Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

Catching Up: USA 7’s, Grand Prix Rugby, College Ball, and More

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?

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14 comments on “Catching Up: USA 7’s, Grand Prix Rugby, College Ball, and More

  1. Wendy
    February 13, 2012

    “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.”

    We agree! Support seems to be getting better, but we are still years behind where it should be for women’s rugby. All we can keep doing is moving forward!

  2. Clay
    February 14, 2012

    I’m pretty sure I could put together a college All-Star team and beat the men’s team by at least 14 points… Give me Thretton Palamo, John Bademosi, Nate Ebner, Nate Brakeley, Don Pati, Tonata Lauti, Gareth Jones, JP Eloff and take Blain Scully, Colin Hawley & Peter Tiberio back, while being coached by Magleby. winner, winner, chicken dinner. So, while our team may stink right now, I think in about 2 years we’ll be looking good and hopefully a top 6 team.

    The only guy I’d keep off the current team was the guy wearing #2 jersey. Was it Mike Palefau? Not sure what his name was, but he was the only guy who started for the team who had power, pace, athletic ability, passing ability… etc. The guy looked like a complete player.

    But that’s very true Wendy. Right now the only team that has a shot at gold is the WNT. However watching their performance on Saturday was… I’ll just say this… They really need a few more speedsters on that team like their winger.

  3. MattD
    February 14, 2012

    We need more details on this Grand Prix Rugby venture and we need them fast. You seem to be the only one “in the know” on this and the only one reporting on it. So get moving will ya! Its pretty much the biggest rugby news in the history of US rugby if ithappens.

  4. RugbyAmerica
    February 15, 2012

    Clay,

    The #2 was Palefau and he was one of the few bright spots this weekend for the USA.

    Matt D,

    Working on it. You won’t get reports from RugbyMag on it, because it would present a conflict of interest to their “USA 7’s only” approach to reporting. They’ll be the first to report on it if the deal goes bad, but if it has life they will surely ignore it.

  5. Clay
    February 15, 2012

    I finally had a chance to watch the games on TV. I still like Palefau a lot. But I heard he’s 30 years or older, which probably means he wont make the Olympic team, but still, he looks to be a nice addition to the team now in the meantime. His defensive play was a little sloppy, but his athletic ability and his awareness on offense I think more than make up for his slow defensive play.

    I also took a close look at that Maka Unufe kid that Pat Clifton has been talking about and I think he might turn into something. He’s pretty darn quick, got some nice moves, he just needs to learn where the touch line is… So there are a few more bright spots on that team than what I was originally thinking. But I still stand by the fact that think a college all-star team could beat these Eagles. There is just something missing with them, besides talent…

  6. RugbyAmerica
    February 15, 2012

    Clay, you are correct, I believe Mike is 29. He’s been around the 7’s squad for years and I’m happy to see him still being considered although he’ll likely age out before the Olympics. With Matt Hawkins taking a step back, the Eagles need a veteran presence in the lineup. Palefau can be that guy. The youngsters have talent, it is just going to take some time to develop. Time that I’m not sure we have. I’d rather have them cutting their teeth on a sub-international level.

    Going back to Matt D’s question. I was in touch with their new media relations guy and Grand Prix is not ready to release the exact details on the rugby series. A formal announcement is expected in the coming weeks. I had been getting hints for the past few months that they were close to a big announcement, so hopefully it won’t be much longer.

  7. Clay
    February 15, 2012

    What worries me is that the Olympics will only take 12 teams, which I find to be weird in the first place. I’m curious how the games will be formatted with only 12 teams. 16 just seems logical. But no matter, If they only take 12 teams and only 2 from the Americas then we are in trouble with a capital T. And the qualifying process will start sooner than 2016, so we better turn this team around, and quick!

    I agree that a couple of the youngsters have talent, but in my eyes they just don’t stack up to New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and some of the other teams in terms of size, power and speed. We look like a darn high school football team playing against Alabama sometimes. I want Thretton and Ebner on this team NOW. I’m so tired of these guys looking towards the NFL. They were born to play rugby and we need to get their butts on the pitch.

  8. MattD
    February 15, 2012

    That’s awesome! I truly hope it’s a couple of weeks. I think last spring they said they’d announce it in October and that came and went.

