The Winged Foot Articles

November 2011

Our autumn season has gotten off to a great start on two fronts. Firstly, the first XV strung together four wins in its first four matches, defeating New York-Manhattan 48-5, Old Blue 32-0, Boston RFC 42-17 at this year’s Remembrance Cup, and Delaware St. 62-5. The squad has many new faces this fall and we look to rebuild and get back to the top of the Super League in the spring. 
Another element to our fall campaign has been to add several regional universities to our fixture list in order to help with future recruitment as we try to show them the best of what the NYAC has to offer in terms of rugby, people and our outstanding club. Furthermore, we hope to help them improve their game as these teams look to gain success within the newly formed collegiate premier division.

Secondly, the seventh Rugby World Cup took place in New Zealand in September and October. I was fortunate enough to have been part of the USA coaching staff, and current NYAC 1st XV captain/scrum-half, Mike Petri, was a member and vice-captain of the squad, appearing in his second World Cup. Center Troy Hall made the RWC roster, but just missed out on the traveling squad. 
The United States Eagles played in pool C along with Australia, Ireland, Italy and Russia, and we had arguably our best tournament performance to date. Starting out vs Ireland, ranked sixth in the world, the US put in a gutsy and emotional performance on September 11th in New Plymouth. The final score had Ireland on top 22-10, much closer than most imagined it would turn out, The guys played an amazing game and drew a lot of positive attention from the rugby world. 
The team defeated Russia 13-6 in match two, with Petri scoring the lone try of the match. Most of the reserve squad played in the third match versus third-ranked Australia, who had nearly all of their starting squad out. The Eagles were brave in that match and only trailed 22-5 at the half and 34-6 after 60 minutes; however, the magic soon ran out as the pace and physicality of the match began to take its toll on our guys as we went down 67-5 in the end. The Wallabies paid a heavy toll in that match, losing six players through injury due to the Americans’ physicality.

The final match of the tournament brought on Italy, standing at 10th in the world rankings. Italy is known for a dominant scrum, aggression, and a serious kicking game, and that is what they brought to the table in that final pool match. Our starters looked a bit rusty after about two weeks off and were unusually light in tackling for the opening part of the match. Italy took advantage with an early score and penalty kick, but we tied it midway through the first half, only to lose the lead 20-10 at the half. It was a strong opening half, with some good rugby, but Italy were dominant in the scrum. 
Italy controlled play in the second half, and although the US only allowed one penalty try, we could not muster much attack and lost the game 27-10; yet, the Eagles put in another fine result against a top-10 team and were able to hold their heads high at the final whistle.

New Zealand did an excellent job hosting the RWC 2011. The United States was warmly greeted and supported at all of our stops - Wanganui, New Plymouth, Wellington, and Nelson - and treated with great respect and enthusiasm throughout the tournament by the Kiwis.  

- Mike Tolkin



June 2011

A season which held a great deal of promise in the pre-season played out on the last day of April with far less fanfare than expected. On paper, we had a very talented and experienced group of veterans mixed with a good deal of youth; and, coming off last year’s national title, we were all in a confident, but not presumptuous, frame of mind. But, the team finished 3-3 in the competition and did not make the play-offs for the first time since 2004. 

A number of factors contributed to our subpar season. Certainly we can look at the frosty February and March, where many of our trainings were cancelled. That hurt our rhythm and forced us into some shortcuts to prepare for the season. Several of the northeast teams were in the same boat. Probably our biggest hindrance was the injury toll. At certain points late in the season, we had lost five significant starters and had several others hobbling. More than even having the injuries was the constant shuffling of the line- up which, in my opinion, never allowed us to get into a rhythm. Yes it was tough to have some of our big guns out, but to have different players in pivotal tactical positions each week really kept us off balance. 

The loss to division leaders Life in Atlanta (20-8) was a game in which we let up three scores in a matter of 10 minutes via kicks and an intercept. They did not spend any time in our 22 at all, but in that match, we hurt ourselves with sloppy skills despite having a heavy advantage in territory and possession. Against Boston, we had a five point half-time lead, were one meter away from scoring a try to put us up 12; however, an intercepted pass and 90 yard Boston score turned the tide and lost us the lead and game - a tough one to swallow. 

The following week we lost 12-10 while playing in a quagmire in Chicago, surrendering the lead with 15 minutes remaining in the match. On the last weekend of the season, we bounced back with our best and most complete performance of the year, defeating rival Old Blue, NY 51-15 on a beautiful afternoon. It was certainly a bittersweet win, displaying the kind of rugby we were capable of playing, yet not having anywhere else to play it. Lock Brian Doyle was exceptional in the match, as he has been all season, and number 8 Paul Jesseman was dominant as well.  

