Following up on their Super League championship, NYAC kicked off the summer 7s season by winning the Jo Jo Moore Tournament, the first NRU qualifier. After some close matches during the run-up to the final, NYAC went full throttle against Albany in the title match, winning 63-7. Albany advanced to the final after defeating Old Blue 21-19 in the semis, while NYAC topped Long Island 29-5.
It was a satisfying win for NYAC, which had little time to change gears from 15s to 7s. The squad took a week-long breather after the Super League season ended on June 2, then logged two training sessions this past week before heading to Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY. The NYAC side that took the field was young, with only three players coming from the 15s side.
“There are a lot of new faces,” NYAC captain Justin Hundley said. “Typically we get a decent crowd from the 15s team, but today we only have three guys who've been around a few years. We're also missing some guys with national-team duties, so when they get back, they'll have a run. We have a couple of college kids, too, so it’s always nice to get them out and running around.”
It took NYAC a little time to find their footing through pool play, and Albany and Morris did well to push the eventual champions to adjust quickly. In the backs, University of Delaware star Chris Mattina, fresh off the USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship, played excellently and meshed with the squad well. Center/flyhalf Chris Chapman was a solid playmaker and did a great job of setting up linebreaks through the middle.
“The competition was tough,” Sydney native Chapman said. “The weather made it more difficult. The standard was really high, and there wasn’t much disparity between the teams. Everyone could compete. It was good to see us improve through the final game – our defense especially. Earlier in the day, we were really staggered, and everyone was shooting in and out. But by the end of the day, everyone was staying together. Our support on linebreaks was really good, too. Whenever someone broke through, there was always someone on their shoulders, which is crucial in 7s rugby.”
The forwards were on point as well, and their set pieces were clean. Twenty-four-year-old Tim Mattina stood out, as his incredible work rate made him integral around the field.
“To be honest, we didn’t even go over set pieces,” 24-year-old Nervina said. “But this is NYAC; they have their stuff down pat. They’re so experienced, so everything just comes naturally.”
Nervina was especially eager to make a good impression, as the Iona grad missed the RSL championship season due to an Achilles injury just before the league season began.
“You work your tail off to earn a spot with these guys,” Nervina said. “When you show up to practice, there’s 50 guys trying to play for the seven positions. The coaches are the top of the top, and they evaluate you like crazy.”
By day’s end, NYAC was playing a patient, communicative game, and capped off the tournament with a blowout win.
“This team compares very well to the squads I’ve played with,” said Hundley, who’s been playing NYAC 7s since 2005. “We’ve got a few guys with great speed, can burn and set up plays. This is definitely one of the better teams I’ve seen in a while.
“We don’t talk about nationals yet,” Hundley added. “It’s on the calendar, we want to qualify and be the number one seed out of the Northeast, but we don’t talk about it yet. We go day to day, play each tournament like it’s nationals, and just play our best.”
NYAC might not discuss nationals this early in the season, but that’s not to say it isn’t on players’ minds.
“It would be amazing to play at nationals,” Nervina said. “I went to the USA 7s CRC last year, and the atmosphere was amazing. I used to play DI football, so I’ve played in big-time arenas, but not in a rugby atmosphere. I transferred from football three-and-a-half years ago, and I absolutely love this game.”