Sunday , July 3 2022

We can build it, they will come: a USA Rugby World Cup will be a gamechanger | Rugby World Cup

Thank you, World Rugby! Call me biased, as a current member of the national squad, but inviting the United States to host the 2031 and 2033 men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups is exactly what our sport needs. They know how to host a good party in the US and I believe both tournaments will be gamechangers.

As I’ve previously stated a World Cup in America is imperative if we want to propel rugby into a new stratosphere. With Major League Rugby (MLR) now adding to the excitement, interest in the sport is already growing. A Rugby World Cup here will make the sport even bigger.

The nine-year countdown will also give USA Rugby time to prepare properly. After the past few years of struggle, both financially and logistically, solid foundations are absolutely crucial. Off the field the challenge is to raise awareness of rugby across local communities. Make it even easier for the American public to access rugby on mainstream sports channels and encourage the sport to showcase itself. Weave that in with a developing national team, benefiting from spending more time with each other, and an attractive MLR domestic league and you have a potentially beautiful marriage.

Get it right and the opportunities are vast. “Build it, and they will come” to borrow from Kevin Costner’s movie Field of Dreams. I truly believe we must do all we can to put rugby union in front of the American public. And, crucially, to make it fun. I know new fans to the sport are in awe of the physicality, speed and skill of rugby, not to mention the chance to engage with players far more easily than in certain other American sports.

The bid committee is also committed to hosting games in diverse cities and in high-quality stadiums. One of these is the home of my current team, San Diego, located along the beautiful southern California coast. America’s sheer size offers the chance to take the sport to places where it might not normally enjoy widespread attention. By staging the competition all over the country, rugby can inspire and connect with the audience of 360m people that the USA has to offer.

That applies to the women’s game as much as the men’s. The rugby audience in America generally is on the rise, with interest in the MLR growing encouragingly. In just the past year, Octagon Sports Tracker indicated that the rugby fanbase in North America has increased by 30% and MLR awareness has jumped by nearly 25%. MLR games are shown on local broadcasting stations associated with the large sports provider Fox Sports, and every match is streamed live on the Rugby Network.

The freshness of the MLR concept is definitely helping. The American (and Canadian) public are getting behind the current 13 franchises and tribal loyalties are being established from Seattle to New Orleans, LA to Toronto and New York to Washington DC. It is also a competition that is not afraid to be proactive on social media, try out new laws, put on a “half-time show” or throw some wild kits and team names out there.

Chad Gough of the Colorado Raptors plays a pass against San Diego Legion in 2020
Chad Gough of the Colorado Raptors plays a pass against San Diego Legion in 2020 in an MLR that is becoming more competitive. Photograph: Stuart Walmsley/Getty Images

Traditional rugby fans may not like the idea of having their sport streamlined and “Americanised”, but the game needs to be forward-looking to flourish in the modern, socially engaging world. Rugby in the USA feels a bit different but in a good way. No disrespect intended but away games in Los Angeles or New York beat a trip up the M1 to Coventry or a long bus ride to Newcastle. Yes, the competition is in its infancy, which poses various challenges, but the only way for the MLR is up. The rugby world definitely needs it.

Standards-wise the competition is fierce, with foreign players such as my current teammates Ma’a Nonu and Chris Robshaw mixed in with some exciting American and Canadian talent. It will act as the building ground for the national teams, which will be huge for USA Rugby as it seeks to build towards 2031 and become genuine competitors.

At my age, unfortunately, I’ll miss out on playing in 2031 but the current team still have a part to play in building an exciting future for the sport in the US. Over the past few years we as a rugby nation have been inconsistent, going from the elation of beating Scotland in 2018 to the disappointment of being utterly dismantled by the All Blacks last year.

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Our eyes are currently set on ensuring we qualify for France 2023 by beating an incredibly passionate and improving Chile side in July. It will be no easy task but we know it is down to us to fuel the growth of USA Rugby and to try to inspire the next generation. Kids will have fresh motivation to play at grassroots level and will grow up even keener to play for their country. Throw in a future Rugby World Cup on home soil and the so called “sleeping giant” of USA Rugby will be wide awake.

My experiences at the Rugby World Cup in Japan 2019, not least playing against the Brave Blossoms, suggests there is a clear blueprint that the USA must try to follow. Grow a successful internal rugby competition where local talent grows. Develop an international squad capable of gaining results on the big stage. Do all this in front of the American public and attune the sport to the modern world and who knows just how high the sport could soar? The Rugby World Cups of 2031 and 2033 could be off the charts.

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