That’s how USA Sevens rugby player Chris Mattina describes the feeling of putting on a USA rugby jersey to represent his country.
This is a culmination of his dedication to a widely unrecognized sport in America and the support that has helped him along his journey. His path to success as a rugby player wasn’t all peachy. The biggest challenge Chris faced was explaining why “Rugby.”
I had some time to sit down with Mattina to discuss these difficulties he faced while playing rugby, the growth and rise of rugby in the U.S., and his future goals and accomplishments that he wants to tackle while being a USA Sevens player.
Mattina, a native New Yorker, grew up playing traditional sports such as soccer and football. He didn’t start playing rugby until high school where he started his career at rugby powerhouse Xavier.
What really peaked his interest in playing rugby was the fact that he was able to encapsulate his soccer and football skills together in one unique game.
This, combined with the fact that he wanted to make his father proud by playing the family game; Mattina’s father played for nearly 25 years after he finished playing football at the University of Pennsylvania.
Mattina says that rugby “is a natural fit” and this really helped him develop a passion and love for the game.
Like many ruggers in the U.S., rugby was almost absent from Mattina’s youth. There have been strides to improve this with programs, such as Play Rugby USA and Atavus, which aim to develop youth rugby in America.
While these programs are a good start in introducing rugby to American youth, this isn’t enough to cultivate the future crop of potential rugby stars in America and sustain a competitive and winning culture in the U.S. So what else needs to be done in order to grow the sport of rugby in America?
Mattina thinks that rugby is on the rise and going in the right direction here in the U.S. thanks to the formation of the newly established U.S. Major League Rugby organization (USMLR).
The USMLR, who inked a T.V. deal with ESPN+ and met their attendance quota for the first year, is a newly formed professional rugby organization in the U.S.
Mattina, who is signed for the USMLR’s team, The San Diego Legion, thinks that the USMLR “Is doing a great job of getting youth introduced to rugby through hosting camps around the U.S.” He went on to further say that,
“It all trickles down from the professional level. Being able to watch the professionals play rugby, and then learn from them at the camps will help produce some top-quality rugby players in America. The USMLR will change the dynamic of rugby in the future for the U.S.”
The impact can already be seen for USA rugby, as seven out of the 15 starters for the USA national side who defeated Scotland, the #6 team country in the world, was signed from the USMLR.
The recent success is great for the growth of rugby in America, but how did Mattina make it to the top without a clear-cut path of how to get there? His road was not easy as his dedication to the game was tested early on.
During his tenure as captain for the University of Delaware Blue Hens, the program received a five-year suspension essentially warranting them ‘the death penalty’ due to a college party site, I’m Shmacked, posting videos and pictures from a Delaware Rugby party.
The school later reduced the ban to only 2 years, but it still forced Mattina to look elsewhere to play the game that he loved so much.
During Delaware Rugby’s weakest hour, Mattina found the strength to continue playing by seeking out the USA select squad the Atlantis Rugby 7s.
It’s amazing how some things turn out, but the Deleware suspension might have been a positive for Mattina as the Atlantis Rugby Sevens squad jumpstarted his Sevens career by honing his skills and placing him on the USA rugby radar.
After his time with Atlantis Rugby, Chris returned home to New York and began playing for both the elite men’s club team the New York Athletic Club (N.Y.A.C.), and the Northeast Olympic Development Academy.
He used these clubs as a stepping stone to eventually make it to the USA Rugby Sevens team. During his time playing for the Olympic Development Academy, Mattina won MVP of the New York 7s Tournament, a feat which he attributes as the “turning point of his career.”
While he played for N.Y.A.C., he helped lead his team to the championship match in which he had “a pretty good game” and showcased it in front of the assistant USA rugby coach, Chris Brown, who had Mattina on his radar for quite some time.
After that game, Mattina was invited to participate in the USA 7s camp, and he’s earned his spot ever since.
Mattina said “there’s a certain level of dedication to play rugby after high school and college.” He went on further to state that “Playing for men’s club, you have to have a certain passion for the game because you aren’t going to get much monetary reward out of it. You do it because you love to play it,” and I think it’s evident that Mattina has the dedication and passion for the game ever since he picked up a rugby ball at Xavier.
So what’s next for Mattina? Off the field, he just signed the first ever sponsorship deal with Rhino Rugby. On the field, he has the World Cup starting in San Francisco on July 20th. Beyond that, his sights are set on the 2020 Olympics.
We at Kulture Hub wish Mattina the best of luck on his journey on the USA Sevens squad and will be keeping you up to date on his successes.