Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
by Ted Hardy
It’s been a while since I last had time to write, so let’s hit up some of the big topics in the past month or so.
Seeing as we’re one day removed from the final games of the USA 7’s that is probably an appropriate starting place. I didn’t get to attend this year, but I have got to get there in the coming years. I had too many friends and acquaintances in the stands and the review are marvelous. Still, my DVR at home was recording away for me and I was very thankful to get to watch the action on NBC and NBC Sports Network. I thought the broadcasts were great. The American rugby broadcast is beginning to mature as more and more people are becoming familiar with the game.
I can’t say how pleased I was to see the stadium filled with boisterous fans. I know that we all believed that a day would come when rugby could fill a stadium, but this is a few years ahead of schedule. It was an absolute beautiful thing to see and hopefully it will open up a few more eyes (and sponsor pocketbooks). I’m looking forward to hearing the broadcast ratings to see if they’re gaining traction in homes as well.
On the field, New Zealand and Samoa produced a thrilling final that was a fitting ending to the tournament. Amazing rugby played by two great teams. Samoa has traditionally played very well at the USA 7’s and did it again this year. There were quite a few Samoan born NFL stars in attendance, including the Steeler’s All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu who tweeted about Samoa’s victory over New Zealand in the championship.
As for the Eagles… after playing miserably in Wellington and finishing with a 0-5 record they had a manageable pool to deal with in Las Vegas. However, the USA’s troubles continued as they went 0-3 in pool play and 1-4 overall. The Eagles lone victory came over France who came into the tournament in 5th place in the standings, which was a good team to break their 9 game losing streak. Don’t get too excited though, after their fast start this season France has begun to play more like the underperforming French team of the past few seasons. Still, a win is a win and the Eagles were also one score away from beating Canada, Argentina, and Australia.
Regardless, something seems amiss with the USA camp. I’ll be the first to point out that this squad is on the young side and it may take some time before we see the rewards of the contracts. However, the team has consistently made the same type of mistakes for most of the past two years. While young in age, some players in the squad have been on the series for at least two years and even they have shown lapses on the pitch.
Flashes of life are what made fans happy 4-5 years ago, at this point I believe the fan base is beginning to desire concrete results. the fact that Canada has surpassed the USA is also a bone of contention. The Eagles are playing well below the standards of a core team on the IRB World Series and have fallen clearly behind both Canada and Argentina in the America’s. The latter being very important to the USOC as Canada and Argentina are standing in the way of the USA qualifying for the Olympics.
I don’t forsee any big changes mid-season, but if the slide continues don’t be surprised if something happens. Olympic qualification is right around the corner and the USOC doesn’t back teams that don’t have a chance of medaling.
The USA women appear far closer to being “medal ready” than the men, but our neighbors to the north outlasted the USA Women in the women’s finals in Las Vegas. While Canada got the better of the USA this weekend, the two teams are not far apart. I’ve said it for years and I’ll stick to it. If any USA team is going to “defend the gold” it will be our women. Support them. They play good rugby and will make enormous strides with their contracted players.
Moving on, the USA is going to play host to the Junior World Trophy which is set to take place in Salt Lake City. A developmental tournament, choosing the United States to host was a great choice by the IRB. The games won’t draw huge crowds, but it give America another chance to host international quality sides and put the level of play on display to young rugby players that have the opportunity to get to some games. As a developmental tournament, the JWT has always operated at a loss to the IRB and this tournament will be no different. Still, we need to look on the bright side and more international level rugby in America is a good thing… regardless of where it takes place.
College rugby is getting rolling, so we should have some great games to keep an eye on this season. Of interest is the new Southeastern Rugby Conference which began play a couple weeks back. As with all of the newly formed conferences, expect some bumps in the road, but perseverance will be the key to continuing to build momentum for college rugby.
For those of you that have followed my blog for a few years, you’ll remember the series of articles I ran, a couple years back, about Grand Prix Rugby. Grand Prix has been at work on developing a professional 7’s competition here in the United States. It appears they are moving beyond the financing stages of their operation and have continued to employ some heavy hitters in the world sports industry. Their website went live this weekend at www.grandprixrugby.com and has some interesting articles about the men in charge of making this come to life.
I’m working on getting some details from them regarding the rugby competition, so stay tuned.
I have a handful of other articles in the works when I can find some extra time… new rugby balls from Rhino Rugby USA, review of Rugby Challenge video game, some youth rugby stuff, and more. Now where did I misplace all of my extra time?