NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — From Queens to Queenstown.
New York City-born Alex Corbisiero could have a big chance to make a big impact at the Rugby World Cup this weekend.
A tournament-ending injury to a teammate means the former under-19 United States international is in line to start for powerhouse England against Georgia on Sunday.
On the team as a backup, the 23-year-old Corbisiero could clinch a permanent starting berth for a team targeting an unprecedented third straight final at rugby’s showpiece.
The nephew of swimmer Tony Corbisiero, who swam both 800 and 1,500 freestyle in a U.S. record time in the early 1980s, Corbisiero could have been lining up for the Americans in New Zealand if things had worked out differently.
But England expressed an interest in the powerful forward before he could make a competitive appearance for the country of his birth.
He says “I’m very proud to have an American passport and be a citizen, but when it comes to rugby I’ll always be wearing the red rose.”
Corbisiero was born in Douglaston, Queens, into a large family. His great-grandfather arrived in the 1920s and eventually opened Riccardo’s in Astoria, the restaurant and caterers that still bears his name and is run by Uncle Tony.
“Douglas Manor is the town I was born in, where all my uncles grew up,” Corbisiero said. “My grandparents still live in the same house, about three streets away from where I used to live. My grandfather was one of four boys so there’s a lot of Corbisiero family in that area and it’s always nice going back to see them all.
“You’re only about 20 minutes away on the train from Manhattan, so it’s still the city, but it’s nice and you’ve got the water and a bit more of a spacious area.”
Corbisiero’s Italian-American father introduced him to rugby early, having followed the game while working for a bank in England. The family moved back to England shortly before Corbisiero’s fifth birthday, so there was little chance of the youngster’s head being turned by more American pastimes such as football.
“There were no other sports to contest with rugby,” Corbisiero said. “If I hadn’t have been able to do that full time, I think I would have gone to university and played it.”
That doesn’t mean Corbisiero is completely cut off from American sports — or at least a version of it.
The 6-foot-1, 296-pound London Irish player is a huge fan of WWE wrestling, to the point that he even daydreams of a career in the ring alongside his idol, CM Punk.
“It’s sports entertainment wrestling, not proper wrestling,” Corbisiero said. “I’m a massive, massive fan. I’ve watched it literally since I was about 5 and I’ve watched it every week. It’s like a soap opera to me and I enjoy it. It’s a real skill to get good at it. It’s a talent. I’m just amazed by it.”
Corbisiero might need some practice with the moves, but he’s already had plenty at taking big, physical hits on the rugby field.
His size means he’s only ever played as a prop in the front row of the scrum, where brute force and power are of most use.
He made his only appearance for the United States at age 16 after attending a trial at the suggestion of his father while on vacation. England picked him for its under-18 side the following year and he made his debut for the senior team in February.
Corbisiero still counts Scott LaValla, who is on the U.S. World Cup squad, as a friend but is fully focused on what would be his seventh match for England — and first on rugby’s biggest stage.
The International Rugby Board says the Rugby World Cup is the world’s third-largest sporting event after the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup.
The door is open for Corbisiero after Andrew Sheridan, one of the top props in world rugby, pulled out of the tournament after hurting his shoulder in England’s opening win over Argentina last weekend.
“I’m just waiting for the opportunity to get involved in this World Cup and make a mark,” Corbisiero said. “When my opportunity comes, I’ll be ready to take it.”
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