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Where Eagles dare

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Ben Dirs | 07:43 UK time, Monday, 26 September 2011

Nelson

Like a cat stretching out on a veranda, ironing out the kinks and the creases, New Zealand is slowly easing off the last vestiges of winter, so that when I opened my curtains this morning I was greeted by a blazing sun and uninterrupted blue skies - not a single long white cloud in sight. I'm not sure if Dulux do a colour called 'screamer', but surely this would be it.

From Nelson's Tahunanui Beach, speckled with families wielding buckets and spades, you can look out across Tasman Bay and see the white-peaked Arthur Range. To this Englishman, at least, it is a view that scrambles the senses - golden beaches and snow-capped mountains do not belong in the same view together. At least not in Romford.

Opposite Trafalgar Park in the middle of town is Club Italia, the centre of the Italian community in Nelson. The Italians have been here for more than a hundred years, lured by fertile soil and a climate similar to that back in their native land. Out front, two old boys do what old Italians do, drink coffee and wave their hands. When they speak, they do so in a mixture of Italian and Kiwi, so that God only knows how they pronounce 'grissini'.

Tahunanui Beach and Tasman Bay

Tahunanui Beach and Tasman Bay provide a mesmerising backdrop for visitors to Nelson. Picture: Ben Dirs

Strolling down Haven Road, I happen across a member of the Italian squad having a chinwag with a couple of United States Eagles. It is a sweet snapshot of an intimate World Cup but another slightly incongruous scene: on Tuesday, these three will be doing battle back over at Trafalgar, shaking up a cocktail made from each others' blood, sweat and tears.

"That's pretty much the way of USA rugby," says Eagles flanker Inaki Basauri, "you don't know how you end up there but you somehow do. Practically every day I ask myself that question: what the hell am I doing here?"

While it is true the route into the United States rugby team is a circuitous one for many, Basauri's story is more curious, and for that reason more inspiring, than most.

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Basauri moved to Washington DC when he was eight, where the rapidly-expanding kid learned to play American Football at Walt Whitman High School - shoe-horned into the team's defensive line, or as Basauri puts it, "just clogging up a hole".

Aged 15, an Italian friend - Italians are a recurring theme in this story - dragged Basauri along to training with Maryland Exiles, where the hulking but awkward teenager - shock of shocks - was allowed to run with the ball.

"It was very confusing and I was lost," says Basauri, now 26. "All I knew is they wanted me to run with the ball and hit as many people as possible. But going from clogging up a hole to running over people and jumping in the line-out, all while wearing just a pair of shorts and a jersey, it was very liberating, and much more enjoyable."

While Basauri could handle the knocks, the fitness aspect scared him - and, like many of us when we first take up a sport, he thought he was "horrible". "That was the first time I'd even seen anyone play the game," he says. "I was really out of shape and didn't even know how to pass the ball."

USA flanker Inaki Basauri

USA flanker Inaki Basauri revels at running with the ball: "Anyone can play this sport!" Photo: Getty

Enter that Hollywood staple, the hard-bitten sports coach with an eye for kids from the wrong side of the tracks. "Dan Soso was very good at getting the right players playing the game," says Basauri. "So he'd call at my house, come and pick me up for practice in the morning, he was a pretty persistent guy."

Basauri could not have been as horrible as he thought, because within a year of first picking up a rugby ball he found himself training with current skipper Todd Clever as part of the United States under-19s squad. "Mark Bullock, the coach at the time, recruited me and asked if I wanted to go and play in the world championships in Italy," says Basauri. "And that's when I started to think, 'I could do something with this'."

A year later, Basauri played in the under-19s world championships in France, where he was spotted by third division Parisian feeder club Massy. "I didn't speak any French, and nobody spoke English at the club, so I had to pick up the language very quick," says Basauri.

"The game was a lot faster, they were very dynamic in the forwards and I was still learning how to handle the ball and run good lines and play defence. But it wasn't until I went overseas to France that I started getting confident in my game."

After Massy, Basauri had stints at Agen and CA Lannemezan and made his debut for the full United States team in 2007, before being selected for that year's World Cup. And now, having just switched from Italian side L'Aquila to French D2 team Perigueux, he is back with the big boys in New Zealand. Not really knowing how he ended up here, but at least knowing he was right: that he could do something with this once mysterious game.

"It just goes to show, anyone can play this sport, no matter where you are from or at what age you pick up the ball," says Basauri. "And there's no other sport better to teach you how to become a man and a responsible human being.

"You can travel, learn about new cultures, pick up new languages, meet new people. I know if I go to any club in the world they'll have a bed for me and a cold pint. It's a beautiful game and if you're passionate about it and work hard, you can end up playing in a World Cup for your country."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Surely the US has a great deal of players who don't quite make the cut in Gridiron, who with immense strength, given a similar shaped ball, and told to run and get stuck in would love Rugby. It is another example of the insular nature of US Sports. Can you imagine if some of the South Pacific Immigrants "and their offspring" to the US turned their attention to the 15 man game? Take Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, or even Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who had a successful time in Canadian (Gridiron) Football. The US would be definitely less of a pushover!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Willo77 - I totally agree. If even a small percentage of American Football rejects got scooped up by rugby, they would potentially have one hell of a team...

  • Comment number 3.

    Another quality blog Ben. Anyone can write a blog to get the selection issue arguments going, but you're more insightful entries about the background and the fringes of this competition have been excellent.

    Willo77, US sport is very insular but it is something that is very cultural for them going right through their school systems. It was interesting reading Ben's other blog about aspiring All Blacks, that this is exactly the same in New Zealand except the sport is rugby instead of American Football, Baseball, Basketball etc.

    I agree with you that America produce incredible athletes, a fact that Martin Johnson is well aware of considering his love of American Football. However, rugby is more than just athleticism, it is a complex game that requires a solid network of decent coaches through all age groups to produce senior internationals of real quality. That is unfortunately why America will take a very long time to produce an outstanding Eagles team.

