Lockie Kratz Plan A: Going for Gold
Updated: May 8, 2021
A one-way airplane ticket to New Orleans.
A well-thought-out Plan A, with a fully fleshed out Plan B – and even a Plan C just in case.
And the firm belief that if rugby wasn’t in the cards for the time being, the ability to find work and a local rugby club would eventually lead back to Plan A: The Dream.
As luck would have it, there would be no need to call upon Plans B or C.
Not by a long shot.
Lachlan “Lockie” Kratz, Rugby Canada U20 product and pride of Victoria, British Columbia, had his rugby plans scuppered when Covid-19 hit. Cancelled tours, lost tournaments, and missed opportunities to travel to countries rich in rugby tradition and impress.
In a way, you could say that Plan B was in fact called into action fourteen months ago, with Plan A being temporarily shelved for rugby – and pretty much everything else.
Plan B: Continue to train and keep in shape, continue to think beyond the global pandemic, and continue to think Big Picture, all while living one day at a time.
A big ask.
With a shortage of rugby, Kratz took up bartending at home in Victoria, transitioning from bussing to fully tending in the shortest amount of time than had been previously seen, typical of an over-achieving Lockie Kratz. He worked hard while continuing to put in the hard graft to get bigger and build muscle, something he’s eternally grateful for. Throughout the pandemic, elite athletes like Kratz have been putting on a different kind of ‘Covid 15’.
The pivot away from active play was serving Kratz well enough, but the desire to get back onto the pitch kept nagging at him. Before Covid there had been a clear plan: U20 tour to the UK with a key stop in Connaught where there was potential he’d be signed.
It was time for a new direction. A new plan.
With the encouragement of his parents Lisa and Luke, he put feelers out to the MLR, getting help from former coach Robin MacDowell and rugby contacts such as Phil Mack (who at the end of the 2019 season ended his own professional playing days with the Seattle Seawolves, turning to full-time coaching with the Rugby Canada Pacific Pride program alongside another notable legend Jamie Cudmore).
With Mack’s help, the opportunity arose for Kratz to head to New Orleans and show NOLA Gold his stuff. His highlight reel impressed Ryan Fitzgerald, Director of Rugby Operations & General Manager, who invited him down to attend a few training sessions.
For Lockie Kratz, whatever it took to get on that plane to the Big Easy is what he was going to do. It’s been fifteen years in the making; nothing was going to stop him.
Kratz intentionally chose NOLA’s bye-week so his presence wouldn't cause any distraction for the busy team. He landed on a Friday, took part in the Monday and Tuesday sessions, and was signed Tuesday evening. He was signed much faster than he thought he would be; before he’d even been in New Orleans a week, Kratz was already in an apartment with two of his new teammates, and fully kitted up in resplendent black, white, and gold.
Kratz has been ready for selection the last fifteen years. When we spoke, Lockie was happy to be part of things – to soak in all he could from coaches and teammates alike, patient that he would make an on-field appearance by the end of the season. On May 2 v the Toronto Arrows, Kratz was named to the bench. On game day a change; Kratz starting at 13.
Testament to this young talent: Lockie Kratz, on his MLR debut, put in a solid shift, made some key plays, no nerves present after about minute three, and he played 80 minutes. An. Entire. Shift.
On debut? Unprecedented. And without a doubt, unexpected for Lockie and his supporters back at home in Victoria. Minutes after watching his kid brother put in the big shift, Gavin says "watching from back home in Canada, it's no surprise Lockie is proving he belongs in the league. It was a great game from Lockie and NOLA Gold."
Lockie's debut against his fellow countrymen was a big win for NOLA, putting them at the top of the Eastern Conference. Kratz says "it was an amazing start to my MLR experience and I can't wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us. Everyone played so well, it made me feel so welcome on my debut. There's lots to work on but it's only up from here."
Kratz made a great case for center in his debut effort. He cleared out blue shirts effortlessly and had a couple of runs with some potential, one of which inevitably lead to the try that nudged NOLA past the Arrows. He’s got a kicking boot as well, so could – with more experience – occupy any of the positions in the back. For such a young age, his experience is already vast.
It should be noted that Mr. Plan A bagged an MLR first XV of the Week on his debut. On. His. Debut.
What about a national call-up? It is the dream and inevitable destination for this young talent.
Having an Australian grandfather, American uncle, and Irish cousins means that Kratz actually qualifies for four nations.
Four. Not many rugby players can say that.
He was born in San Diego to a Canadian father and Australian-American mother, then was raised in Seattle and Victoria, so right there that’s three, but then there’s the fact that his dad’s mother is Irish, so that’s now four.
I asked which country he’d most like to don the jersey for. “That’s such a tough question,” Kratz admits. “I don’t know how to answer that fully. I’ve already put on the Canadian jersey, so it’s hard to say. I think it would be between the USA and Canada for sure, because that’s where I have put most of my stock. But I don’t want to shut any doors or rule anything out because at the end of the day it’s an honour to put on any jersey, and I think I would do a good job and wear it proudly for each of those countries.”
