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By Kent Ozmanski
Pro rugby made its debut in the Bronx, New York, on a chilly spring evening with snow on the touch line. The first professional rugby match in New York City between Rugby United of New York (RUNY) and Mystic River (playing as Boston) was broadcast on ESPN, which is significantly increasing its coverage of US rugby.
The game served as a curtain raiser for the annual charity match between the FDNY and the NYPD. The Fireman held on to win 19-15 against the Police Force. At halftime, a piper played the US Marine Corps hymn in the stadium bar.
The matches were played in Gaelic Park to a sold-out crowd, which enjoyed the 50-0 shutout drubbing by RUNY over the visitors. The home team, composed mainly of Old Blue RFC and New York Athletic Club players, looked sharp in their orange and blue kit, the official New York City colors (Think: NY Mets uniforms).
The New Yorkers quickly dominated possession and continued this tactic throughout the match. The squad resembled the one that played Austin Huns last summer in USA Rugby Club Championship. Former Eagle scrumhalf, Mike Petri, scored two tries in but 22-minutes of second half play.
This new pro team has a distinctly Irish flavor. RUNY has closely linked itself with the Gaelic Athletic Association in New York. Club founder James Kennedy, a St. Munchin’s College, Limerick, Ireland, alumnus has lived in New York for almost 20-years. Former Ireland Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan and ex-Ireland wing Shane Horgan are onboard as advisors. Finally, Irishmen Marcus Walsh (former Connacht scrum half), Jack Fitzpatrick (Trinity College), Ross Deacon (University Dublin), Dylan Fawsitt and Dave Gannon (Leinster) are also part of RUNY’s squad.
RUNY will continue to play a “professional” schedule in 2018 while newly formed, Major League Rugby begins play in late April with seven teams. RUNY (an associate member of MLR this year) has plans to join the nascent League in the 2019 season.