Petri: We don’t want it to get easier

BOULDER, Colo. – Before he meets with his Eagles teammates at Spring Camp in late April, Mike Petri will be helping New York Athletic Club in DI and inaugural USA Rugby Elite Cup play. NYAC defeated Life 12-5 in a preseason friendly on Saturday, February 23, a rematch of last year’s RSL Semifinals, and defeated BYU in Provo, Utah, on March 9.

“I’m in the mode of getting ready for my NYAC season and focusing on my responsibilities there,” Petri said, adding his attention will turn to the Eagles as the matches against Canada and Ireland get closer.

The Eagles' spring schedule will start with a trip north of the border to face Canada on May 25 in the opening match of the Pacific Nations Cup. If NYAC makes it that far, Petri would be in the Elite Cup Final that same day, causing him to choose between international and club duty. For now, Petri is just looking ahead to the international fixtures and will make the decision when it comes.

“First things first with the NYAC season,” he said. “We have to make sure we start off on the right foot.”

Beyond the schedule conflict, Petri has his eye on a familiar foe: Ireland.

“I don’t know that I’ve caught any Irish Six Nations games,” he said, “but I’ve definitely been reading about them and watching the highlights. I’ve played them twice before – once in California when they came out here a few years back on tour and then once in September at the World Cup.

“We kind of know what to expect; they’re going to be as professional as they come and they’ll definitely be a talented team no matter who comes down with the squad. It’s going to be a really strong team and a really good game."

Ireland visits the Eagles for a test match at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium on June 8, which will be the second time the Eagles have played at the new stadium after last year’s match against Italy. The Italy match attracted a record crowd of 17,214 for a rugby match in the United States. For Petri, jumping from club rugby to international rugby is a challenge to relish.

“It’s a different level and standard,” he said. “We’re fortunate with the Eagles now that we’re getting more and more guys who are starting to go full-time. When you look at our back line, there are a good number of players that either have professional experience and know what the standard needs to be, or currently play professionally.”

Each Pacific Nations Cup opponent is ranked just above the Eagles in the IRB’s World Rankings as of March 11. The five matches scheduled through the end of June almost match the six the Eagles played in the entire 2012 calendar year. On top of that, each will be tougher than the next as the Eagles prepare for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifying process.

“This is a special summer because we’re playing in World Cup Qualifiers,” Petri said. “It’d be silly to say it’s not something we’ve marked on our calendars and have been looking forward to since the last World Cup. Each of those games we’re playing this summer, for the first time in a while, is going to be huge.”

This summer will mark the one of the first times the Eagles’ schedule is filled with full tests in a June series. The improvement in quality of opposition will hopefully prepare the Eagles for World Cup Qualifying and, eventually, the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

“That’s what we want; we don’t want it to get any easier. We’ve been asking for things to get more difficult, we’ve been asking to play better teams, and we’ve been asking to play more test games. Sounds like that’s the direction everything’s starting to head. Now it’s our job to step up and follow through.”

Petri, who has played for Aviva Premiership side Sale Sharks and South Wales’ Newport Gwent Dragons during his career, is happy in New York, but will not ignore future opportunities.

“I’m very open-minded about everything,” he said. “Right now I’m teaching in New York and coaching a high school team. Between coaching and teaching and playing myself, I’ve got a pretty full plate. My wife and I are always looking for new and fun opportunities, but I’m happy with where I am right now and just looking forward to being involved whenever I’m needed.”

NYAC opens its Elite Cup campaign on March 23 against Old Blue in an all-New York match one month before the Eagles’ Spring Camp. Petri’s next game with NYAC is March 16.