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When Lockie was six years old, he sat on the sidelines when older brother Gavin played. One game day, there was Lockie, sitting there in his gumboots, when Gav’s team was down a player. The younger Kratz didn’t even hesitate when asked if he’d be interested in stepping in. But it gets better – he scored the winning try in his gumboots.
Did you catch the part where he was only six?
Flash forward 15 years and Lockie Kratz has just turned 21. He’s got that classic case of rugby brain, a keen eye for the ball, and excellent leadership skills. He holds the values of rugby above all other sports, and knew it was the all-around respect and camaraderie that would continue to fire his passion. To that end, he was always a couple of years ahead of his age-grade peers and grew up playing more with older brother Gavin and his friends than his own group.
Gavin, being two years older, is in part the catalyst for Lockie’s deep competitive streak. He has been a teammate for a long time, and Lockie credits him for opening a lot of doors for his younger brother. “I’ve been on U20 tours with him and played on Vikes with him. I have a lot to thank him for – as well as the rest of my family.” He saw Gavin’s success and the friendships he was making, and he wanted to be part of that amazing culture.
This put him in a great position once U14, U16, U18 competitions came along – his maturity pretty much ensured selection. That said, Kratz has never taken a moment of it for granted. He knows there are players out there more talented than himself. This grounded attitude keeps him hungering for more; more training, better fitness, harder work rate.
University of Victoria coach Doug Tate says, “Lockie has really worked hard over the past two seasons. He has really Improved his individual skills and been a big part of our success at the senior men's league here in British Columbia. He’s turning into a really good two-way player, much like his brother Gavin. His fellow teammates at UVic are really excited about his contract and we all wish him the best for the 2021 MLR season.”
A popular player with coaches and teammates, success seems assured for Kratz, who never shies away from hard work and is prepared to put the hard graft in. A natural leader, Kratz is also keen to learn from fellow teammates and coaches. A veritable rugby sponge, with skill to spare. He’s also spent the last 15 years living the values of rugby both on and off the pitch.
Jeff Williams, coach with the Rugby Canada U20 program, speaks highly of Kratz. “Lockie is a talented, exciting young player. He has the ability to play multiple positions – in today’s game that’s extremely important when selecting a player. I would call him a ‘glue guy’. For the Canada U20 program he embodied the culture we were trying to establish. NOLA is getting a special player and an even better person. The coaching staff and players are excited to watch him perform.”
It’s going to be exciting to continue to watch what MLR brings to Kratz, and vice-versa. Kratz is a great addition to the league. But what of the long-term plan? I asked where Kratz sees himself in five years. Another tough question, Kratz admits.
“I still need to get a degree, so I am pushing through school. Hopefully I’ll juggle the MLR with time in the future with an international team – whether it’s 7s or 15s, I don’t know. My dream has been to go to the Olympics for 7s, so hopefully that can still work out. It just all depends on what happens and how I do. It’s pretty much dependent on myself – I’ve just got to put in the work and times that by two and just keep going.”
Playing with and against talent that he admires will add fuel to Kratz’s fire and keep him pushing on.
For Kratz one such player is Matt Giteau. What he’s accomplished in his career is what all young players can only hope for. At 38 he’s still playing, now in the MLR with the LA Giltinis. Kratz hopes to play against him, which will tick a lot of boxes.
“I always admired the 10 position, but he also played 12 for Australia. I thought, I could see myself doing that.” Kratz says it was surreal seeing Giteau play in person.
Another player Kratz looks up to is Nathan Hirayama, Canada 7s star who has also spent a fair amount of time with the men’s 15s team. “He’s been around a long time and is someone who has it dialed in both on and off the field, both skills-wise and as a person.” He’s the kind of player that Kratz strives to be.
I ask Kratz what he feels the MLR is doing for rugby in Canada and the USA.
It’s making rugby a bigger thing, Kratz says. He shares that in New Orleans, players are recognized on the street and the fanbase is incredible. It’s already a major sport in the Big Easy, and only a matter of time before that becomes the norm in the other major rugby markets. “It’s going to be revolutionary for the sport, and there will be a whole new player pool. Maybe players will choose rugby over football,” he says. “It’s come a long, long way in the four years MLR has been here, so it’s very exciting to see where it will go.”
I touched on the fact that Kratz had more seriously explored playing in Europe before covid-19 put a serious hold on those aspirations. At the time the idea was that being in a full-time academy day in and day out for a larger part of the year would seriously elevate his game.
While the door is not fully closed, especially regarding Connaught, the challenges of breaking into Europe without key connections, a passport, or an international card can be difficult. In that regard, Kratz, like so many other domestic players, is grateful for the opportunity to play in the MLR.
Especially until the pandemic is under control and international travel returns to some semblance of normalcy.
For the domestic rugby fan, we are grateful that talented players such as Kratz are choosing to play closer to home. It’s great watching them take the pitch, but even better is knowing that it’s going to have a positive effect on our international game.
It’s an exciting time for up-and-coming rugby stars. There are more doors open than ever.
The Lockie watch is on. Good thing that Plan A was successfully executed!
Karen L. Gasbarino, May, 2021
Rugby Hive Editor
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