The last team to get the update treatment ahead of the regular season is Rugby United New York. There is a method to the madness. It’s been an enormously eventful off-season for the team with big changes at the ownership, coaching, player, and even facility level. Even the supporters club – the ‘Rooster Boosters‘ – has received a facelift.
Entering the league alongside the Toronto Arrows, the two expansion sides were expected to perform well and they certainly delivered. It was only a single point that put them into the playoffs ahead of NOLA but RUNY’s 11 wins were tied for second-best with points conceded behind only San Diego. A spot in the Championship Final was torn away by the Legion late in the Semi Final, Joe Pietersen’s ‘kick heard around the world’ piercing New York hearts.
The team’s style was built around a dominant forward pack with Paddy Ryan anchoring the scrum and Dylan Fawsitt spearheading a simple but brutally efficient lineout game. Mike Petri rolled back the clock as captain and kept the team focused when a series of injuries disrupted selections, with Chris Mattina doing his best ‘Swiss army knife’ impression before falling victim himself.
Coney Island’s MCU Park was the home for RUNY in 2019 and after much discussion and speculation will be so again in 2020. The baseball facility is far from ideal but finding the perfect fit in New York City has proved a challenge. A new construction will be required down the road and the search for an appropriate space to do so is ongoing.
There has been a significant shift in training facilities. Having used multiple venues in 2019 including Randall’s Island, the team will now be centralized at Wagner College on Staten Island where it will enjoy full use of a indoor and outdoor fields, strength training equipment, meeting rooms, even the cafeteria.
Former Eagles coach Mike Tolkin was a natural choice to lead the program from its inception but his personality was not a universal fit with players and management. He has now been replaced by another national-level coach with current Eagles assistant Greg McWilliams stepping into the top role.
Forwards coach Kees Lensing was has become the new Head Coach at Seattle, with former Old Blue coach Marty Veale returning to New York after a stint in Japan with the Sunwolves and Sanix Blues. Tiffany Faaee remains as an assistant, but there are new faces in manager Simon Gillespie and strength & conditioning guru Ian Jones.
The ‘arms race’ exploded with the news that French giant Mathieu Bastareaud was heading to the Big Apple for 2020. Further additions have been more subdued with the most notable flanker Kara Pryor who follows Veale from the Sunwolves. Argentine back JP Aguirre arrives from Austin and has the skill to play in several positions.
Rob Irimescu and Troy Lockyear have been joined by a third Collegiate All-American signing in prop Alec McDonnell. The latter is one of a string of recent confirmations that include fellow front rowers Brian McKellar, Will Burke, and Jonas Petrakopoulos along with center Jake Feury and winger Erik Tack. McKellar, Feury, and Tack are promoted from last year’s practice squad.
Irish influence was strong in 2019 and will be again in 2020 with the signings of Cormac Daly, Evan Mintern, and Jason Higgins. All are in the running for starting positions with Mintern likely to be tasked with replacing the highly influential Ross Deacon at No8, the latter moving south with Rugby ATL.
Also on the departures list are front rowers Callum Mackintosh and Chris Sullivan, with Chance Wenglewski and Sean McNulty returning to their clubs after being late-season loan additions. Matt Hughston has joined Old Glory DC while John Quill appears headed for retirement.
The terrible knee injury suffered by Luke Hume in the Semi Final sees the former Eagles flyer out, possibly for good, while promising outside back Seimou Smith has opted to leave with a career in the military seemingly on the cards. Most recently Gavan D’Amore-Morrison has switched his priority to the USA Sevens program in Chula Vista.
Critically short on numbers just a couple weeks ago, the front row is suddenly well populated but the newcomers are unproven at this level. An injury to Paddy Ryan could spell trouble with Kirk Hamilton the only experienced tighthead prop behind though starting loosehead James Rochford can play both sides.
There is strength in depth at lock with Daly joining returnees Nate Brakeley, Trevor Cassidy, and Matt Wirken. The back row, however, looks thin by comparison. There is enough quality there to start the season but any injuries could require some creative thinking with Fawsitt, Irimescu, and Bastareaud capable of filing in at No8 if needed.
Brian McKellar, LH
Anthony Parry, LH
James Rochford, LH/TH
Kirk Hamilton, TH
Mike Brown, HO
Dylan Fawsitt, HO
Paddy Ryan, TH
Nate Brakeley, LO
Trevor Cassidy, LO
Matt Wirken, LO
James Denise, FL
Alex MacDonald, FL
Kyle Sumsion, FL
Mike Petri, SH
Marcus Walsh, SH
Harry Bennett, FH
Cathal Marsh, FH
Jake Feury, CE
Will Leonard, CE
Quentin Pradère, CE
Chris Mattina, CE/FH
Mark O’Keeffe, WI/CE
Mike St. Claire, WI/CE
Derek Lipscomb, WI
Erik Tack, WI
Connor Wallace-Sims, WI
Ben Foden, FB
Rob Irimescu, HO, Penn State
Jonas Petrakopoulos, HO/TH, Greerton Marist (NZ)
Will Burke, TH, Buffalo Rugby
Alec McDonnell, TH/LH, St. Louis Bombers
Cormac Daly, LO, Connacht (IR)
Kara Pryor, FL, Sunwolves (JP)
Evan Mintern, N8, Cork Constitution (IR)
Jason Higgins, SH, Cork Constitution (IR)
JP Aguirre, CE, Austin Herd
Mathieu Bastareaud, CE, Lyon (FR)
Troy Lockyear, FB, Cal Golden Bears
Chance Wenglewski, LH, Rugby ATL (return from loan)
Sean McNulty, HO, New England FreeJacks (return from loan)
Callum Mackintosh, HO/TH
Chris Sullivan, TH, retired
Myles McQuone, LO
Matt Hughston, FL, Old Glory DC
John Quill, FL
Ross Deacon, N8, Rugby ATL
Seimou Smith, CE/WI
Gavan D’Amore-Morrison, WI
Luke Hume, WI