    The main gist of the article is fantastic though. It is one of the reasons I love this sport. Having played it for most of my life (and regretably now having had to stop because of injury), I almost feel that I belong to a special group of people who share an interest in our game. It is a game that accepts all shapes and sizes and it encourages camaraderie and friendship. No matter what professionalism does to the higher tiers of our sport, I pray that rugby remains this way long into the future.

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree, many running backs, some defensive players, quarter backs etc etc could play a decent game of rugby BUT, Americans have no idea that the game exists. I have quite a few US friends and nobody knows the world cup is on. Having said that if you search on Youtube "From NFL Gridiron to U.S.A. Rugby Sevens - Miles Craigwell" it shows that you can make the transition.

  • Comment number 5.

    Loving these articles Benders!

    We were in Lens for the England v USA game at the last world cup and whilst having a few drinks we bumped into the USA management team, Nigel Melville et al (which included a wonderful guy called Bob ("Baab") from Chicago who appeared to be bankrolling everything.

    One of the guys we were chatting to (whose name sadly escapes me) was responsible for going into the colleges and trying to recruit the College Football players who weren't going to make the grade proffesionally. He said that the biggest issue they had was that these kids were used to playing infront of 50,000 people week in, week out with all of the showmanship that goes with it and it was proving nearly impossible to convince to play games infront of three men and a dog. In addition, he said it was increasingly difficult to convince the black kids with the most potential that there was a future in the game given that the majority of people involved in promoting and running the game were middle aged white men.

    Hopefully, the growth of the game in North America will be helped by the proposed regular test schedule as increasing the second tier in the game (USA, Canada, Japan) can only serve to strengthen the game. However, given the insular nature of the (particularly) american approach to international sports, it may prove difficult.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's funny, I was speaking to an American fan down in Dunedin, and while many rugby fans like to think of rugby as this incredibly technical and impenetrable game, he pointed out that American Football has become so technican nowadays (in terms of the hundreds of different plays) you have to be pretty intelligent to play the game. And when I say intelligent, I mean dextrous of mind rather than booksmart.

    I'd wager that if you rounded up 10 running backs and wide receivers who nearly cracked the NFL, but didn't quite, gave them to a top sevens coach for a few months, then he'd mould them into a pretty decent side, competing on the world stage.

  • Comment number 7.

    TheBlacksmith - That's a very interesting point you make. Fact is, college football in America is probably bigger than professional rugby in Europe or the southern hemisphere. That would take a lot of persuasion - convincing someone to come back down to 'one man and a dog' level in another sport in the hope that you might build them all the way up again to the top.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sadly its all about the money. College sports are huge in America and understandably the guys coming through are looking to get signed by NFL, NBA, etc in order to secure their future.
    Its also one of the reasons why America is not producing any decent heavyweight boxers this generation. Risks are weighed up and ultimately you are more likely to make your fortune playing gridiron or basketball. Boxing also has MMA to deal with now!
    Off the subject slightly but I read an article about ten years ago in a rugby magazine describing how China had a 20 year development plan to become a world class rugby nation. They had drafted in an ex all black coach and were using Red Army databases to select potential players. Apparently the army kept records of height, weight and how fast their men could run the 100m! Obviously not going to plan but wondered if anyone else had heard of this.

  • Comment number 9.

    Fair point Ben, and also thinking about it from another point of view, Rugby League is a completely different sport to Union and there have been a number of converts who have cut it at the absolute pinnacle of the game. However, my point is I suppose, that for the Eagles to compete on the world stage there needs to be far more infrastructural work done on the game in America other than converting players from Gridiron. The sad fact is that for all my talk of inclusion in my last post, the lack of development in the less established rugby playing countries is something that desperately needs to be addressed by our sport. The IRB have alot to do in this regard because, Italy and finally Argentina aside, there has been very little to cheer about. Nations like Romania for instance where there is a huge appetite for rugby have not been supported.

    I don't believe money is the key to solving this problem, however providing showcases and decent competition for these international teams year in, year out. The only games that are played by Portugal, Romania, Georgia, USA, Canada etc that are truly competitive happen every four years in qualification for a world cup and then the World Cup itself providing they qualify.

    I know this is sacrilege but our sport needs to evolve- How about introducing a second division to the six nations to include Georgia, Romania, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Belgium. Then you could have promotion for the top team in division two and relegation for the bottom team in division one. That way every year, developing rugby nations get international rugby fixtures that actually mean something. That would generate interest, supporters, television audiences and eventually advertising revenues which could then be used to fuel the development of the sport in these countries.

    I await the lambasting with baited breath...

  • Comment number 10.

    Let's not kid ourselves, the yanks are not interested in union and never will be, they are just 1 of 12 teams in this world cup that shouldn't be there.
    Pointless games against sides that are no better than many Sunday league sides, 80,70,80,60 point victories become boring.
    Only 5 teams have a realistic chance of winning the cup so let's just stop pretending that Russian or American rugby is taking off because it's not.
    Nice blog but an extremely rosey view of the minnows in world rugby.

  • Comment number 11.

    If i was running a premiership rugby team the first thing i'd do is head over to Indianapolis next February to watch the NFL combine, this is the event when all the college prospects get to show their athleticism and skills to prospective NFL teams. Most of these kids will never make an NFL roster, but in terms of physical abilities they'd blow away anyone you'd see playing junior club/county rugby on a Sunday.

