MLR Feature: Austin On The Rise With Christian Ostberg
By Joe Harvey (January 5th, 2021)
When Christian Ostberg was unveiled as an Austin Gilgronis player in August, it brought an end to a six-year spell playing professionally in Europe. Representing clubs in Italy, England and France, Christian is very much an Austin native.
Growing up in Round Rock, Texas, he was a standout player from virtually the minute he picked up a rugby ball at Stony Point High School. Becoming a High School All-American before attending Life University, 19-year-old Christian made an impact on the rugby world.
Representing the USA U20 team at the IRB Junior World Championship in France, Christian performed consistently well against eventual champions England, as well as South Africa and France. A year later, Christian would start his European adventure.
Arriving back in Texas as Covid-19 was beginning to rear its head, Christian was preparing to play for Austin against San Diego Legion prior to the League’s initial postponement.
A combative and powerful second-row, Christian is one of several high-quality players to have signed on to play for Austin. Bryce Campbell, who represented Colorado in the inaugural season of Major League Rugby, comes to Austin having most recently played for English Premiership side London Irish.
“I think it kind of shows what Austin is doing here to attract us and have us come back,” Christian said. “It shows a lot of what the League is doing, again, to attract these kinds of players to come back and I think it is a smart move by the team, especially for me at least.
“I tick off all the boxes they are looking at, with core values they represent on paper. If you can cross all those boxes off with players who, not only help bring the credibility up in the team but are also American and can also promote younger players and can promote the development of USA Rugby, that is great.
“Everything is working together, the League, the community and USA Rugby as well.”
Playing in the French second division since 2015, Christian has gained plenty of exposure to a high level of play in Europe. Leaving North America at a time when professional rugby in his back yard seemed a long way away, he immersed himself into the rugby culture of established nations.
In some ways, Christian is counting himself lucky to still be able to play professional rugby. During his time in France, the 27-year-old suffered two serious injuries that could have put a premature end to his playing career.
“I broke my ankle and tore a ligament in there and it was too late for surgery, luckily it wasn’t an important one and I was able to do my rehab and there are no issues with it at all now,” Christian explains. “The big one that I got was that I tore my hamstring off the bone.
“It got misdiagnosed and I even ended up playing on it. I went a full year before I was finally able to get surgery and by that time, I was thinking about my future in France. Austin needed a second-row and I needed someone to give me a shot because I wasn’t getting too many.
“Luckily I was able to recover by 100% and I probably feel better now than I did before the injury.”
It has been an extremely busy offseason for Austin so far. Not only have they secured the signing of Christian and Bryce Campbell, Will ‘Money’ Magie is returning for 2021, as is Zinzan Elan-Puttick, Mason Pedersen, Pete Cowley, Moe Abdelmonem, Dom Akina, Dom Bailey, Roderick Waters, Brendan Rams, Marcelo Torrealba and Frank Halai.
Draftees Lui Sitama and Mason Koch have signed to the team, whilst Canadian wings Cole Davis and Jeff Hassler have also agreed terms, as has Eagles prop Paddy Ryan and Australian fly-half Mack Mason. Christian will even be joined by a new face in the second-row, Sebastian de Chaves joining Austin after having played the 2019/20 season with Newcastle Falcons and London Irish.
These signing, along with the recruitment of Sam Harris as Head Coach and Mark Gerrard as an assistant, means there is immense optimism surrounding the team. Harris and Gerrard will be joined by Jamie Mackintosh as a coach, the prop combining his time on the pitch with organizing the teams’ forward pack.
Austin finished the shortened 2020 season just one point from being bottom of the Western Conference having lost on three occasions, winning once and drawing 20-20 against Utah at Bold Stadium.
For Christian, as it will be for plenty of MLR players, March will mark some 12 months since last playing a game of rugby. As a result, the 6’6” tight five forward is hotly anticipating pulling on a burnt orange jersey for the first time.
“I can’t really describe completely how I feel to get back at it,” Christian said. “I got a small taste of it before Covid hit, I trained with the team for a week and a half, I hadn’t played for a while, I was getting comfortable, confidence was up.
“I was really itching to get back and to get my opportunity, then for it all to stop, I was right there and touching at the opportunity to play in MLR, to put on that Austin jersey and that feeling I was close to getting, I have had to put on hold for another year. It has been a crazy rollercoaster, but I am just ready to get back at it and back to it.”
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