STOPPED IN HIS TRACKS: Harvard Sports Club fly half Jerome O' Brien, centre, is brought down by Stag Trinidad Northern's Andrew Crooks, right, during the Marcus Minshall Cup final at Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain on November 3. Harvard won the match, one of their seven titles for 2012, by a 24-11 scoreline. — Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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Fitness, discipline equals good times for Harvard

By Kern De Freitas

It's certainly been a good year for Harvard Sports Club's ruggermen.

To say they dominated the local rugby scene this year would be quite the understatement. The club may have to extend their trophy cupboard to hold the silverware. But their confidence that this season would have been a good one suggests they might have made room beforehand.

For the past six years, Harvard have been plotting their assault on local rugby's riches, according to manager Nicholas Martinez. And it seems to have paid off with seven titles, and a run that saw them end the season as runners-up in the Tobago International Rugby Sevens tournament, stopped at the last by Canadian team Dog River Howlers in the final, 24-14.

For Harvard and Martinez, therefore, it was a "very successful season".

"The management, executive and all the sporting disciplines are quite proud of the rugby section's accomplishment this year," Martinez told the Express yesterday. "The mood in the club right now is one of celebration and pride. Everybody is proud to be associated with the team and club."

According to the manager, the journey to success—which saw the Tragarete Road-based club become the only team outside of Trinidad Northern to unseat Caribs Rugby Football Club from the pinnacle of the Trinidad and Tobago Rugby Football Union (TTRFU) League Toyota Championship Division in two decades—began in 2006.

"I would say it's been a relentless focus on strength and conditioning, discipline and teamwork," is how he explained the genesis of Harvard's ascendancy. "A major part of our success this year was our superior fitness level. Having said that, we've spent a lot of time developing a strength and conditioning programme… and having that extra fitness really set us apart from the other teams.'

In addition to fitness and physical preparedness, the Harvard rugby programme has focused on better management, development, nutrition, "blackboard sessions", and regular match tape analysis, and what Martinez termed "holistic development of players".

The manager has seen the team rise from fourth place in 2008 to second in 2011, when a heart-breaking loss to Northern at the end of the Toyota Championship meant they had to wait another year to try to dethrone Caribs. This time, they were determined to take that next step up.

"I would say it wasn't surprising seeing the amount of work the guys put in," Martinez stated.

Harvard's progress could hardly go unnoticed by the rest of local rugby.

TTRFU president Leslie Figaro is pleased to see the strides made by the club. "In my playing days, Royalians RFC in the '70s and '80s used to rule the roost, and you have Roebucks, and then for this period (1990s-2000s) you had the Caribs and Northerns. It gives a sense [that] the guards or the cycle is changing." Figaro has seen Harvard "putting in the ground work". He talked favourably about their annual August vacation youth camp and their activity in schools rugby. "They are working through, so you now seeing the fruits of that labour," the former rugby player said. Figaro commended Martinez, Harvard head coach Larry Mendez—who is also T&T's national coach—and their technical team for their work with the squad. "They are a very disciplined bunch, so in terms of the instructions, (things are) going according to the game plan. They are taping a lot of their games so (with) the assessment post game, they are able to identify errors…it augurs well for the development of the players."

For Harvard, though, 2012 was not all cool runnings. After a high of seven titles, they were brought down to earth with defeat by Howlers. It was a match that was not beyond their reach, but it reminded Harvard they are not invincible. "(We were) definitely disappointed, but not disgraced or dejected by any means," said Martinez. "It is a good learning curve for the team. After being on such a high (it helped us realise) we can be beaten and work harder. The guys are already committed to working harder to ensure we do win that title next year."

The rugby team has also inspired the other sport sections in Harvard, according to Martinez, and he is hoping they will adopt their approach to fitness and focus to see other Harvard teams follow rugby's example. But most of all, Martinez is hoping—especially with Mendez's role in the national rugby setup—that the national team will benefit from what his club has done, and create competition for places in the T&T squad.

Martinez is also mindful of the fact that Harvard now have a target on their backs after a strong 2012, and teams will now be focused on stopping them next season. He is hoping it will motivate other teams to improve their fitness and performances, which will in turn challenge Harvard to work even harder.

"We've already begun to look at ways to further develop our training programmes," he revealed. "We see the bigger picture for what it does for Trinidad rugby. It will challenge other teams to improve their fitness and push us to work harder. That is really a big part of our focus."

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