Having had a week to digest the historical clash between New Zealand and the United States of America at the Soldier Field in Chicago, I believe I have made up my mind. Rugby is headed for globalisation and there is no turning back. Welcome, America!
The Americans, with their infrastructure, facilities, commercial muscle and sheer weight of participant numbers represent everything that is great about world sport. Pick a sports event outside of the States that you admire for its glitz, glamour and razzmatazz and the chances are pretty good that the idea was borrowed or at least based on a major US sporting occasion like the Super Bowl, for example. Rugby is not going to replace gridiron, basketball, baseball, ice hockey or football; what they call hockey and soccer respectively, but there is a place for the game that has hitherto been a Commonwealth game also played by Argentina and France.
The advantage rugby has in the States is that it can easily pick up players who might not have made it on the gridiron field. The sports are similar enough to allow a college or high school football reject to still make the transition to rugby and bolster his new team’s ranks. Also bear in mind the relative amateur status of rugby in North America, which further contributes to wide receivers and the like being welcomed with open arms onto the rugby field.
But that scenario will change quickly once the professional game is fully operational over there. The yanks displayed their hunger for the game by packing more than 60 000 into the Soldier Field stadium for the visit of the All Blacks. The fact that their Eagles were hammered 74-6 is irrelevant. The world champions were in town and Chicagoans were keen to see what it was all about.
The next step is get a professional league going and already USA Rugby is looking at establishing a city-based six franchise competition. It will only grow from there and it will not be long before the Americans overtake the likes of neighbours Canada, Japan and the Pacific Island sides. In fact, I am willing to bet they will soon even eye upset wins over Italy and Scotland before the IRB is sufficiently pressured into relooking the current international Test window which only really accommodates the four Rugby Championship sides and the Six Nations.
Simply put, rugby is good for the USA and the USA is good for rugby. Some are worried that the yanks will soon dominate the world scene. Allow me to allay those fears. South Africa and New Zealand are always going to be great rugby nations. It is in our blood. It is in our DNA. These two rugby powerhouses run virtual conveyor belts that continuously produce top rugby players, so do not worry about that.
And so what if our best players end up playing in Major League Rugby (yeah, let’s call it that!)? They’ll earn great salaries because the best players end up where the best money is paid and we just need to look to football (soccer) to see that all the South Americans playing in European leagues has hardly diminished their strength on the world stage.