Given the suspension of athletics in the county, the Daily Journal decided to dive into our 20-year archives to bring readers some of our favorite stories over the years.
AUG. 8, 2015 — The first time Zack Test made an appearance for the USA Rugby Sevens squad, he was in Hong Kong in front of 60,000 rabid rugby fanatics.
It was a memorable experience for Test — for all the wrong reasons.
“I forgot how to play,” Test said.
He checked into the match with about five minutes to play and almost immediately received a pass from a teammate. Test made one cut before, in a panic, simply tossed the ball in the air. Presumably, it was a pass to a teammate. Instead, it was intercepted and returned for a score by the Japanese team.
Welcome to the big time, kid.
Instead of getting down, Test instead chastised himself and then got into the game mentally.
“I was like, ‘Wow. This is a different game,’” Test said. “But then I made a couple tackles, made a couple runs. Once you make that first contact, then it’s like, ‘I’m in (to the game mentally). Then natural instincts take over.”
It is those natural instincts that has Test, a 2007 graduate of Woodside High School, a rising star for USA Rugby. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Test is already one of the most decorated Americans playing for the seven-a-side squad and he is now in the mix for the 15-a-side national team, with not only a World Cup berth, but an Olympic experience within reach.
“[Making a World Cup and an Olympic team] would be something I’ve been working hard toward since I was 16,” Test said. “Maybe I can get there.”
He certainly has more than a good shot. Rugby sevens will be an official Olympic sport for the first time in Brazil next summer and Test is one of the faces of the USA Rugby Sevens squad. Having first been called up to the team late in 2008 and making his debut during the 2009-10 season, Test holds the team record for most tries, most points and most appearances and is paid to play with the USA Rugby Sevens team. In seven years with the squad, Test, 25, has 54 international appearances — or caps — to his credit.
This summer, he has been playing with the USA Rugby 15s squad as it prepares for this year’s World Cup in England. Test got his first official 15s cap against Samoa at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium July 18 and made his first 15s start July 29 against Tonga.
“I thought I played decently well,” Test said of his first 15s start. “I have a lot of things to work on. I’m happy with how I’m progressing in training.”
There is also the matter of making the adjustments from sevens to 15s. The action in sevens matches is a lot faster with fewer bodies on the field and more frenetic as teams have only 20 minutes to make their moves.
In the 15s game, more bodies means less open space and more tactical maneuvering during the 80-minute contest.
“15s is a completely different game. In sevens… you don’t have time to wait to get into the game. There is a lot of space, people are a little faster,” Test said. “In 15s, you can’t go after every opportunity a million miles an hour. That’s not the way the game is played.”
Test didn’t pick up the game of rugby until his freshman year at Woodside, where he also played football for four years, ran track for three and played baseball his senior season.
He did have the advantage, however, of growing up with the game. Test said his father played rugby and they would watch matches together when Test was a youngster.
When some of his football teammates finally dragged him out to a rugby practice, Test saw he had a certain affinity for the game.
“I really understood the game,” Test said. “I played free safety and wide receiver (in football). I’m fast, I can jump and I can catch the ball. I also like to hit people. I have no problem with the contact. Kicking, my dad was a (rugby) kicker. All those attributes clicked with the game.”
Test eventually played rugby all four years of high school with the Peninsula Green rugby club, winning the Northern California championship his senior year.
His play with Peninsula Green caught the attention of USA Rugby and he was playing national team, age-group matches while still in high school.
Despite all his success in rugby, Test still saw himself as something else.
“I was a football and baseball guy, so I kind of had my mind set about what I wanted to do in high school,” Test said.
Not that he was a scrub on the football field. He had eight interceptions as a safety his junior year and he did enough during his high school career that he earned recruited walk-on status at University of Oregon.
Test said the Ducks had lost a lot of talent at wide receiver and, after redshirting his freshman, said he was poised to challenge for a spot the following season.
A turning point
Following his first year at Oregon, however, Test suffered a fairly significant injury.
“Shattered my ankle,” he said, while playing for the U20 national team in the world championships in Wales. He said when he returned to Oregon to rehab his ankle, the Ducks’ coaching staff — which was originally OK with Test playing both football and rugby — told him he would have to make a choice between the two.
At about the same time, Test was drawing interest from the national team squad.
It seemed his path was clear.
“I was that close (to playing for the full national team),” Test said. “Football, it would have taken me close to two years (to fully recover). College football is hard and I couldn’t be the best. But I could be the best in rugby.”
Test was also accepted to Loughborough University in London, “A sports institute in England” which Test said was a big deal. He spent one year at Loughborough before joining the USA sevens national team.
Making Test’s transition from the age-group brackets to the full national team was made easier by the fact he was surrounded by a number of familiar faces. The Rugby USA Sevens squad has a decided Bay Area flavor to it, with six players who call the greater Bay Area home — including Pacifica’s Danny Barrett, who attended Sacred Heart Cathedral, fellow Woodside alum Folau Niua, San Mateo’s Jack Halalilo and Palo Alto’s William Holder.
When he saw a lot of familiar faces on the national team, he knew he belonged because he had competed successfully with — and against — a lot of the players who were now teammates.
“I knew a whole bunch of guys from going up through the under-aged stuff,” Test said. “[Playing at the international level] wasn’t a total shock.”
Future is bright
Test has not been assured a spot for the 15s World Cup, but at this point it appears only several poor showings over the final few warm-up matches would leave him off the squad. Even if he doesn’t make the cut, he is still a valuable member of the USA Rugby program. He makes his living as a rugby player, he has a contract to play with the USA Rugby Sevens and also has a Nike sponsorship deal.
And for a kid who once dreamed of making the winning catch in the Super Bowl or striking out the final batter for a World Series title, Test will, instead, contend for spots on national teams — the highest honor in the sport.
“Once I made the sevens team, I was like, ‘I can see doing this for a living,” Test said. “I never dreamed walking out onto the field in the rugby World Cup. Not until I was 16 did I think about it.”
Now, that goal is closer to reality for Test.