    Its a common misconception that everyone in the NFL gets paid huge salaries, with such huge rosters (50+ players) and a salary cap, its only the superstars on the team that get the massive contract, most players earn fairly modest salaries compared to soccer with some players earning around £150,000 per year. the players on the practice squads earn even less, $40,000 - $50,000 a year.

    obviously you need more than athleticism to play rugby, but you can’t tell me taking a chance on someone who's 6 foot 3 and runs a 4.3 40 yard dash isn't worth it, and there are plenty of these kids coming out of college who never make an NFL team. I’d bring a couple over, train them up for a year or two and see what you get. You can’t teach speed.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm always impressed with the way sports are supported in the USA, through high school, college and into t he pro's. The educational system seems to enable people to reach their potential much better than our systems here in the UK. The professionalism of college based sports is amazing when you think they run out each week to crowds of 30-50k, which is frankly quite scary. Hopefully one day the UK will realize the best place to influence athlete in any sport is through the school system and it can be a productive part of their lives even if it doesn't end up becoming their career. Perhaps one day sport in schools will be seen as a way of forming a school identity (much like the US) rather than being something the majority of schools force into their schedule against their will and give youngsters an hour a week where inevitably for most of the year they play nothing but football without coaching or supervision. Unfortunately that system requires financial support that the US systems appear to be able to acquire whereas in the UK we provide a relatively measly budget to schools which is spread to thin across academic and non-academic subjects to really achieve anything (in either discipline).

    I think Rugby will struggle to crack USA in terms of becoming a main stream sport but maybe it can learn from football (soccer not american) which failed once and then managed to successfully become a significant part of the US sporting scene. I certainly hope (As with all of the improving tier 2 nations) that they continue to improve and bridge the gap as the world cup is more exciting when it isn't just about the 8/9 bigger nations. Perhaps in the future a world cup in the US wouldn't be a bad idea - if they continue to grow the levels of interest, they certainly have the sporting infrastructure necessary and it could be another stepping stone for our great sport in North America.

  • Comment number 13.

    hass84 - I'm with you 100%, if I was a Premiership club, I'd have scouts circling these college and NFL teams like vultures and ready to pounce when players get rejected or dropout.

  • Comment number 14.

    Ben - Yet again another fantastic blog. Is there a sports writers award for Rugby or something that you can be nominated for? Because given your coverage of the RWC so far and the fantastic articles you have written I can't see any other people who'd stand a chance.

    @ #9 tom_rowlands25

    Learn more about the International Rugby set up and what the IRB does to help develop global Rugby before you spout such pathetic drivel.

    There already is a 2nd version of the 6 Nations, its called the European Nations Cup. It season runs over a 2year basis with each team playing all the others in the league home and away.

    In the top tier of ENC you have Georgia, Romania, Portugal, Spain, Russia and Ukraine. The ENC2 league has Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic etc. This structure carries on all the way down to the lowest league. There is promotion and relegation between these leagues.

    Georgia have won the most recent ENC and generally tend to dominate it. There have been calls for quite a long time for them to be allowed to have a play off against the team bottom of the 6N, but Scotland and Italy in particular are against this as they would end up losing out on all that TV revenue money.

    The other major problem is that the Autumn Internationals never include a tier 1 nation playing against a tier 2 nation from Europe. It would be nice to see England vs Georgia, Ireland vs Russia, Wales vs Romania and Scotland vs Portugal included in the AI's as I believe it would improve the standard they play at if exposed to bigger teams regularly.

  • Comment number 15.

    The problem is the age of the palyers who get rejected. There are currently 120 FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) Schools, with various other levels below that. College scholarships last for four years, and often go as long as five due to 'red-shirting'. The players you want are the ones who only just miss out on playing American football professionally, so they are highly likely to have been playing for a College side. They are going to be 23 at least before the realisation hits that they are not going to make it as a pro-Footballer. By which point switching to learn another sport, with the likely time period this will take, is probably too late. Those ex-College players will want to start earning a living pretty well straight away, which they surely cannot do in a wholly alien evniroment, even if it's one that their physical attributes are suited to. One would need significant funding for scholarship programmes to teach these players the sport, and I'm not sure the player return would justify such an outlay.

    The likes of Mr. Basauri, who opted for Rugby instead of American Football as a high-schooler, proving good enough to play Rugby internationally is going to be rare.

  • Comment number 16.

    Some of you seem to be forgetting that USA has two players who play for the current Aviva Premiership champions,Saracens. Chris Wyles and Hayden Smith are quality players.

    USA are getting there slowly but surely.

  • Comment number 17.

    There are already NFL fringe players in the Eagles set up - Leonard Peters and Miles Craigwell

  • Comment number 18.

    If the so called lesser European nations had the chance to play against the 'big boys' more regularly, it would do a lot to improve the game in those countries and make the Rugby World Cup more interesting. While it is enjoyable watching the likes of England and New Zealand (and Wales this morning) running in lots of tries, it does not help the other teams develop their game. A second tier promotion/first tier relegation batle each year would help. I appreciate that Scotland and Italy would probably vote against this as they seem to be the perennial waeker teams but why shouldn't another nation get the same opportunity Italy got approximately ten years ago. No team should be exempt from relegation in any sport.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hookers, I agree with you re the AI's including more tier two nations, however the most prohibitive fact to this is that the relevant RFU's utilize the fixtures as a revenue stream which is important for their respective sides (particularly the smaller nations such as Scotland and Italy). Any move to push the sides into playing tier 2 sides would therefore be fought against by the nations; especially as they struggle to fill stadiums (I'm thinking Murryfield in particular) when the lesser teams come to town.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hookers, the very fact that nobody knows about the European Nations Cup proves full well that what I am saying is not "pathetic drivel" as you put it. The fact that you are arguing for inclusion of second tier nations into AIs is further testament to the fact. That is a flawed argument- who would get to play England at Twickenham? the calender would only allow for one or possibly two matches against second tier. Romania and Georgia get to play- what about Portugal or Spain? It needs to be more sustainable. The European Nations Cup doesn't have the exposure to create significant advertising revenue that an AI would. If relegation from the 6N became reality then exposure for the second tier would grow and thus investment. Oh, but soory according to you that's okay because Scotland and Italy don't want it. Very inclusionist...

