Bryan Acciani has been involved in rugby for most of his life as a player, coach, and administrator for multiple New Jersey rugby clubs. Acciani played, coached, and served as president during his tenure at Rutgers University. After playing with RU, Acciani joined the Princeton Athletic Club (PAC) Men's Rugby team, also located in Middlesex County a short drive from the Rutgers - New Brunswick campus.
But now Acciani is embracing a whole new part of his rugby career that was, admittedly, a little unexpected: in late 2020 he was named the Sevens Director of the Empire GU RFU, a rugby union of more than 100 teams that stretches across New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.
"I love rugby. Rugby has given me a ton of experiences and friends, so I've always wanted to give back and be involved," Acciani said. When he saw an ad calling for applications for EGU Sevens Director, he applied but thought little of it.
"My first thought was they probably already had someone in mind, but I sent an email and said if you're looking for someone to help out, I'm willing," Acciani said. The board asked him to submit a "rugby resume," detailing his background and experience with the sport, a process Acciani said was a fun opportunity to reflect on his years of playing and coaching.
Shortly after he submitted his resume, Acciani got the call: he would be the new Sevens Director.
Big plans for EGU rugby sevens in 2021
Acciani started his new role by crowdsourcing information from clubs throughout the EGU. He said he wanted to learn what was working and what wasn't. He asked teams about their wants, needs, and biggest obstacles during summer 7s seasons of years past. And what he learned has helped inform his plans for 2021.
"If I wrote a proposal when I first started, it would have been 50% different than what I actually submitted," Acciani said. "Hearing from the clubs about their priorities was eye opening. Everybody likes 7s to be fun; it's a break from the grind of 15s. People like to keep it light and loose and don't want to get bogged down with too many regulations and rules."
Some possible changes in the works include expanding the eligible tournaments that qualify for the EGU 7s series in hopes that teams wouldn't have to travel as far and, thus, increase participation. Additionally, Acciani acknowledge that hosting tournaments can be a significant financial lifeline for many clubs, and expanding those that qualify for the series would theoretically "share the wealth" more evenly, he said.
"We're trying to create a structure with more tournaments, so if you want to participate you don't ... have to plan an overnight trip but you can still be competitive within the points structure [of the series]," Acciani said. "And these tournaments are fundraisers, so if the EGU picks team A over team B three years in a row, we've essentially just given that team a huge competitive advantage -- we don't want to have our thumb on the scale so much."
Acciani also said he wants the EGU to start tracking individual player accomplishments throughout the 7s series, highlighting the players with the most tries, for example, or the most tackles. Not only will the EGU showcase its top talent this way, but Acciani hopes it will generate some on-pitch rivalries and excitement around key matchups.
Some of Acciani's plans are admittedly ambitious, but luckily, he said, he inherited a strong foundation from his predecessor, Rosalie MacGowan.
"She did a fantastic job and I'm realizing now how hard it is to formulate this series and create it," Acciani said. "My goal is to take all that flexibility [MacGowan established] and make it something exciting and fun that other clubs want to participate in.
"There are other tournaments out there not part of the EGU, and some clubs love going to those," Acciani continued. "But we also want them to participate in our series and have a 7s champion -- to me, that's what 7s is about.
"I'm looking forward to creating a series that everyone wants to participate in."