  - Mike Tolkin



April 2011

Starting the pre-season in Ft. Lauderdale has become a tradition for us and has served our purposes well over the years. This February brought the added value of the balmy Florida weather after a frigid and snowy winter severely hampered our NY training sessions. We lost about six practice sessions in total; it was easily our most interrupted pre-season over the last decade. However, the three matches in Florida over two days helped to make up some ground in the preparation/fitness department, and we also played well enough to win the tournament this year. 

After defeating the Bahamas national team, 34-0, and the Miami Tridents, 36-3, on Saturday, the skeleton squad (only 19 were able to travel this year) limped into Sunday’s final a bit sore and definitely overheated in the mid-day sun. We were uncharacteristically sloppy in the first half, and our handling errors inside our own 22 really hurt us as a motivated and energetic Palmer RFC (Iowa) pounced on these miscues to put us down 10-0 10 minutes into a 50 minute match. Slowly, we gained field position and broke the gain line with incisive runs, and that pressure led to a 40-yard try to close the gap to 10-5. 
Palmer took advantage of another passing error on our goal line and made it 15-5 with 18 minutes gone by. That try, however, would be the last real pressure Palmer applied. We played most of the rugby in Palmer’s half the rest of the way,  moving deeper into their end as the match progressed. A late penalty kick to us put the match at 15-8 at the half.
During half-time we acknowledged that we needed to play a tighter, simpler match and keep ourselves in Palmer’s end of the field. We accomplished that for the most part as we dominated possession, territory and defense. Soon, quick phases turned into points as we opened the game open with three unanswered tries. Tournament MVP Frank Sharpe was dominant from his number 8 position as was veteran lock Brian Doyle. Seth Cohen joined his fellow second row with a gutsy and effective performance of his own. The NYAC won 29-22 in the end, as Palmer scored a last-minute try after a number of our miscues led to a scoring opportunity, which they seized. 

2010 was a spectacular year for us, and our goal, once again, is to be the best in the  country. We have improved our backline and we think it will be pretty dynamic. We have been pleased with many of our younger players and how many of them have put themselves in  a position to push the 22-man roster. Our overall plan of attack and defense is a bit more aggressive as well, although we will not sacrifice fundamentals and sound rugby to score a few more points. The NYAC will be an entertaining team to watch this spring - and a successful one, we hope.  - Mike Tolkin



March 2011

Starting the pre-season in Ft. Lauderdale has become a tradition for us and has served our purposes well over the years; this February brought the added value of the balmy Florida weather after a frigid and snowy winter severely hampered our NY training sessions. We lost about 6 practice sessions in total; it was easily our most interrupted pre-season over the last decade. However, the three matches in Florida over 2 days helped to make up some ground in the preparation/fitness department, and we also played well enough to win the tournament this year. 
 
After defeating the Bahamas National Team 34-0 and the Miami Tridents 36-3 on Saturday, the skeleton squad (only 19 were able to travel this year) limped into Sunday's final a bit sore and definitely overheated in the mid-day sun. We were uncharacteristically sloppy in the first half, and our handling errors inside our own 22 really hurt us as a motivated and energetic Palmer RFC (Iowa) pounced on these miscues to put us down 10-0 ten minutes into a 50 minute match. Slowly, we gained field position and broke the gain line with incisive runs, and that pressure led to a 40-yard try to close the gap to 10-5. Palmer took advantage of another passing error on our goal line and made it 15-5 with 18 minutes gone by. That try, however, would be the last real pressure Palmer applied; we played most of the rugby in Palmer's half the rest of the way,  moving deeper into their end as the match progressed. A late penalty kick to us put the match at 15-8 at the half.
 
During half-time we acknowledged that we needed to play a tighter, simpler match and keep ourselves in Palmer's end of the field. We accomplished that for the most part as we dominated possession, territory and on defense. Soon quick phases turned into points as we opened the game open with three unanswered tries. Tournament MVP Frank Sharpe was dominant from his number 8 position as was veteran lock Brian Doyle. Seth Cohen joined his fellow second row with a gutsy and effective performance of his own. NYAC won 29-22 in the end as Palmer scored a last-minute try after a number of our miscues led to a scoring opportunity, which they seized. 
 
2010 was a spectacular year for us, and our goal once again is to be the best in the  country. We have improved our backline and we think it will be pretty dynamic. We have been pleased with many of our younger players and how many of them have put themselves in  a position to push the 22-man roster. Our overall plan of attack and defense is a bit more aggressive as well, although we will not sacrifice fundamentals and sound rugby to score a few more points. NYAC will be an entertaining team to watch this spring - and a successful one - we hope!