  • Comment number 21.

    The USA has had a reasonable grass roots game of ex football players for many years. I played a season in New England in the late 80s and there were some very good ex football players. However, conversion from football to rugby is not that easy as a good rugby brain takes time to develop and they often come late to the game. Football seems very regimented from an early age; rugby is (hopefully) still much more intuitive. I remember ex football players finding tackling without pads, "cup" and helmet a very painful experience!

    On developing nations, Samoa and Georgia are doing well and may deserve to be added to the Tri/Six-Nations in near future. Suspect it is down to developing the domestic game structure and that takes time and money. The richer nations (e.g. England) should play a bigger role in developing the developing nations.

  • Comment number 22.

    If the USA managed to get rugby union into the college's/school's/University's then they would become a massive force to be reckoned with. I call them a sleeping giant, but can be awoken if the pathways and structures are put into place to allow the sport to flurish. Increased participation will surely make the USA a top 10 IRB team if not top 5.

  • Comment number 23.

    Convincing the African-American nearly men in Gridiron to convert to Rugby is going to be virtually impossible - there is no culture of Rugby in their families/communities (it shows even in England that there is less Afro-Carribbean players playing for England in Rugby than in Football. Sackey, Robinson, the Armytages, are few that spring to mind).
    However for the US, the Polynesian-American, Irish/Celtic-American and to a lesser extent the Italian-American populations will have a great deal of knowledge about Rugby, and are clearly the areas to target.

  • Comment number 24.

    One of my colleagues at work coached rugby at university in California duing his time there. His comments are mainly critical and based around the observation Americans can't tackle because they are too used to Ameican Football-style blocking.

    That said, aren't the USA the reigning Olympic champions because, when American football was banned in the 1920s, most of the top players turned to rugby instead? I believe that the USA won and then defended the title in the following Games (the last, to date, to feature rugby).

  • Comment number 25.

    I love rugby. I grew up with union but also appreciate league. What is getting my gall; and it is a little off topic but as there is no longer 606 where do you comment; is this talk of the rugby family and expansion. I want to watch the world cup with my son and I want to encourage him to at least give rugby a go but there is no tv coverage on terrestrial or satellite here in greece and when we try to watch a dodgy internet stream they keep being closed down. What is going on? surely it is in rugbys best interestto expand and sell coverage cheap to areas where there could be expansion. Before anyone says what would this achieve just think; John Jefferies Borneo, Simon Shaw Kenya, Serge Blanco Venezuela; how many went under the radar. Just going to watch the Indian T20 cricket on the telly!

  • Comment number 26.

    Agree with many of the comments about the 2nd tier nations but don't feel they are ready for a 2 league "6 nations" just yet. What might be better would be the teams playing the tier 1 sides A teams on a more regular basis certainly Georgia/Romania looked worth a run out against them

  • Comment number 27.

    tom_rowlands25
    I couldn't agree more about the need to expand the game. I had the same idea about a second-tier 6 Nations (maybe with just Georgia, Russia and Romania in the second-tier to begin with - and a playoff with the last placed side in the 6 Nations). It'll never happen of course - too much vested interest. But it's hardly fair to expect these lesser sides to compete every four years if they never get the chance to meet the big nations in the meantime.

  • Comment number 28.

    The Churchill cup seems to be what most people are suggesting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churchill_Cup) with 2nd tier nations playing representative sides from other countries and amongst themselves on an annual basis. This type of tournament exists but often flies under the radar of even the most ardent rugby fan as it has little or no exposure when it doesn't involve one of the larger nations. Exposure it what these countries need so they can build revenue streams that support a domestic structure, followed by more competition at a higher standard (I believe that the northern hemisphere summer internationals should be used for this rather than the AI's which are more high profile). The IRB has been moving in the right direction for a number of years with regard to increasing participation outside of the standard nations and this can be seen with the closing of the gap by the tier 2 nations

  • Comment number 29.

    Can't the smaller nations be used as warm up matches? So if a Southern Hemisphere side comes to the North they play games against Georgia and co before taking on the top Northern sides, and then the opposite for the touring Northern sides. Could always invite the USA/Canada over to play a game on European soil in this case.

  • Comment number 30.

    Another top article Mr Dirs. I am registering my vote for Ben to become the new chief sports writer for the BBC. Way better than Nil McFaulty!

  • Comment number 31.

    Not only a great read, but also inspirational - as was the Carter piece (the tough nut Kiwi in the office liked it as well); these blogs are well written and researched, but fit the character of the RWC, as did the camper van exploits four years ago.

    One serious question though (and I thought the Basildon reference might be telling) - are you going to be allowed to carry on with Central Line comments, or are you being upgraded to Salford (Tom as well) ? As an expat, I appreciate the London/Essex jokes and colour and I suspect that readers around the world do as well. Any news on being allowed to text commentate/blog from London ?

  • Comment number 32.

    Great blog, interesting subject.

    Janik17 - You make a good point about the potential difficulties of transition, but I disagree with your idea for scholarship programs. Post college, I think you just have to put these guys in and see how they adapt.

    Clearly a college football player isn't going to make a rugby half back, although I think you could find good fits for pretty much any forward position, and a lot of skill position football players could make good rugby backs.

    In terms of convincing people to make the switch, everyone is individual with their own priorities, and I would think at least some might be interested in a shot at pro rugby. It's interesting that none of the several efforts at establishing a second division of pro football has yet succeeded (the current UFL only got 4 teams together). The pool of talent available surely makes it a worthwhile proposition for rugby teams. I'm still amazed at the level of organization and interest in college sports. I went to two college football games the last couple of weeks with attendances of 83,000 and 60,000.

