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Neal Brendel


Sweeney Award


Neal Brendel was an All-American wrestler at Yale College, placing 4th in the NCAA’s at 190 pounds in 1976, his senior year. His wrestling career over, Neal directed his athleticism and aggression to the rugby pitch that spring and quickly found his position as tight head prop for the Elis. He went on to law school at the University of Virginia, where his promise as a rugby player truly blossomed playing for the UVA rugby club, featuring a colorful assortment of townies, undergrads, and grad students, the most famous of whom was George Allen Jr., future governor and Senator of Virginia. Neal’s play at UVA earned him select side honors and eventual election into the Commonwealth of Virginia Rugby Hall of Fame in 2012.

After law school, Neal started his legal career in Pittsburgh and joined the Pittsburgh Rugby Club, where he served as club president for the black and gold from 1984-1987. He continued to mature at prop, gaining selection to the Ohio Rugby Union and Midwest Rugby Union select sides in the 1980’s. Following trials in Sonoma, California, he was selected for the 1983 USA Eagles team, which toured Australia where Neal earned his first cap in a 9-34 loss to Australia in Sydney, an emergent Wallabies team featuring Mark Ella and David Campese. He earned his second cap for the Eagles in a 21-13 win against Canada in Chicago in 1984. He played against Canada again in 1985 and against Japan on the Japan tour in 1985. The next year he was on the field in Pebble Beach for the Eagles’ 47-13 win over Tunisia in a World Cup warmup match.  Neal’s career as an Eagle culminated with the 1987 World Cup, where he earned his sixth cap in the 6-34 loss against England in Sydney. 1987 also saw Neal’s Pittsburgh Rugby Club end their best-ever season as finalists in the National Club Championship.

Neal was elected to the USA Rugby Board of Directors in 1996 as one of the first IOC-mandated International Athlete Representatives. He also served as legal counsel and advanced through the officer ranks to become President in 2002 and then Chairman in 2004. He had the great pleasure of representing USA Rugby at the 1999 World Cup in Ireland and the 2003 World Cup in Australia. His most significant achievements as Chairman included reorganizing the Board and reducing the number of directors from 36 to the present 8, securing a tournament fixture on the IRB World Sevens Series Tour, and solidifying the future for the USA Rugby Sevens World Series fixture through partnership with long time rugby supporter and entrepreneur Jon Prusmack. In the February 2004 debut for the USA Sevens tournament at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, he had the honor of presenting the first trophy to winners Argentina.

Neal played a significant role representing the USA in International Rugby Board functions and developing the Union’s international profile and reputation as a reliable commercial partner. He served as Vice President and then President of the North American West Indies Rugby Association from 2003-2008 and as NAWIRA’s Representative to the IRB from 2006-2008.

Neal also volunteered his services as director and president of Three Rivers Rugby from 1997-2009, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting grade age rugby.

In 2009 Neal moved his law practice to the Middle East, where he opened an office for his law firm K & L Gates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, site of a hugely popular fixture on the IRB World Sevens Series Tour. Having previously served as an IRB Judicial Officer for North America, Neal continued to serve as an IRB Judicial Officer in the UAE and also chaired the Judiciary Committee for the UAE Rugby Association from 2011-2015.