By: Mark Janzen
As an American rugby star, Cam Dolan has done it all.
The towering No. 8, hailing from Fort Myers, Florida, was a member of USA Rugby’s U17 (2007), U18 (2008), and U20 (2009) teams. He was a four-time Collegiate All American at Life University, winning a D1A national championship in 2013. He has played professionally overseas with both the Northampton Saints in England (Premiership Rugby) and the Cardiff Blues in Wales (Pro14).
He’s also been capped 35 times by the USA Eagles fifteens outfit and twice with the sevens side. Most recently, Dolan, 28, made the inaugural First All-MLR Team while playing with the San Diego Legion in Major League Rugby’s inaugural campaign.
Dolan is now on the East Coast, playing with Old Blue of New York this fall as he prepares for USA’s November tour. A day before he and his Old Blue teammates beat New York Athletic in their American Rugby Premiership season-opener, Aedelhard caught up with Dolan to find out a little more about his past year, his MLR experience, and the future of rugby in the United States.
The first year of the MLR is in the books. How would you compare it to your experiences in Europe?
There are a lot less mistakes over there, but the training is almost identical to what we did in San Diego. Our set up this year was the same as any other professional environment I’ve ever been in, which was really nice.
Having been in it for the inaugural season, what’s the future of the MLR?
I think it’ll be great. I think it’ll be like the MLS in 20 years. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t, especially with the way the NFL is going these days…with the rule changes and safety issues. A lot of parents don’t want their kids playing [football] just because of the dangers that they might have later on in life.
[In rugby], I think the laws protect the players a bit more, and the laws are a bit more clear-cut, whereas in football, they’re not. With that said, we’re also taught from a young age the proper techniques to things, where in football you’re taught to smash people…you know what I mean. They are bringing the safe tackling techniques into football, but I just think that process is going to take a while.
I mean, obviously football is going to reign and it always will. It’s a fun sport to watch. I thoroughly enjoy watching it and every American enjoys watching it. It’ll still be No. 1, but I think we’re going to get a bit more of a turnover coming over to rugby.
At this stage, what’s the key to growing rugby in the United States?
I think development from a younger age. Take myself for an example. I didn’t pick up a rugby ball until I was 17 and I’m not the only case of that. I think developing our skills from a young age to where they become a habit is vital to catching up to the rest of the world. We have the numbers, the athletes and the facilities, so we have no excuses as far as that goes. We just need to develop skills, so by the time you’re in your early twenties, you’re already established. You’re always learning, but you don’t want to have to be learning basic skills in your early twenties.
How do you see the MLR playing into that development?
I mean, what’s every kid’s dream who likes sports – to play professionally, right? Before, when there wasn’t an opportunity, it wasn’t really something you went after. Whereas now, you can get a scholarship to college and play professionally after. So, why not pursue it?
How did your time playing overseas help you in your career?
It was very beneficial. The three places where it helped me the most were set pieces, fitness – like what fitness level it takes to play at the highest levels – and in contact areas, including the little details around attacking and defensive rucks.
What was the appeal of the MLR for you?
After the MLR started to gain more traction, I kind of wanted to be part of it and be a pioneer. I do want to stick with rugby and see where it goes, and I’m not getting any younger, so if a contract came up (overseas) that was worth it, I would definitely take it. But I mean, I love living in America and I’m very proud of that.
How would you describe the state of the USA Eagles right now?
I think we’re in a really good place at the moment. We had a year of building after the World Cup. A lot of those World Cup players are no longer playing. I think the PRO Rugby in 2016 was really beneficial to the success we’re having now and I think the MLR has been very beneficial as well. I think (USA head coach) Gary Gold is doing really good things and we have really good management.
And with that in mind, how would you describe the massive win USA earned over Scotland this summer?
The boys fronted up. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to play Tier 1 nations, so we have to take it when we get it. I think the boys did really well. It was a back and forth match. I think we were definitely fit enough for the game and we were physical enough, and the skill level was there. In past years, we’ve always been really good for 50 or 60 minutes and then it drops off, so it was nice to see that not being a factor this time.
Dolan will continue to play for the Old Blue this fall as he prepares for the USA Eagles’ international tour. Next up for Dolan and his teammates is a contest with Mystic River Rugby on Sept. 15th.
The Eagles tour will include confirmed games against the Maori All Blacks (Nov. 3) and Ireland (Nov. 24).