Mike Petri juggled jobs at UBS AG and his family’s plumbing business to help seal a spot on the U.S. Rugby World Cup squad. The Eagles’ vice-captain is now making his mark at the global championship.
He left UBS’s Zahakos Wealth Management Group in May 2010 when he got a professional rugby contract in the U.K., and returned part-time this year. He wanted to be in New York to be closer to the U.S. team training camps during preparation for the 20-nation tournament, which started Sept. 9 in New Zealand.
“Rugby back home doesn’t really pay anything so in terms of a lifestyle I had to complement my rugby,” Petri, 27, said in a telephone interview. “I was lucky enough that they had left the door open for me. I was working a couple of hours a day so that I could start to focus on my rugby training.”
The Brooklyn native, who graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in life sciences, made the 30-man U.S. roster and started the Eagles’ first two matches at the World Cup. He scored the only try of the game in the 13-6 win over Russia on Sept. 15 to help give the U.S. its third win in World Cup history.
“That was amazing,” said Petri, who made his debut for the Eagles at the 2007 World Cup. “It was really just the culmination of so many years of hard work. It was all kind of bottled up in one moment.”
Petri played in today’s 27-10 loss to Italy, which ends the U.S. involvement in the tournament.
Petri began playing rugby as a freshman at Xavier High School in Manhattan. Before embarking on a professional career in the sport, he would fit training around his role as a client service associate at the wealth management team led by Gary Zahakos, a family friend.
New York Athletic Club
He said he used to squeeze in a daily workout before going to the office and hone his rugby skills most evenings to ready himself for weekend matches with the New York Athletic Club rugby team, which plays in the U.S.’s Rugby Super League.
“He’s very driven, the guy would get up early in the morning and go to the New York Athletic Club and work out at 5:30, then he’d work,” Zahakos, who hired Petri in September 2008, said in a telephone interview. “Then he’d go home and run five miles. He’s just a focused, disciplined individual. He’s attentive to details.”
Petri, who’d previously worked at his family’s century-old plumbing business in Brooklyn and in construction with his uncle, said he “had to start from the ground up” after moving into finance before attaining the necessary licenses to trade on the stock exchange.
Just as he was getting more involved in portfolio analysis and trading, the offer of a contract with English Premiership rugby team Sale Sharks came up. He made what he said was a difficult decision to put his finance career on hold.
“For me, the professional rugby side of it was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Petri said. “I’ve seen the financial world right now, my hope and expectation is that’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and if things didn’t work out rugby-wise I was confident that I could go back and get my feet back underneath me again and get that back under way.”
Petri’s on-pitch role as a scrum-half means he’s typically the first link between the forwards and backs during a game. As one of the pivotal decision makers on a 15-man rugby team, a scrum-half needs communication skills, a fast accurate pass, tactical kicking ability, speed and strength. They are often among the fittest players on the field.
The 5-foot-10, 194-pound Petri, who had a stint with Welsh club Newport Gwent Dragons earlier this year before returning to the U.S., said his former colleagues at UBS were often surprised to find out he was a rugby player because of his size.
‘Built Like a Rock’
“He’s not a big guy, but built like a rock,” said Zahakos, 57. “He plays a position where he handles the ball more than anyone else, he’s not in scrum getting his head ripped off. Athletically he excels against much bigger guys.”
By doing so on rugby’s biggest stage, Petri said he and his teammates are able to attract the interest of professional clubs outside of the U.S.
“You’re seeing more players from our squad that are able to use the World Cup to put their hand up and get themselves contracts overseas,” Petri said. “The last World Cup was a huge stage for some of our guys to do that.”
If that doesn’t work out this time around, Petri will have options next month after the Eagles complete the tournament, according to his former boss.
“We would welcome him,” Zahakos said. “When he wasn’t working for us, he was helping his father or uncle in the plumbing business. He has a work ethic that lends itself well to success in every business.”