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Rugby New York stars Andy Ellis and Nate Brakely express excitement over home games in Hoboken

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Rugby New York
New York Rugby is now in its fifth season

Entering the 5th season as a member of Major League Rugby, Rugby New York is New York’s first and only professional rugby team.

Rugby New York
Rugby New York is in its fifth season

Playing home games in front of our passionate fan base, the season spans through June and consists of 16 games – 8 home and 8 on the road. Rugby New York's first home game will be March 6 at JFK stadium in Hoboken in the 3 game series against New England for the Chowder Bowl.

Two of the stars of Rugby New York, halfback back Andy Ellis of All Blacks fame and captain Nate Brakely join SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the season, the popularity of the sport and the move to Hoboken.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
Nate Brakely and Andy Ellis share a laugh with SportsJam host Doug Doyle

Played in more than 100 countries across every continent, rugby is the most physically demanding, mentally grueling, adrenaline-pumping sport on the planet. No helmets, no pads for 80 unrelenting minutes.

Brakely explains what it's really like battling under those conditions.

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Rugby New York
Rugby players don't wear pads

"The kind of knee-jerk reaction is that your not wearing pads, you must get injured a lot more, but the reality is as soon as you take away the pads a huge element of self-preservation comes in. And so there's a lot of work that goes into tackling form to make sure that, yes you're going to effectively bring this guy to the ground and hopefully put a little shoulder into him, but at the same time, you're not gonna knock yourself out by going head-first into his knees. There's a whole lot of technical elements that we train in addition to a lot of the obvious physical ones, the bigger guy is probably going to come out of a collision better."

Andy Ellis plays essentially the role of a quarterback for Rugby New York as a half-scrum and says he relies on the big guys up front to protect him.

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Andy Ellis play scrum-half (halfback) for Rugby New York after a fantastic career in New Zealand and Japan

Ellis, who had a brilliant career with New Zealand All Blacks, winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup also had a successful run with the Kobelco Steelers in Japan. Why did he choose to come and play for Rugby New York?

"It's the greatest city in the world. I was actually really happy to finish up playing when I was in Japan. You know I was in my mid-30's and had a great experience. My family have been really supportive of me and so I just talk to my wife and said it would have to be a really special place for me to go around again. When you put it out the universe, it's amazing what comes back. I got a message about two week later from the head coach in New York, who I knew, saying would we be interested in coming over and being part of this. I had a chat with my family and we decided we'd take the leap and come and do something that really outside our comfort zone, a country where rugby isn't a massively popular sport yet, but a great challenge and try and help sort of grow that interest and passion here."

Captain Nate Brakely, who also plays on the national level with the U.S. Eagles, says with Ellis inspiring and teaching some of the younger and talented players, he is expecting a terrific season.

"There's no shortage of athletes in rugby but given that the majority of U.S. rugby players start playing in high school at the earliest and often not until college, there's not as much experience as guy that have been around the block. This is somebody (Andy Ellis) who has won at the highest stage. He's seen how it can be done and how you build success at clubs. I think all the boys that have not had the experiences that he has have really benefited from his input in those areas."

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Rubgy New York captain Nate Brakely

Brakely has built a reputation as one of the hardest working men in the league. He's been able to train while holding down a full-time job outside rugby. During his chat on SportsJam, his passion for the sport was obvious.

"The word culture gets thrown around a lot with rugby but I think for me there's a real ethos of kind of humility and hard work around the sport. It's a lot of guys that are making a lot of sacrifices to do something that they love, especially in America with not that much upside. Nobody's getting rich doing this, so it's generally a lot of guys that want to compete for each other. You'll find that from the club level up to the U.S. Eagles. It really is the best way to go about sport in my opinion."

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Rugby New York
Rugby New York won its first two games of the new season

Both Brakely and Ellis anticipate the home games in Hoboken to be plenty of fun. Ellis says he lives about three blocks away from JFK Stadium.

"It's fantastic. Hoboken is nice and close to the City. Hoboken in New Jersey has a real kind of community feel to it. They're very supportive and tribal. Lot of bars and restaurants around. All our games are Sunday afternoons at three o'clock, people doing pub crawls and coming and checking it out, maybe families coming and having picnics and the coming and checking out rugby, some of them for the first time. I think it will have a real local kind of community feel which I'm pretty excited about."

The atmosphere in New Zealand was off the charts when Andy Ellis was playing for the All Blacks.

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Andy Ellis was part of New Zealand's All Blacks World Cup champions in 2011

"You know I think it's just the way it is in New Zealand, it's almost like a religion, rugby. It's part of our identity as a country
I think and we're really proud of that."

Ellis is hoping Rugby New York will capture that kind of spirit in Hoboken and the New York-New Jersey area for many years.

You can see the entire SportsJam interview with Andy Ellis and Nate Brakely here.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.