And now… only in America…

I’ve been cruising websites and earwigging certain individuals in Canada and the States… so the tone of this piece cannot, repeat cannot be cynical.

Judging from reliable sources (let’s get the contradictions in terms in early) rugby in North America is on the burst.  Or perhaps more exactly the attack coach is making a convincing case to The Girls for a stunning three-quarter move.  Or he’s rehearsing what he might say later, when the guys get in after school/work.   Because it’s an amateur game, right?

No, dude.  The first Pro contracts have just been agreed for Eagles Rugby Sevens – a huge step.  Beyond this, a confirmed bid for the Rugby World Cup 2023 is beginning to shake its ass; a cusp of something approaches, another frontier presents itself…and America engages.

Olympic money – rugby 7’s becomes an Olympic sport for Rio 2016 – has been shovelled in to fund 23 professional (7’s) contracts at USA Rugby.  And this month CEO Nigel Melville, formerly of Wasps and England has talked openly of discussions aimed at bids for either Rugby World Cup 2023 or 2027.  Bids which may be joint efforts with Canada, where both Vancouver and Toronto are seen as viable bases.  NBC is also now covering the Collegiate Rugby Championship to be played next June.  All of which is brilliant news that should be universally greeted by whoops and yankeedoodles, yes?  Well nearly.

NBC’s involvement is clearly major, enabling a hike in the profile of the game nation-wide.  But that also means that TV-related issues clump into the foreground.  So, for example, NBC have authority to guide choices not just about how things might look, but about which teams get invited to participate in the showdown.  As a consequence, certain college teams have been omitted to accommodate those with a higher (existing) sporting profile.  Currently, this is no meritocracy – brands being more important than well… anything.

This has of course led to proper disgruntlement amongst some proper fans of proper teams.  Interviewed in Collegiate Championship Director Donal Walsh admitted as much but spoke of the need to build towards genuine qualification(s) over time:

“If we bring forward marquee brands at this stage of the tournament, it validates everything we’re doing to promote the sport”.

Therein lies a central difficulty; how to get recognition and acceptance of a magnificent game in a continent where scale is huge in every sense and where TV effectively controls or chooses nearly everything.  But despite issues around levels of purity, grinning excitement of a kind familiar to most of us surrounds the charge forward.  @LineoutCoach a friend, mentor and purveyor of first-hand insights into a very dynamic scenario has bullet-pointed certain essentials.  Given that he is a fully-paid member of the illustrious Hickie family from Old Ireland – now coaching at Belmont Shore RC, Los Angeles, California (how easy it would have been to conclude with the phrase “Lucky bastard!”) I am inclined – nay obliged – to listen.

Sir Gavin of That New World says effectively this;

  1. The advent of Sevens contracts is key to generating participation/momentum/awareness.
  2. The appointment of a ‘marquee’ Head coach for the international side would be more than just a statement; it would facilitate further growth.
  3. In time the domestic game must find a structure that is funded to build and to compete – whether that means ‘City Teams’ or regions.

Sitting at my laptop in West Wales, I can feel that particular gentleman’s enthusiasm and belief in the rightness of this game, at this time, in this new place.  In particular there is a feeling that the exhilarating athleticism and scope of Sevens might be an appropriate fulcrum from which to catapult the game towards an altogether higher arc.  The proviso to this infectious groundswell may be that it may be essential to combine patience and solid organisation with this precious froth.

There are those who don’t get it – possibly many who never will.  I can hear the Pretty Informed Actually But Mebbe Touch Cynical snorting thus

“Short of a change of code from D Beckham Esq, what’s to draw people?  Who they gonna want to see?  Where’s the qualidee?”

So is it going to work?  From this distance – geographically and in terms of time – we can only speculate.  But yeh.  A long run at a 2023 World Cup?  I can see that.  And good luck.

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