    Final thought and slight aside: Basauri and compatriots have done something no hall of fame football player has done – represented their country.

  • Comment number 33.

    I played rugby in south Carolina for a year with the university, Rugby is the fastest growing sport in america, they love it even if they aren't always spot on with the rules. More and more high schools are also taking up the spot as the football season is quite short only about 11 weeks.

    Their are so many good high school athletes that aren't quite the genetic freaks universities look for in football players but want to play a physical game.

    Rugby in america is improving all the time. their are universities like cal state and life university that have scholarships for rugby.

    Give it Ten years and America will be a power house in world rugby.

  • Comment number 34.

    As with pretty much any sport that is big in the rest of the world (football for example) if the sports mad Americans shone a little bit of attention its way they would have an awesome team and be a threat to the rest of the world in all competitions.
    I don't know whether that means I want them to take up rugby and football or just leave them alone.

  • Comment number 35.

    It's like chalk and cheese - the shape of the ball is about the only similarity between rugby and American Football. You cannot have grid-iron type huge NFL players playing rugby, they are that size because they are just there to stop an opponent, barely moving and playing 15mins tops in an average NFL game. Get a grid-iron player to run around for 20mins in a rugby game and he'd keel over with a cardiac-arrest. To play rugby for 80mins means they inevitably need to be lighter and more mobile, even Jona Lomu was not grid-iron size.
    On top of that rugby won't apeal to the American psyche 'cos its not nearly glam or 'showy' enough - no helmets, no massive padding that makes them feel like gladiators that can rule the world and no break every 2mins to get the hot-dogs in. Finally (and this is the biggy) - they didnt invent it and they won't be any good at it initially (and will thus get pasted every game) - unless they know they will win they won't be interested!

  • Comment number 36.

    I think you might be referring to the defensive players . . .

  • Comment number 37.

    With reference to the comments about Americans turning to rugby, I recall back in the late 50's an all American QB arriving at Oxford University. They played him on the wing where he could spear a line out throw (wingers threw in then!) three quarters of the way across the pitch. Pretty much unheard of tactic way back then.

  • Comment number 38.

    Many of you are selling rugby skills short. We have been saying for 40 years that we could find NFL level players and teach them rugby and become world beaters. Well many have tried and few have made it. One notable exception was Dan Lyle but he was a one off. The skills and aerobic fitness needed for rugby do not fit American football players and they can't change. Every ten years or so someone comes along with this "new" idea and gets excited about it. NFL stars have played rugby including a famous former Oakland Raiders linebacker. He had moments of brilliance but couldn't take the relentless pace of the game. If only we got them early enough is another wail. Well you can't because as someone said they are used to higher quality support. Trainers, physio's, medics, weight rooms, etc. Be content to be a second tier nation, enjoy your rugby and just try and at least beat Canada.

  • Comment number 39.

    Interesting post Ben. Do you see the Eagles ever going far in the RWC ?

  • Comment number 40.

    I'm going to be a little rude here and say that Americans can't concentrate for the length of a rugby play as they can for a NFL play! I live in Miami now and my American friends kind of like rugby but there is little exposure here and I feel I am flogging a dead one trying to get them interested.

  • Comment number 41.

    I am in the US at the moment and honestly believe that the NFL fears rugby more than any other sport. There is almost no rugby coverage on television and the World Cup rights bought by NBC have been dumped for the most part onto online coverage. I think they fear that rugby could if given widespread exposure hurt the college feeder system to the NFL. By their first year in college a kid knows whether he is going to go in the first few rounds of the NFL draft or towards the end. A lot of those going late in a draft can look forward to maybe 3 minutes of playing time a year and 50-100 000 dollars a year. If he had the early college option of changing to rugby, playing for his country in events like the World Cup and earn similar perhaps even a little more money than he would in the NFL he would be very tempted.
    Having said that even if that did happen it is no guarantee that it would make the US a rugby power. For one thing the size difference would even out. It is almost impossible to maintain 300lbs plus physiques running around a rugby field for 80 minutes. Secondly and I hear it over here all the time that a backline full of running backs would tear up any international rugby team. This is nonsense. Your average running back is 95 to 110kgs (I have not seen one as big as Lomu) and there is not much of a difference anymore (there was back in rugby’s amateur days) in their size and the size of an international centre. Also your average running back does not have much experience in tackling so while they maybe competitive with ball in hand they will be cut to ribbons on defense. That is not even mentioning skills like passing, kicking etc that they would lack.

  • Comment number 42.

    @ 35.At 16:42 26th Sep 2011, snifferg:

    Wow - so "professional leaner" Adam Jones could be a fabulous Defensive End, and only have to move for about 15mins in a match? He'd love it!
    (BTW I think Adam Jones is a fabulous fella!)

  • Comment number 43.

    I find it interesting to read the pundits, who probably have no experience of rugby in the USA, talk about the prospects of US rugby. I'm an expat who lives there & has coached high school rugby for 5 years. Rugby is coming on like gang busters. The attention that the US media is giving to rugby due to its inclusion in the Olympics is having an effect. 5 years ago we had 10 kids turning out. This year we have 50+ kids coming out for practice & we have added rookie rugby due to parent demand. Yes it will take time for the US to have a truly competitive team, but it is only a matter of time. Rugby has a great deal of appeal to Americans. Its an aggressive, collision (not just a contact) sport. What seems to appeal most to the kids are these factors: everybody gets to play, everybody gets to run with the ball, kids have to make their own decisions on the field, use their own initiative. This is in contrast to American football. The kids love it. Some 85% of our high school players go on to play the game at college.

  • Comment number 44.

    Interesting article. I actually lived in and played rugby at National Championship level (the clubs for which any Eagles players based domestically will play)in the US. Having also played first class rugby here in the UK, I feel reasonably well qualified to comment on the ability of gridiron players to transition to rugby at a high level.

