As the afternoon sun beat down on Torero Stadium back in April 2016, Ryan Matyas was preparing himself for his first game as a professional rugby player in the United States. He started San Diego's first professional rugby match at outside-center that day and ended up putting in a good performance, ensuring his place as a regular in San Diego's starting XV. It wasn't his first professional outing -— he’d previously played for New Zealand's North Harbour Sevens — but it was his first major step back into the national 15’s spotlight.Fast forward 18 months later and Matyas was starring in USA colors for the Eagles’ autumn tests against Germany and Georgia. His impact was notable in both tests and helped the USA return home with a 1-1 record.
Even with all of his success on the professional and national stage, however, Matyas has committed himself to growing the next generation of American rugby players, signing on as a coach for the U14 San Diego Mustangs team. Mustangs President David Pool commented, “It’s not often that a current professional rugby player, let alone an USA Eagle, joins the coaching ranks of a youth club. That being said, we are extremely excited to have him as a part of our coaching team to help our players become the best ruggers, and young men, they can possibly be.”
With Matyas now a part of the San Diego Mustangs coaching team, former Mustang Ronan Nelson was sent by the Mustangs to ask him some questions on how he got his start in rugby, where his playing journey has taken him, and how he plans to juggle coaching and national team duties.
Ronan: So, when did you start playing rugby and how did you get into it?
Ryan: I played my first game when I was 12. The only youth rugby in my city was an under-19s club team and I played in the B side. I grew up on the sidelines of my dad’s rugby games, so it was never a question of if I was going to play, it was just a matter of when. He started playing rugby in college and still plays at 59.
Ronan: When did you start thinking “Hey, I'm good at this” and could see yourself making it onto representative sides?
Ryan: I was 14 when I really started to dedicate myself to the sport; eating healthier, training harder, and doing extra training on my own. But it wasn’t until I was 17 that I was selected to the Arizona U19 Select side.
Ronan: When was your first national team match and what was it like pulling on the jersey for the first time knowing you were about to play big-time rugby?
Ryan: My first international rugby match was my debut for the USA 7’s at the first stop of the HSBC World Sevens Series in 2013 at Gold Coast 7s Australia. I came off the bench against New Zealand and it went by like a blur. It was amazing to represent my country and my family on the world stage for the first time. [It was] truly a surreal moment.
Ronan: Let's look towards the coaching side of the game. What was your first involvement in coaching and what drew you to it?
Ryan: I actually stumbled into coaching while playing high school rugby. Every time we got a new kid out to come practice I would end up staying with him after practice or getting there early to help him with skills and his understanding of the game. It wasn’t until 2011 that I actually got my certificates and helped my father coach my old team.
Ronan: What's your favorite thing about being a coach?
Ryan: My favorite part is seeing the transition and growth in players, not only watching them go on to play bigger and better rugby, but also watching them become better people off the field.
Ronan: It may be early stages yet, but what are your goals for your team and what do you want to accomplish in your first year with the Mustangs?
Ryan: It’s no secret, we are just like everyone else, we want to win a championship. But as long as the boys had fun and at the very least every player walks away better than when they showed up, then I’ve done my job.
Ronan: Now, we all know you are still a part of the USA Eagles setup. How do you plan on splitting your time between coaching your Mustangs team and fulfilling your duties to the Eagles?
Ryan: My role with the Mustangs is to not only coach the players but to help the coaches as-well. By doing both, if I am called away on international duties [my fellow coaches] will be able to continue to implement the structure we have put in place, and continue the boys’ development as they have done for so many years