Rugby jpg

Oval ball game in round ball stadium

MCU Park in Coney Island is home field for Rugby United New York


By Ray O’Hanlon

The Cyclone. Nathan’s. The beach, the boardwalk, the sea breeze. Rugby.

There’s nothing wrong with this picture.

It’s just new and unusual.

But hey, this is New York. New and unusual is, well, old hat.

Still though, Rugby United New York has a new ring to it.

That’s because it is new.

RUNY is New York’s hat in the shiny new ring that is Major League Rugby.

And it is the dream made muscular and hard boned of RUNY franchise owner James Kennedy, whose rugby roots go back to St. Munchin’s College in Limerick.

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RUNY came into full view last year with a preview season and home games played at Gaelic Park in the Bronx.

The team has now migrated to a new borough, and a new home field: MCU Park in Brooklyn.

That’s Brooklyn in general, Coney Island in particular.

MCU Park is home base for the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team.

It is now also home field for RUNY who this Sunday will take on the visiting Houston SaberCats in a 5 p.m. kickoff game that will be played and settled just a long punt from the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Prior to the big game there will be a curtain raiser between Xavier High School and Fordham Prep, kickoff at 3 p.m.

Major League Rugby currently features nine teams, eight in the U.S. and one of them in Toronto, Canada.

Suffice it to say an away game can involve a little more mileage than Leinster playing Munster.

The current MLR crop consists of teams in Seattle, San Diego, Salt Lake City/Utah, Glendale in Colorado, Austin and Houston in Texas, Toronto, New York and Louisiana-based NOLA Gold.

Next year the league will be divided into two conferences and there are new teams in the process of coming on stream in Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Boston/New England.

Rugby has long been a popular game in the United States, but one with a relatively low profile, the game being mostly played in high schools and colleges, and on an amateur basis at club level, by women as well as men.

But rugby is a major world sport that is today played on a professional level in a raft of countries, not least Ireland

So it wasn’t going to remain minor forever in the vast, sports-hungry, market that is the United States.

“MLR is the first time the North American sports model has been applied to the global game of rugby. That model is now laying the foundations for the long-term success of this league and the sport,” says MLR Commissioner Dean Howes.

James Kennedy is one of the foundation layers. He and others have undertaken the task of bringing the game to a wider American audience, and also to raise its standards by way of top class players, home grown, and from around the world.

Major League Soccer is, not surprisingly, a model that Major League Rugby is studying closely.

RUNY has a current squad of players from seven nations. The bulk of the squad (literally!) is from the U.S. But there are six Irish players and others come from Scotland, South Africa, Fiji, Australia and England. Former England star Ben Foden is but one of a number of RUNY players capped internationally at full fifteen and sevens level.

And next season France will be added to the RUNY nations list in the formidable shape of Mathieu Bastareaud, the “Toulon Tank,” a player you wouldn’t worry about meeting in a dark alley for the simple reason that there wouldn’t be room in it for you too, or anyone else.

As the RUNY website reported in recent days: “After much back and forth, Rugby United New York and Toulon has agreed to a one year deal for Toulon Captain, center Mathieu Bastareaud. The 6ft, 265lb weapon announced this morning he was headed for New York after a series of discussions between the two parties.”

James Kennedy, suffice it to say, is dreaming Toulon Tank t-shirts at night. And this is a critical factor in the whole operation. While RUNY and the other teams work to build public awareness and a fan base, merchandising is a vital income source.

Kennedy is happy to report that RUNY “gear” is hugely popular with current team fans.

Now the goal is to build up the number of those fans.

There’s no shortage of potential supporters given the actual number of rugby players in the New York area and around the U.S.

The trick is to attract their eyes, ears and, ultimately, their loyalty. More teams in the league should help with this.

Meantime, RUNY’s already loyal followers don’t have to worry about too much mileage during the month of May because all the games are home clashes.

The D, Q, N and the F trains to Coney Island will do the trick for the games at MCU Park this coming Sunday, and also on Saturday, May 11, Sunday May 19, and Sunday, May 26. The B train goes to nearby Brighton Beach.

In addition to the SaberCats, the teams heading for MCU Park during May are the Seattle Seawolves, Austin Elite Rugby, and NOLA Gold, that being the side based in New Orleans.

The NOLA visitors, no doubt, will be heading for Nathan’s and a break from all those shrimp and crawfish.

James Kennedy, meanwhile, will be working on a new nickname for the Toulon Tank to adorn those sought after RUNY t-shirts.

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