NYAC visits Old Blue this weekend in Elite Cup play

BOULDER, Colo. – New York Athletic Club defeated Seattle Old Puget Sound Beach 32-29 this past June in the 2012 Rugby Super League Championship, its fourth championship in eight years. The title however, was probably the club’s toughest to gain.

“I’ve never seen a team with more weapons,” New York Athletic Club’s Bruce McLane recalled of Seattle Old Puget Sound Beach. “They use those weapons very effectively and they score a lot of points.”

This season, New York Athletic Club, along with Seattle Old Puget Sound Beach, Glendale Raptors, Denver Barbarians, Boston, Life University, San Francisco Golden Gate, and Old Blue, will compete in the Elite Cup: a competition separate from the USA Rugby Division I season.

NYAC will face Boston, Life University, and Old Blue once each in the East, while the other four teams will also each play each other once before the Elite Cup playoffs. McLane welcomes the new cup format and is excited for his players to show their skills against the country’s best.

“I think it gives our players the opportunity to play against the best guys in America, and that’s what they want to do,” he said. “I can speak firsthand for my team that they want to play teams that are at full strength and have opposition at full strength so they can challenge themselves and see where they stand.”

Mike Tolkin, who coached NYAC in the past and is the current head coach of the Men’s Eagles squad, agreed that the Elite Cup was beneficial to players who want to reach the next level.

“The Elite Cup provides the players in that competition a chance to have a higher-caliber game with, hopefully, more pressure put on them,” he said.

With only three games before the playoff rounds, McLane knows what to expect from teams NYAC has faced many times in the RSL and hopes the team can step up to the challenge.

“We’re very familiar with all of the opponents and we thoroughly enjoy playing Life University because they always test you to the limit,” he said. “They’re a premier program.

“We always enjoy playing Old Blue, being that they’re in New York, and it’s always exciting for our players to play a big game in New York. They tend to have the biggest fan-following of any of the teams in the Eastern Elite Cup, so getting to play Old Blue is really exciting.”

Boston and Old Blue will each make the trip to NYAC; the only home match for McLane’s team is against Life.

“We’ll be in Boston and that’ll be fun,” McLane said. “We do look forward to all three games.”

NYAC is returning a few key players from last season’s Championship-winning side, including American Internationals Brian Doyle, Toby L’Estrange and captain Mike Petri. L’Estrange, who is the only U.S.-born member of his family, has been playing at Sydney University in Australia and was recently called into the Men’s Eagles team.

“An opportunity came up and I was lucky enough to have a U.S. passport and be able to explore options that other people aren’t able to,” L’Estrange told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Petri was selected to the U19 National Team in 2007 and has been a staple on the Eagles’ roster, appearing in both the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups.

Tolkin will be around to help out at practices and hone some of his strategies for the Men’s Eagles as they prepare for test matches against Canada and Ireland (buy tickets here), and the Pacific Nations Cup this summer.

“It gives him the opportunity to coach and us the opportunity to have him,” McClane said. “It makes for a good marriage.”

The Elite Cup began on March 16 with an all-Colorado battle between Glendale and Denver, which the Barbarians won 33-28. New York Athletic Club will visit Old Blue this Saturday, March 23, to kick off its inaugural Elite Cup campaign.

“We think we have a capable team,” McLane said. “We may or may not match up with Life, and San Fran’ is going through the same thing we did in 2011. They probably are the best team in the competition right now.

“But we’re still in that conversation. We’re in the top three, top four. I still think – somewhere along the line – you’re going to have to beat us to get to the championship. We’re pretty happy about that.”