January 2011

It was, once again, an honor and a privilege for the 2010 national champion rugby team to take its place among the many NYAC champions at the All Sports Dinner on November 15th. It is an amazing night where the true athletic greatness of the Club is on display, with so many national and world champion athletes gathered in one room. Further, with basketball legend, Bill Walton, speaking at the opening of the brand new gym, the night could not have been more special for the teams and competitors. 
Our guys always appreciate meeting and socializing with their fellow athletes, since they rarely have the occasion to do so. The players enjoy hearing about how different teams and individuals train, compete, and go about their business during the course of the year. We all have the utmost respect for the many athletes and teams who have accomplished amazing feats and brought home championships and honor to the Club. We are certainly proud to be part of the NYAC’s legacy of greatness, and each year we plan and train to succeed and to bring another title to 59th Street.

By the end of this month, we will have begun our spring campaign, albeit in the dead of winter. It will be our 11th season in the National Super League and, for the third time, we will come out following a national title. The heart of the team will be in tact, and there will be some dramatic upgrades that should make us even more dynamic. As usual, we will take two steps back, get back to basics and do the hard yard in the trenches. It is the ethos that our players and coaches have developed and one that has led us to much success. If all goes well, we will, once again, be proudly sitting among the many champions of the New York Athletic Club, celebrating with them.  - Mike Tolkin
  




September 2010

The abbreviated fall season is under way and has featured a few great afternoons of rugby at Travers. To open the season, we held the ninth annual Remembrance Cup to honor Mark Ludvigsen, Sean Lugano, and Brent Woodall - 3 great NYAC ruggers who lost their lives on 9/11.

This year, the venerable Cambridge University was in town, and on a beautiful day, the two teams played an entertaining game of rugby. For us, it was the first game out of the gate, and despite a little costly rust, we played an aggressive match. The game went head to head for the first 65 minutes before Cambridge pulled away with two late tries to seal the win 42-24. As usual, a festive bbq was held on the hill following the match as we closed out a special day for our club.
 
The following weekend, The New York Athletic Club and San Francisco's Olympic Club squared off in a mini-Olympics at Travers Island. After victories by the women's water polo, both soccer teams and the lacrosse team, rugby played in the day's finale. Graced with beautiful weather, a full-house and the opportunity to end the day with panache, our boys put in a great final 15 minutes to win the match going away, 43-10. Overall, it was a fantastic day of great camaraderie on both sides, followed by a classy banquet at the Travers Island house where all teams intermingled; the rugby team was pleased to hold our end of the bargain in front of the home crowd and brass, and to entertain the crowd with the great game of rugby!
 
Finally, congratulations to Brian Doyle and Troy Hall who will be traveling with the Eagles A team (the tier below the full National Team) to Argentina in October to compete in the America's Rugby Championship. The tournament features the United States, Tonga, Argentina A, and Canada A. These players will be competing for a spot on the full National Team, the Eagles, when they tour Europe in November. Mike Petri will be a part of that Eagles team. 



March 2008

Training for the 2008 USA Super League is already underway and I am pleased that we have been out a few weeks earlier than usual and accompanied by better weather than usual; however, I am not holding my breath on the latter for too long. The good news is that we are way ahead of last season in our pre-season preparations, and the attitude of the players is tremendous. Most of them put in a great amount of lifting and fitness work in their off time, and it is really showing dividends in their early performances. Couple that with the many young, new faces and promising talent, and an expanded coaching staff, and we have something good to look forward to this spring!
 
We will have had our first run of the year on the last weekend of February, and I hope that by the time this is being read, we will have some hardware on the shelves at the NYAC. With the addition of some promising talent such as Tim Ryland, Shawn Rafferty, Segun Akande, Nick DiScala, Luke Milton, and Mike Petri, our squad has seen a bigger face lift and change in talent than it has in quite some time. Most of the names I mentioned have either played for or been in the USA representative system. Petri played for the USA Eagles in this past World Cup in France and Milton represented Australia on the world 7s circuit. In order to make use of our improved talent and youthful hue, we will also have a entirely new game plan in order to make maximum use of our strengths, and I think it will be exciting to watch.
 
Finally some of our veterans and young guys traveled down to Tampa to trial for the USA Eagles at the Inter-Territorial competition. That brings the seven regions and the US Armed Services together to play in front of the selectors for a spot in the USA pool. I happy to say that the NYAC had the most reps down at the tournament of any team, and they represented the Northeast senior side and developmental side. The senior side won tier two and will now compete in tier one next season. Our boys were were led by NYAC captain Chris Mayo.
 



       
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