Bringing the New York Attitude to the Field in 2022
Rugby New York's 2021 season came to a close with an Eastern Conference Final loss at the hands of Rugby ATL. Ahead of the 2022 Major League Rugby season, MLR Correspondent Joe Harvey spoke to the team's Head Coach, Marty Veale, and lock forward, Charlie Hewitt.
It was Saturday, July 24th when New York's push for the Shield came to an end. Losing 10-9 to Scott Lawrence's Rugby ATL, New York dug deep for 80 minutes, the side undone by a late Alex Maughan try and a Kurt Coleman conversion that cancelled out Harry Bennett's three penalties.
Photo by Benacci Palloto
The Eastern Conference Final was largely played in close quarters, the two forward packs going toe to toe in Marietta, Georgia. Coming off the bench just prior to the hour-mark, Charlie Hewitt was part of the maul defense that was unable to prevent ATL's winning score.
Having represented the Houston SaberCats prior to making the move to the northeast coast, the USA Select hopes that the defeat will provide ample inspiration coming into the new season.
"I haven't been involved in playoff rugby for a good few years, but I realized when that final whistle went, all the effort that we put in, missing out on the Final and not going to the Coliseum and all that sort of stuff by a point, it was agonizing," Hewitt said.
"For a few days afterwards, you weren't totally sure what to do with yourself, because it had just come to an abrupt stop. For me and for the guys coming back, it will be good motivation.
"It has got to be drilled into the new guys how close we came and how hard we have worked to have come that close."
Marty Veale's time as New York's Head Coach came around suddenly. With his predecessor, Greg McWilliams, stepping away ahead of the 2021 season due to personal reasons shortly before the season got underway, the former Wasps and Kubota Spears lock was the natural person for ownership to turn to.
Having moved to New York in 2011, Veale both coached and played for Old Blue RFC in the city before working for USA Rugby as a set-piece and breakdown coach. Once his time with the Eagles was over, Veale gained coaching experience with the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Sunwolves and Munakata Sanix Blues Rugby prior to a return to New York.
Originally joining the team as an assistant coach, Veale's graduation to the leading man couldn't have gone much better. It was the second time that New York reached the postseason, and the second time they failed to reach the showpiece finale.
Despite finishing with a 10-6 record, Veale says that he has used this offseason to improve in areas where the team were without coaches last year.
"Last year, I think we had to be more tactically astute to try and grind some of those wins out," Veale said. "We lacked certain personnel in our backroom staff, we didn't have the ability to grow the game (New York played) at speed. Which we wanted to.
"A good example is probably the New Orleans game where we lost by 20 or so points down there. We tried to play an expansive game and we found that we didn't have the capacity to do that, so we have to have a bit more tactical now about how we approach the games.
"Moving into this year (2022), we have been able to recruit a world class S&C in Ollie Richardson (formerly of England Rugby and Leicester Tigers) who has won multiple championships in his role. I think we will see a big difference in our power and our physical capacity to play the game at a speed and temp far beyond where we were last year."
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022
While the other 12 MLR teams will be playing on the opening weekend of the 2022 season, New York will be experiencing their first bye. A week later, their campaign gets underway with a visit to Houston, then Rugby ATL and then the Dallas Jackals before playing their first home game against the New England Free Jacks in early March.
Recently completing their first week of preseason work, the team is now beginning to form ahead of their season opener. Looking to build on a 2021 season in which the side had to deal with a late change of coaching staff and extended periods of time on the road.
According to Hewitt, this all builds into the team's image off the field, the 26-year-old citing the playing group's hard work put in off the field.
"This team has done well from day one," Hewitt said. "So, there is an expectation from the outside, but there is also an expectation through the group. Everyone here works unbelievably hard in training, from the most talented player to the least.
"There is no lack of effort and I think that is part of this New York 'tough' culture that has been embedded within the team. You come here and you are not going to get away with not working.
"We are not one of those teams where, just because of your rugby resume, you are not going to walk into the team. You have to be here in order to reap the benefits. I think we don't pressure ourselves, but we expect a lot of ourselves individually and I think that collates into a team culture."
This offseason has seen Veale and is staff retain a significant number of the playing group from last season. This included the return of former All Blacks scrum-half Andy Ellis, Hewitt, Wilton Rebolo, Benjamin Bonasso, Conor McManus and Kara Pryor.
While the names returning are hugely significant, it is the names that Veale has recruited that contribute to the team's improvement this offseason. Making the headlines are MLR's all-time leading points scorer in Sam Windsor and USA Eagles prop Chance Wenglewski, the pair adding a lot of league experience.
Jason Emery, Kalolo Tuiloma and Nic Mayhew come to New York from New Zealand, while Joe Basser arrives from Australia and Andrew Coe joins the team after several years with the Canada men's sevens setup.
All this recruitment has been done in the hope of bettering their efforts last season. For Veale, the work that he has done these past months has put his side in the best possible position to be successful in 2022.
"We are looking to win it all," Veale said. "We couldn't be here is we weren't trying to win it all. We have assembled a group that is good enough to do that. Through this offseason, one of the questions that we kept asking was how we were going to go to LA and beat LA (in April).
"They set the benchmark and that is what you have got to do to go and win. We know they are going to upgrade and with the quality of player coming into the league and coaching and the direction the league is going.
"You have to keep improving or else you are going to get left behind. We think we have assembled a group that is good enough to win it."
Written by Joe Harvey
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