    That site originally had 4 US cities listed on it before they took it down. I know for sure LA, New York and Chicago were three of them, but I cant remember if Dallas or Atlanta was the 4th. Either way, I then wonder who the other cities will be and how many will there be… If the US has 4, then Im guessing Toronto and Vancouver will also be on that list. And if that’s the case this could turn into a 28 to 32 team competition and quick. Think of all the rugby playing countries and if we (USA) have 4 teams then I’m guessing New Zealand, South Africa and Australia would all have 2 to 3 a piece. Then you start adding in Europe and I count 8 or so there. What about Japan and China…. Russia… Where does the list stop. Its really exciting to think about.

    Here’s a list I came up with of possible team locations… I cannot wait to see where the teams are placed and how many there will be. Im guessing 16, but don’t know how you can do that if you have 4 of them in the U.S. Maybe it will be bigger and they’ll split the conference like Northern and Southern Hemispheres… this is going to be nuts…. I hope its as cool as I’m picturing.

    Chicago – USA
    Dallas -USA
    Los Angeles – USA
    New York – USA
    Toronto – Canada
    Vancouver – Canada
    Buenos Aires – Argentina
    Sao Paulo – Brazil

    Auckland – New Zealand
    Christchurch – New Zealand
    Wellington – New Zealand
    Cape Town – South Africa
    Johannesburg – South Africa
    Brisbane – Australia
    Melborurne – Australia
    Sydney – Australia

    Paris – France
    Dublin – Ireland
    Milan – Italy
    Barcelona – Spain
    London – UK
    Manchester – UK
    Edinburgh – Scotland
    Cardiff – Wales

    Hong Kong – China
    Tokyo – Japan
    Moscow – Russia

  9. RugbyAmerica
    February 16, 2012

    Clay, if rugby follows the other Olympic formats then it could be three pools of 4 teams with the Top 8 teams from the pool stage moving onto the knockout round. That is how hockey is formatted. Basketball, on the other hand, uses two pools of 6 teams. Given the rigors of rugby, I’m guessing they’ll use three pools of 4 to cut back on the number of pool games. Regardless, the Olympic rugby tournament is going to be insanely difficult. The winner will have truely earnered their gold. And yes, right now we are in big trouble. Qualification is probably only two years away and the Americas will get two bids, at the most, given that Brazil will get an automatic hosting bid.

    Matt, it is hard to say at this point what final conclusion GPR came to with the competition. I have seen it change multiple times over the years. Things could have really changed now that they are using a more worldwide approach.

  10. workingclassrugger
    February 16, 2012

    Good to hear something more from the GPR group after some time of dead silence in their regards. Quite an exciting time for Rugby in the US with hopefully both this and the mooted Pro 15’s group getting up and running in the near future. With all the expertise within GPR and the inevitable plans commercially in regards TV and such, I wonder if the group behind the 15s concept should look to align themselves with the GPR group. Sell Rugby (Union) in both forms as a package. Could be worthwhile.

  11. RugbyAmerica
    February 17, 2012

    I can say with confidence that the people at Grand Prix have no interest in the 15-man game. Over the years I have heard that multiple times from multiple sources within their camp. Who knows what could happen down the road though? The almighty $$$ has a way of changing things and if 15’s can prove to be a money maker (in the USA), then I’m sure attitudes can be changed.

  12. workingclassrugger
    February 18, 2012

    Well, they clearly see greater commercial opportunities in the Seven man format and it would certainly would provide a better fit for the ambitions in terms of revenue generation that they have previously made public.

    I just think it would provide better businesses synergies for some sort of co-operative agreement to be achieved. That said, having two separate entities could work out more to the benefit of each over time. It all depends on the delivery.

    There seems to be some really fascinating pro league talk emerging. On the Ruggamatrix America podcast the IRB’s Development Management Mark Egan, comments on the 15s proposal. What I think is promising and it’s in agreement with the likes of Goff and co. on the podcast. Is that this group are keeping details close to their chests until they are ready to release more detail. Suggests, at least from my perspective, a far greater level of consideration and planning. Additionally, I keep hearing phrases such as, ‘deep pockets’, ‘of significant means’ and ‘ prominent and invested’ in relations to the yet unknown individuals behind this plan. The term ‘able to buy anyone’ has also emerged. I am really interested to learn of who exactly these guys are.

    Something that I find rather encouraging about the GPR group since the original announcement. Initially, their plans were very ambitious but the fact they have quietly gone about their business building the team needed for the concept is really encouraging.

  13. MattD
    February 27, 2012

    Any news or updates on Grand Prix Rugby? Its been a couple of weeks now… and Im in need of a Pro Rugby talk fix…

  14. Pingback: Man Trip: College Rugby Chapionship

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