) football as a kid you can only run with the ball if you’re under a certain weight and I was too big so I would’ve had to play defence, rugby gave me a chance to pick up the ball and run with it”. High School found Campbell playing for Royal Irish a team formed of players at his own and a neighbouring school. “They called us the fighting Irish. It’s pretty cool, friends and family are like ‘You’re playing for the Irish again!’”
University took Bryce to Indiana where he caught the eye of US coaches and he was established in the set up there by the time he graduated. It was through friends in the international team that he found himself heading to Glendale, Colorado just a day after leaving Uni! The Glendale Raptors would quickly become one of the top teams in the inaugural Major League Rugby season and Campbell was a key part of their success, a regular starter who scored a try in the playoff finals. Sadly the Raptors lost to Seattle, a loss that clearly still grates on the nerves, though Bryce is quick to credit the Seawolves for being one of the most impressive teams in MLR, regularly filling their 5,000 or so seater stadium.
When asked how he came to ply his trade for London Irish, Campbell explains he got himself an agent who sent a video of his games around European clubs. “I’d always wanted to play professionally in Europe” he explains. The video found it’s way to Declan Kidney, who clearly liked what he saw. Over a couple of weeks the two spoke repeatedly and the end result was the offer of a contract that would see Bryce pitch up at Hazelwood for pre-season where he received a warm welcome. “The boys have been great, I’ve been invited to dinner, out for coffee… They’ve looked after me well!”
Campbell certainly isn’t a lone American, with a number of US born players plying their trade in the Championship these days. When asked if there are any in particular we should look out for, Bryce cites Ronnie McLean at Richmond as a player we’ll be seeing soon and name checks Nick Civetta at Doncaster as a talented US lock.
We end with a stat I came across by chance. No US Eagle who has started 16 or more games can equal no 497’s win percentage in the white shirt. Since his capped debut against Romania in November 2016 the US have lost just five games, are two time Americas Rugby Championship winners, with a 5-0 record in 2018 and even beat Scotland in the summer!
Bryce acknowledges the stat but is clear that he wants it to continue for a while yet and that he’s always looking to improve. It’s only a short chat but it’s clear that for all he’s a hard hitting guy on the field of play Campbell is a friendly presence off it. He finishes the call with a short message for fans “I just wanted to say thanks for all the support so far and I look forward to playing at Madejski Stadium”.
Judging by the way he has played so far we have no doubt Bryce will get a warm welcome.