Over the past few years rugby’s biggest sleeping giant has been awakening. The game is growing in the USA and looks set to explode over the next few years as the Eagles go from strength to strength and rugby is set to re-enter the Olympics during the 2016 games.
So potent is the looming shadow of the USA that even the might All Blacks have deemed them worthy as a stop off later this year. With this kind of momentum building in the country it seems more and more youngsters will be drawn to the sport which will only help to increase their national side.
Here are six reasons why the USA will be rugby’s ones to watch over the next few years;
It seems only a matter of time before a professional rugby league is established in the USA with plans mooted for the National Rugby Football League for a number of years now. In fact the sport has become so in demand in America that the NRFL looks like it could well end up receiving the backing of NFL franchises.
This would provide professional rugby teams in the USA with stadiums, training facilities and access to some of the best sports coaches in the world. There would also be the potential for players to cross-over between the two sports in a bid to further develop their skills.
Having a number of professional teams established in the country who play each other every week will only help to improve the standard of player in the country. The ability to retain top talent within the USA will also be a key factor as they look to build the national side.
Recruiting NFL Players
It seems rugby teams from around the world have finally awoken to the potential of those players deemed surplus to requirements in the NFL. Open trials earlier this year provided some of the top clubs in the world with the opportunity to recruit players who have failed to make it in the NFL.
Whilst these players may not be deemed good enough for the NFL there’s no doubting that they are incredible athletes to have even made it into training camps. These players will have all of the physical attributes to be top class rugby players, whilst some may even have some of the basic skills.
Whilst it may be a bit late for players coming to the end of the NFL career’s those young stars who fail to make the final cut in the NFL could prove to be the future of the USA national side. Given a few years to develop these gifted athletes into top class rugby players the USA could be looking at one hell of a squad.
Players in Top Leagues
There seems to be an increasing trend of the USA’s top players moving abroad to some of the very best leagues in the world. The Premiership in England seems to be a particular favourite with a number of the USA’s stars turning out regularly in the league.
The rise to prominence of players like Samu Manoa is not only opening the world’s eyes to the potential of players in the USA, but also providing those back home plenty of inspiration to take up rugby. This is also going to make European and Super Rugby coaches take a much harder look at players from the USA.
Whilst this may not be a fantastic long-term option as it will be important for the USA to keep key players in the country, in the short-term it is not such a bad thing. It gives the USA’s top stars the opportunity to play competitively every week and allows them to learn from different coaching methods.
Rugby is the fastest growing sport in the USA right now, with USA Rugby having around 115,000 members, and their CEO, Nigel Melville, says that more than 750,000 kids are playing non-contact “rookie rugby”. Both short and long term it is fantastic to see such enthusiasm for the sport in the country.
With so many youngsters attracted to the sport the future looks very bright for the USA as an already well established side look set to be bolstered by a raft of youngsters coming through the ranks. This makes establishing a professional league in the country even more important.
It’s not just in playing terms that the sport is gaining popularity however as fans are flocking to the sport with demand for live action on TV sky-rocketing in recent years. Rugby’s increased exposure over the next couple of years is hardly going to dampen this either.
Playing Top Teams
It seems that the USA is now finally being recognised as a serious player in world rugby with teams such as Ireland and Scotland travelling out to play the Eagles. It looks like this trend will continue to grow as more and more teams tout the USA as a potential destination.
The upcoming game against the All Blacks in Chicago however is set to be the jewel in the Eagle’s crown though. Whilst the All Blacks game may have been more influenced by financial incentives than many would care to admit, there’s no doubting what a significant milestone this is for the USA.
Rugby fans in the country are already going mad for the game snapping up tickets. This kind of exposure for rugby in the country will only help to strengthen the sport in a country that has the potential to be the biggest rugby market in the world.
The USA sevens side is currently going from strength to strength as they seriously contemplate a stab at Olympic glory in 2016. The team are contracted full-time and play as part of the IRB World Sevens series and are not to be taken lightly having recorded victories against some of the best in the world.
The breakthrough of sevens star Carlin Isles has also provided the USA with a huge boost as his performances on the sevens circuit turned him into an overnight sensation with YouTube videos of his try scoring exploits going viral. With the likes of Isles in the side the USA sevens side will have high hopes for the next few years.
The support the sevens set-up receives from academies like Tiger Rugby is also a huge bonus for the USA as young rugby players are given the opportunity to receive world class coaching in a professional environment. Expect to see a number of top USA players coming through touring sides like this.
Do you think the USA could become a major force in rugby?