By David Brand
When the lads from the Queens Rugby Club took the pitch at Fordham University late last month, they heralded a new era for Queens sports.
For the first time, Western Queens fielded a competitive rugby squad to compete with established clubs in Manhattan, the Bronx and the Rockaways. And unlike clubs concentrated in Midtown Manhattan, which are often comprised of Europeans visiting for a few months on business, the Queens side has a distinctive homegrown feel, said co-founder Daniel Browne.
“Queens has a lot more people who grew up in the area and live here,” Browne said. “I thought it was weird that there wasn’t a club here.”
Browne began recruiting local residents of Astoria, Long Island City and Sunnyside who didn’t want to commute an hour or more to practice at Pier 40 in Manhattan. The club also attracted people from elsewhere in the borough, including a former member of the Paraguayan national team who lives in Flushing as well as another past member of the Filipino national team.
“We have a mix of people from all over the place — a couple guys from India, someone from Mexico,” he said. “It definitely has that Queens flavor.”
The club mixes accomplished players with people relatively new to the sport. Browne said the team recruits ex-wrestler and former hockey players who are used to competing and getting physical in tight spaces, as well as soccer players accustomed to the flow of the match.
“People compare it to American football because you carry the ball and have to hit people,” he said. “But soccer is a better comparison.”
“You have to play the game in front of you,” he said, unlike American football, which starts and stops every few seconds as coaches calls clearly defined, rehearsed plays and orchestrate the positions of the players.
The club already features a few dozen members and is hoping to recruit more — no experience needed. It’s easy to pick up the basics and the game fosters strong bonds among players on all sides, Browne said.
“There’s camaraderie. The game is done and you go hang out with the other team,” he said. “We hit each other on the field and then shake each others hands and get drinks.”