By some measures, rugby is among the fastest growing sports in the U.S. Events like the Collegiate Rugby Championships, exhibitions here featuring international squads like the New Zealand All Blacks, and the inclusion of the sport in the Summer Olympics are among the factors that have helped raise its profile.
Estimates place the sport’s growth at more than 80% over a five-year period in the past decade, leading to the 2018 formation of Major League Rugby, with 11 U.S. teams and one in Canada this season, which began play in February.
One of the flagship teams is Rugby United New York, and one of the players the team has counted on again in the early going is center wing-fullback Jake Feury, a 25-year-old Denville, N.J., native who played both football and baseball at Delbarton H.S. and Middlebury (Vt.) College. Feury has had his share of injuries, including multiple vertebrae fractures, in both sports, playing his favored rugby in such faraway places as England, Ireland and Australia, as well as working for the NFL in various off-the-field roles.
It’s his business acumen, combined with his first-hand experience with fitness and health, that has led Feury on his other career path, as founder of Ridgewood, N.J.-based Stretch Recovery Lounge, which opened in October. He took some time to share some thoughts on rugby, how training differs from other sports and his experiences on the field and business world.
Jake Feury: Rugby has certainly taking major steps forward by getting more television exposure, more eyes on the college game, and a consistent professional league. In order to continue to climb and move in the right direction I believe it needs to keep growing at the grassroots and youth level. Getting more institutionalized, structured programs in high schools and colleges would be a major step in that direction. Having rugby as an option as a varsity sport at more high schools is critical. Moreover, transitioning additional collegiate programs into well-supported varsity-like setups is also important. Lastly, getting more fans into Major League Rugby stadiums and larger, more consistent, corporate partnerships for both the MLR and the USA Eagles is a priority that is pertinent for future growth of rugby in the United States.
SMD: You played both rugby and football in high school and college. What are the similarities and differences in fitness and training for the two sports?
JF: While the preparations from a fitness and training standpoint for rugby and football share some similarities, there are many differences at play, as well. One major similarity is that athletes for both sports need to be built for contact. Injury prevention work in the gym is a necessity for both sports to make it through long, arduous seasons. Power, speed, and agility is needed for both sports, as well. I believe differences exist largely from an endurance perspective. While football has a break in the action after each tackle and allows unlimited substitutions, rugby is a continuous game that extends for many phases at a time and has substitution rules more similar to soccer. Another difference that exists is that in rugby is that all players need to be prepared for both offensive and defensive play, while in football athletes sometimes just play on one side of the ball. Moreover, all players on the field in rugby need to be able to handle the ball.
SMD: What would be the most important elements of a training regimen for a rugby athlete?
JF: I think one of the most looked-over aspect of rugby training is the mental game. Most of the in-game decisions on a rugby pitch are made by the players themselves without any input from the coaching staff in real time. This means that players need to assess the other team’s alignment in front of them and find the best solution on the spot, while the game is in motion. Training your mind to make the correct decisions is critical to be successful on the pitch. Moreover, I think the recovery aspect is really important and ultimately played a role in me opening up Stretch. Being about to rejuvenate the body quickly, week in and week out, is necessary to be able to perform. Stretching, soft tissue work, mobility, and other recovery modalities are all ingredients that go into a proper rugby training regimen.
SMD: How did your injuries lead to your founding Stretch Recovery Lounge?
SMD: What are some of your experiences on and off the field that prepared you for opening Stretch?