The New York Athletic Club did not play in DI last year, preferring to formulate their own independent schedule and play in the Elite Cup.
The results weren’t astounding. While the AC won all three of their pool games and played a thriller against BYU, in the end struggles with depth saw them beaten by Life in the semis and an early end to the season.
Internally, the club disagreed over whether to play the extended DI club season. Then-Head Coach Bruce McLane (a RUGBYMag.com contributor) was dead-set against it, so much so that he stepped down when the club decided to go another way. They are set now to enter the Northeast DI league (NCR3)with Mystic River, Boston, Boston Irish Wolfhounds, White Plains, Old Blue and Middlesex.
So now Winged Foot looks at an early beginning, and some new challenges. New Head Coach Federico Rienhardt knows he cannot depend so much on his top 17 players as McLane was able to do, and he knows that right off the bat, as his National Team players are all getting a break through most of September.
With Mike Petri, Toby L’Estrange and Brian Doyle out until September 21, at the earliest, and injuries hitting the club, as well, now is the time to get newer players on the field, and to create some depth as they open up at Mystic River in Boston.
“It's a good time to develop new players for a long season,” said Reinhardt. “For the first games we will have a mix of young players, with some experienced players like Chris Chapman, Neil McMillan, Tom Coolican and Justin Hundley.”
That’s not a bad bunch, and you add Don Watson, a lock who played extensively in Hong Kong, and former Eagle Blake Burdette, back out of retirement, then you have the makings of a pretty solid team.
Reinhardt will be looking to play a dynamic game. The AC usually is tough as nails in tight and plays the kicking game well. They will do that, but will approach the season differently. For years it’s been a sprint, but this time they need to develop as they go.
“We are looking forward to the long season so we will be building to play better rugby every week,” said Reinhardt. “If we play better the results will come as consequence of that. We want to grow during the season. Here on the East Coast it is tougher because of the winter break, but we knew it and will deal with that.”
So this weekend is a first step, and with many younger players to work in to play on the 1st side, perhaps a shaky one.
Meanwhile, NYAC’s hosts, Mystic River, could be looking at executing an upset.
After beating the Royal Regiment of Scotland 62-22 in a warmup, they are feeling pretty confident under new coach David Gonzales. Former USA prop Jake Sprague is coaching the forward pack and Glen Mannering, most recently having coached Balmain RFC in Sydney, takes over the backline.
Club President Brett Willis knows this will be a challenge.
“The new Division I format has us looking forward to performing at a much higher level,” said Willis. “Having three former Super League clubs in NYAC, Old Blue and Boston now competing in our seven-team conference really puts the Northeast Competitive Region at the forefront of the national rugby scene, and we are very excited to be a part of that.”
Mystic starts their 40th anniversary season with plenty of excitement with new developments in the coaching staff and the administration. But will they be able to handle the top players from the NYAC? History says it should the AC’s day, but neither of these teams is all that familiar with the other, and that cold spell upset.
NYAC at Mystic River Saturday September 7, 1:30pm ET, Pine Banks Park, Malden, Mass.