    I was lucky enough to play with some ex-College football players who did not quite make the grade at NFL level. One guy, who used to play centre for the University of Texas (the person who "snaps" the ball to the QB)had transitioned to playing blindside flanker. He was, without doubt, one of the best athletes with whom I had ever played and had all the raw material of what would make a world class player.

    One major problem - he started to play the game at the age of 22. Whilst he was a phenomenal player by the age of 26, he was never going to be able to compete with people who had been playing the game since the age of 8. It was really noticeable that, once the play started to break up from the more "scripted" stages of first and second phase and the level of instinct required increased, he struggled, albeit only for a split second or two. At the top-level however, that is a major difference.

    So, whilst I agree with Ben's thought that, by picking up the discards of their professional sports, the Americans could have a better team, it will still not be competitive at the top level - you cannot coach people how to instinctively react in pressure situations - it is only something that comes with repetition. Undoubtedly, it would help them make quicker progress in 7's which has less technical specialties and plays on the benefits of the increased athleticism and power that they would bring. In 15's, they will continue to struggle until they have a better infrastructure and people playing the game from a younger age.

    Final point - Americans love the game when it is explained to them. It has the big hits and explosiveness that they love, but is much faster moving than the gridiron game. Take the World Cup there and it would grow really quickly.

  • Comment number 45.

    Great blog - I remember following Ben and Tom avidly in the last RWC. To the point: we're flogging a dead horse here, as one commentator put it. Not just because of incipient fear or hostility trowards rugby in the US but the games there ( and Argentina ) are, because of the time difference, shown at appallingly unsociable hours. At least here in Spain we can stumble out of a club and into the pub to see them but until the next RWC, rugby in the US is a dead rubber. May I be proved wrong!!!

  • Comment number 46.

    Fantastic blog Ben. What an insight into Rugby by your bloggers as well. Forgive my ignorance if my writing or description and knowledge of Rugby is limited. I have only showed great interest in Rugby after giving up playing football at my local league, due to the mis-use of language, fan fighting and lack of respect for the referees..., and the game as a whole.

    Since watching England win the Rugby in 2003 i think. I haven't turned my back on a sport so 'intriguing, beautiful to watch; the huge respect between fans, and most importantly, the mutual respect between the referees and team captains. I can't believe how players (young men - who are not old enough to buy a pint. haha) just get on with playing Rugby. I also, notice that the managers are up at the stands, and other team members are down-stairs but not too close to the pitch. Why can't this be implemented into football. I don't see Martin Johnson (hope i'm right) run unto the pitch to argue his case. Furthermore, the big screen is used effectively. The fans sit next to each other.

    Please.....; can the powers that be forget 'money-making' sponsors for once, and let the Rugby world show the football world how 'harmony and respect' can be attained without killing each other

    Forgive you Rugby lovers. I have to say, Rugby (Union or League) is an absolute joy to watch. Though the rules are still difficult to understand attimes. Maybe Sue Barker and the 2 Captains (Question Of Sports) can explain further.

    Lastly, I believe what Tim Rowland's (9) comment on 2-Tier division of the Six-Nation is a winner for me. I love seeing the minnows show their enthusiasm as well. If Rugby wants to compete against football, it may have to keep finding ways of getting the smaller nations involved. Look what Argentina has achieved in recent years.

    Don't worry ALL, Rugby is never played in my native African country (population of 160million - can you guess?), I'm loving watching Rugby...because you are worth it! i'm loving it!

    Thanks for reading. Luego

  • Comment number 47.

    Two things are becoming apparent at this World Cup.

    1- the minnows have been making steady progress. Mostly, on the physical/fitness front. Yet I think we are still a long way away from seeing one of those teams reaching the technical and tactical level required to dislodge the "auld" nations from a 1/4 final spot on a regular basis.

    2- in the major nations, the players have become so fit and play is so well organised that the game is now very closed living very little space and opportunity for waves of attack (unless you're French and decide not to turn up for defensive duty).

    I think that for the long term benefit of rugby, a major overhaul of the game needs to be conducted.
    The aim should be to bring more opened play, to have less emphasis on set play (scrums, lineouts) and to reduce the numbers of stoppage due to the ball coming out of bounds.

    Looking at what happens in sevens, minor rugby nations seem to be coping better and bridging the gap faster.

    I think a 13 man a side version of the game, played over 2 halves of 25 minutes of effective time, without the possibility to kick the ball directly out of bounds from anywhere on the pitch could be a solution to improve the overall spectacle as well as giving a greater opportunity for smaller nations to become competitive.

    Just a thought...

  • Comment number 48.

    Forgot to mention : and just one man to tackle another!

  • Comment number 49.

    Ben a very interesting blog. some very interesting comments.
    Lomu the lump was certainly NFL size, but not nose tackle size.
    The 6N is already 2 tear, England, Ireland, Wales & France and then Scotland and Italy. Why not have several 6N leagues with promotion and relegation. Scotland or Italy would benefit from a year in the 2nd division. They can't enjoy getting hammered every game. when were they last competitive in the 6N?
    The tri-nations becomes 4 nations next time, so that you don't have one country twiddling their thumbs each week. My neighbours, the Pumas will benefit in the long term although they'll be hammered for the 1st few years. but watch out for them come the next world cup.
    I think the Eagles have acquitted themselves well.
    High School would be the place to look for the American Football nearly guys. not everyone is going to be 300 lb. Lomu was about 260.
    Watch out for the all Black with the red boots. I'm a huge fan. He's inside centre (1st 5/8) and weighs 106 kg (233 lb). Go Ma'a Nonu. He would have made it in the NFL!

  • Comment number 50.

