Interview of LSU’s Bob Causey

LSU rugby coach helped revive sport he learned to love in college
By GEORGE MORRIS
Advocate staff writer
Published: Mar 26, 2010 – Page: 1D

Rugby wasn’t on Bob Causey’s mind when he came to LSU in 1972. He planned to walk on to the football team.

But former classmates at Istrouma High School took up the sport and suggested Causey give it a try. It turned out to be nothing like being a defensive lineman.

“They’d throw me the ball and I’d get to run with the ball and do stuff, and, ‘Wow, I think I like this,’” he said. “All of a sudden, this was the game I’d been wanting to play.”

Little did Causey know that he would be part of a national title at LSU, or that rugby would take him all over the world — or that the game and campus would call him back.

In 2005, another former LSU rugger, Scott McLean, was asked to coach the team back to its former glory.

“When I was looking to get somebody to help me, Bob was the first guy I called,” McLean said.

He doesn’t regret it. At 1 p.m. Saturday, 11th-ranked LSU will play Colorado in the Western Rugby Union Collegiate Championships at the LSU UREC fields on Gourrier Avenue near River Road. The winner of that game will play the winner of the other semifinal, Texas A&M vs. Colorado State, at 3 p.m. Sunday.

LSU has been ranked as high as fourth this season, which is fairly remarkable considering how far under the sports radar rugby remains in these parts. Except for a handful of New Orleans schools, most Louisiana high school athletes have never had a chance to play the game before coming to LSU.

Kind of like Causey.

At 6 feet 5, 240 pounds and with bright red hair, Causey was “Big Red” to his teammates, who saw him blossom into an outstanding rugby player. As a forward, he participated in the physical scrums that are unique to the sport, and he had enough mobility and power to be a fearsome ball carrier.

Like the sport it helped birth, American football, the primary way of scoring is carrying the ball across the goal line. Big differences are that the ball cannot be passed forward, blocking is not allowed, players are allowed to wear much less padding, and the ball must be touched to the ground to score — hence the term, touchdown.

“When he’d get down close to the goal line,” said Gary Giepert, of New Orleans, a teammate of Causey in the mid-1980s, “when you were coming to tackle him he’d get way down and hit you with a shoulder and basically pick you off your feet, drive you over the goal line and put the ball and you down at the same time.”

LSU won the national college tournament in 1976 (it was and remains a club-level sport rather than part of LSU’s athletic department). Causey and teammates Boyd Morrison and Joey Husband were selected to the U.S. national team, the Eagles, for games in South Africa. It was his first time to fly and his first time to face players who grew up with the sport.

But not his last.

Causey played internationally for 13 years. A memorable experience came against the Springboks, an all-star team from South Africa in 1981. Protesters tried to stop the games in Albany, N.Y., because of South Africa’s apartheid racial policies. The atmosphere was tense, Causey said, with heavy security, and the Springboks took it out on the Eagles.

“I was sitting down after the game, and one of the coaches came up and said something to me, and I said, ‘Give me my ticket. I’m going back home. I’m not playing these guys,’” Causey said. “I’ll play as rough as you want to, but I really felt that these guys would kill me. It wasn’t a good feeling. … I got karate-chopped in the neck. All kinds of vicious stuff happened in the game.”

Causey developed enough that, after a game against one of the sport’s traditional powers, England, British reporters asked English players if any of the Americans could play internationally. Causey was one of two they selected.

“I brag about that,” he said.

Causey played in the inaugural World Cup in 1987. After the Americans beat Japan and were competitive against Australia, the British press speculated about an upset against England. They likened it to the 1950 soccer World Cup, when the U.S. stunned England, 1-0.

Amply motivated, England won 34-6.

“After about the first five minutes of the game, I looked to (a teammate) and said, ‘I think we’re going to have to kill these guys if we beat them,’” Causey said. “There was no way we were going to beat them. They were playing for England. There was honor involved.”

Causey also played for the Baton Rouge club team he helped form until hanging up the cleats in the early 1990s, but when the opportunity came to help coach LSU — and his sons Andrew and Scott — he humorously agreed.

“I was, like, ‘Yeah, give me a five-year contract and I’ll have you a national championship team,’” Causey said. “Really, that was a joke, but we’ve worked our way up to being one of the top-tier clubs.”

They’ve done so with a style that harkens back to his playing days, emphasizing speed and ball movement. Rugby, Causey said, allows players with different skills to find their niche on the field, and, unlike football, it’s a sport they can keep playing after.

Obviously, it worked for him.

“Maybe I’d have made a walk-on at LSU,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gotten to play a game like rugby. There’s a lot of guys who have an athlete inside of them, and the neat part about rugby is there’s little guys and big guys. The game allows this array of body styles. You still have to be that athlete. You still have to be a little crazy or whatever you want to call it to go out there.”

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