Changing the state of US rugby
It has been a big week for US rugby. Insurance giant AIG was named as the official sponsor of the All-Americans while the IRB announcement for the women’s 7s series not only put one of the stops in Houston, but also added the Eagles as a core team.
This follows the IRB’s announcement a few weeks ago that its tier two schedule will see the Eagles playing some great fall matches in Europe.
Now throw in the double success of hosting and winning the Junior World Rugby Trophy this year with the unstoppable growth of the USA 7s in Las Vegas (it’s in Vegas and on TV…ka-ching ka-ching!), and you’d think that all our Christmases have come at once.
And of course it should be noted that the overseas presence of players like Todd Clever, Taku Ngwenya and their eighteen fellow countrymen in leagues around the world is an added bonus.
But let’s focus on the domestic scene.
I’ve lost count of the number of conversations about American rugby I’ve had over the years that start with a complaint. Top moans are usually along the lines of “the growth is too slow” and “the leagues are a mess”.
I agree that there’s plenty of room for improvement, but is it really that bad?
Thanks to the work of Play Rugby USA and the many other great organisations out there like them, youth rugby is growing….fast! There are kids playing rugby now who are half the age I was when I first started playing in England.
The college teams, long the foundation of the game here in the States, continue to go from strength to strength in both men’s and women’s. The USA 7s CRCs have been giving immense exposure to the 7s game and now has National TV coverage.
Through the thick and thin of domestic league and rules changes over the years, club rugby has managed to adapt and thrive. Recent changes introducing a new division structure are aimed at strengthening the divisions and give clubs more competitive games.
Financing this is a challenge, but that has always been the case for rugby clubs in the US. It wasn’t too long ago that, as a coach, you volunteered your time for free. These days, clubs have risen to the occasion and are not only covering expenses but in some cases even paying coaches a salary or stipend.
Love it or hate it, we have to work tirelessly in the US to help grow and improve the sport. I would love for rugby to be as popular as it is in Wales or New Zealand, but the reality is that we face different challenges.
Shrugging our shoulders and moaning about the problems without actually addressing them is at best pointless, at worst detrimental to the cause. If we want to change the state of rugby here, we have to strive to innovate and overcome our growing pains.
On a personal note, I took the first step this month to address a long-time grievance of mine: the lack of TV coverage of U.S. domestic rugby. Learn more about my idea at http://rkthb.co/11062 and then give me your thoughts on twitter @arugbylife and facebook.com/arugbylife
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- Rugby Union