    I live in the US and know a little about Rugby, having followed it for a few years and having friends who've played it for many years. The comments about using college athletes who won't make the National Football League aren't far off the point. Unlike other American sports (baseball, basketball) and other world sports (football), those who want to play American football professionally have one shot: The NFL. If one doesn't make it there, the dream is over. There are no other professional leagues, no lower divisions. There are a handful of semi-pro leagues in the US but they are so small, so unorganized, that they take the English football term "non-league team" to an entirely different level. I think the huge pool of unsigned, former college athletes would be a fertile recruiting ground, not only for the Eagles but for the European leagues, as well.

  • Comment number 51.

    fguguen - I'm not being rude but Why does Rugby need a major overhaul?

    By the sounds of your suggestions you would be much better off just watching rugby league if thats what you find exciting. If you made your suggested changes you would produce a league style team where there is no difference between the majority of players out there who are a hybrid of Unions Backs and Forwards.

    I for one would stop altering what is a fantastic game just to make it more appealing to television viewers, the truth is you learn to love the game through playing and getting involved or being around others who take the time to explain the intricate nature of the game. The breakdown for one is an area where the laws are constantly being altered to produce more 'attractive' play and all these changes have done is made it harder to referee and to play!

    The IRB is committed to improving participation of the sport and has been for a few years and it seems to be showing positives in terms of the competitiveness of the smaller nations. Also more players from these countries are moving around the world and playing top class rugby which also helps to raise its profile in these countries and improve the standard they play at. Lets look in two world cups time to see how effective these changes have been and not just change a game for the sake of it.

  • Comment number 52.

    What a great story (and good to see you're enjoying Nelson/Marlborough too Ben)

    US rugby has so much growth potential. Russia and Japan too. They're the future.

    I remember a few years back a story from Washington DC about an inner city high school with a predominantly African American school roll taking up rugby. They knew little about the game but they were natural athletes. Their coach trained them well. Within a couple of years they won their competition, expanded their horizons and a couple of their players made the US Sevens team. Great stuff.

    Down in Utah a lot of Maori and Island players who are former students of the Mormon Brigham Young University are making inroads there too.

  • Comment number 53.

    Ben, if you get the chance to get to the Far North of the North Island you might like to visit a small community called Panguru on the Hokianga Harbour.

    If you get there look for Henry Te Wake. In 2007 his son, Matangi was severely injured in a schoolboys game. He suffered a massive brain injury and wasn't expected to live the helicopter flight down to Auckland hospital. A year later, he walked out of rehab and made it back to school.

  • Comment number 54.

    @Haventaclue52

    I know this can seem controversial.
    But let's just look at the fact.
    How many countries enter the Rugby World Cup?
    How many can claim to have realistic ambitions to win the title? 4 or 5 really.
    How long will it be before another nation come to threaten this established order? And more importantly, will it ever happen?
    So does that make it an exciting contest? Not sure....

    In my opinion, if rugby wants to compete on the world scene, it needs to become more accessible to the lower nations. And I think opening space on the field and making the game a bit less "structured" could help do just that (just look at the Sevens game).

    I'm a Union guy, enjoy watching League but not looking at turning Union into League.

  • Comment number 55.

    But isn't something very similar to this true of the Football World Cup. There are, at most, eight sides who habour realistic ambitions of winning it; Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain.
    Spain might be thought to have broken the established order, but weren't they more precisely massive under-achievers previously? They were regularly tipped to finally get it right, and in the last few years it has actually happened, but it hasn't happened to some backwater of the sport.

    And yet, despite being pretty predictable in it's denouments, the Football World Cup is just about the biggest sporting event on the planet.

  • Comment number 56.

    Interesting comments RE American Footballers' suitability to playing rugby, but everyone seems to have somehow overlooked the importance of stamina/fitness in rugby..!

    The reason college/NFL players are capable of demonstrating such impressive bursts of pace/power is because they only expected to do it for a few seconds at any one time - an American Football game is inherently fragmented, with just an hour's play split into many different plays often separated by several seconds or even minutes, so that a single game will usually last between 3 and 4 hours. Not to mention that, since players typically specialise as either Offensive or Defensive players, and depending on the balance of play, an American footballer may typically spend just half the play time on the pitch!

    Contrast this with a Rugby game which lasts 33% longer in terms of actual play-time, is physically and mentally intense, and is punctuated only by infrequent stoppages for lineouts/scrimmages/penalties. Put someone like the Fridge or B.J. Raji (the Freezer) into a Rugby team, and one wonders whether they wouldn't be running on empty after 20 minutes!

    So are American footballers really so well "naturally" suited to Rugby?! After all, you can't have everything in an athlete, and propensity for one attribute often comes at the cost of another, e.g. Sprint athletes who lack stamina and ergo are not built for distance running; distance athletes who by necessity lack muscle-mass and therefore are not built for pure speed. So, added to the developmental and educational deficiencies that need to be overcome in converting these players, I would add conditioning to the list, as an American Football reject may well be above-average compared to domestic rugby players, but surely would not stack up against top-class internationals built for the sport.

  • Comment number 57.

    @Janik17

    Disagree with that. There's the likes of Uruguay, Turkey, South Korea and Portugal who've come close to winning it in recent seasons. And I would argue that the champions league is now the biggest sporting event on the planet, certainly the biggest football one.

    Its certainly more open than the Rugby world cup is.

  • Comment number 58.

    canary_chibba

    Yeah I totally agree. Its common sense to say that what makes an athelet good in one sport doesnt nessesray and often won't transfer to another sport especially if the sports are quite different. Even in rugby between union and league, player-stars in one code have been taken to another with huge expectations of an unbelieveable career infact have shown to be medicore and failed to pcik up the game. It because they were conditioned and trained to operate according to a different set of rules and phsycial conditions even if they seem superifically only slightly different.

    I agree with ben about turning unsuccessful NFL hopefuls into solid rugby players but they would have so much learning and stuff to pick up it might not turn into a worthwhile professional career. I mean kicking and tackling and fitness levels are completely different. Runing with the ball is only one dynamic of the game in many positions suborinate to the other skils just mentioned.

  • Comment number 59.

    Well if one wants to know why Rugby isn't more popular in the US, then one only need look at the comments in this section. Is it really necessary to completely trash the NFL?

    Why is it that Rugby fans can't seem to wrap their heads around the idea that it IS perfectly acceptable to enjoy two very different types of football at the same time? In the US, one can be a fan of Gridiron, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey AND Rugby without coming off a nob.

    I've tried to get into Rugby for several years now. I honestly have, but the tribal mentality of the players/fans has turned me off the game completely. This "us versus Gridiron" nonsense really needs to stop. Americans would be so much more open to Rugby without the constant "Gridiron is nothing but Rugby with padding" foolishness. That being said it does look like a rather good sport.

  • Comment number 60.

    As an English ex-pat with 21 yrs experience of life and rugby in the US, I can't resist commenting on this discussion about finding rugby players on the gridiron. A few people have pointed out that they are very, very different games - only the ball is similar but I don't think that any have made the observation that it is US BASKETBALL players that should be encouraged to take up rugby. The athleticism, stamina, speed and physical nature of top class basketball is ideally suited to rugby. The players have vision and succeed by doing the unexpected. Its happened in Britain before - mostly at lock, but point guards for example often have all the chippiness and confidence of a good scrum half. Football players, particularly d-backs and linebackers (defensive players that have to adapt to the situation on the field) can become rugby players; wrestlers (a very popular high school and collegiate US sport with little commercialism involved) have a great concept of balance and body position; but basketball players already are indoor rugby players. I agree that football players are extraordinary, explosive athletes, that the best players seem to have to be intelligent and that the game is a great spectacle but they are not better suited to rugby than any other group of elite athletes in the US.
    On another, brief note, US rugby will continue to grow and succeed if it continues to support the explosion of High School teams and the collegiate game. In some ways it is popular because it is NOT associated with the semi-pro atmosphere of football and basketball and because there haven't been any scandals related to recruitment and kick-backs. Many players are involved because they can play for themselves and not for the 1000s of fans that turn out to watch even small town high school games or 10000s+ at college games.

  • Comment number 61.

    Top blog!

    I spent a few years at high school in Canada and having played rugby most of my life and then giving american (or Canadian as the case may be..) football a go, I can tell you they are very different sports both physically and mentally, but American football is not for idiots.. Its far and away the most tactically and mental sport I have ever come across and so as long as you can change American football players physical strength (which can be done with some hard work put in) they can certainly grasp the game of Rugby. I saw this whilst at school as almost our entire rugby team played some part on the American football team and excelled at both. Winning championships in gridiron and going a couple seasons without a loss in rugby, winning a couple championships whilst doing so. The difference here is that sports are more liberal in Canada than the states, they play baseball, basketball, American football ice hockey etc but they also play rugby, cricket, football (soccer) etc... And most play more than 1 or even more than 2 sports at relatively high levels, thus increasing their overall athleticism, rather than becoming programmed for one sport. I thinking terms of an up and coming powerhouse in world rugby, look to Canada before the USA.

    Having said that, obviously the potential is there in the states, and converting them is going to be the challenge, but I feel that with the creation of a serious domestic league in the states could seriously awaken them, and that way they can add all the glitz and glamour that they want to it, making it all the more attractive to the American market... NRUL - National Rugby Union League perhaps? And that way they could pinch and persuade players from universities and the NFL combine a bit easier and instill university rugby programs to continue the trend... The way they recruit for the NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB etc through universities and their draft system makes this sort of thing easier to establish and become a success easier than most places...

  • Comment number 62.

    Gotta say I love all the "expert" opinions from people who know nothing about the current state of the sport in the USA. Rugby is the fastest growing sport here ( accepted from a lowish starting point) it is growing quickly in the "lower" universities and high schools that don't have the budgets to run sizable grid iron programs. At the ground level the game is growing quickly and some smart people seem to be making good decisions on how to grow the sport.

    At the international level I think , so far, the USA has had a pretty decent world cup, I think in the september 11th (9/11) game against Ireland they showed a determination and doggedness that has been lacking of late, I don't think the event 10 years previously escaped the team and they played at a level few of them believed they were capable of. A good win over Russia , a score line vs the Aussies that looks poor on paper but , considering it was basically their 2nd team , other than 3-4 lapses in concentration they actually put in a decent performance. I will be very interested to see if they can regain the intensity of the Ireland game when they play Italy. If they win that game they get automatic qualification for the next World cup.

    IMHO the big moves forward for rugby in the USA will come in the 7s arena and in the womens game. People outside of the USA do not understand what a big thing the Olympics are here and , once the London Olympics are out of the way , how much impact the increased funding and exposure is going to have on the USA 7s team. Dan Lyle ( mentioned earlier) runs the USA 7s entity , already the collegic 7s tournament is live on mainstream TV as is the USA leg of the IRB 7s. Several players have already come through the NFL to rugby 7s route, as the Olympics comes ever closer that stream of talent is going to become a major river.

    If I had a finite budget , I would concentrate on the womens 7s team , make it basically a full time professional outfit, recruit from womens college basketball and track and field ( 200,400 and 400 m hurdlers). For long term growth I would also recruit hard from the "peewee" american football ( under 10 age groups) for girls that played football until they were no longer allowed to play with the boys. There is basically no girls highschool or college football and get them into rugby ( AT THE AGE ALL THE "EXPERTS" THINK YOU NEED THEM) , in 15-20 years time many of those female rugby players will be having their own kids and hopefully bringing them into the sport. In women's rugby the USA has a pretty good chance of winning a world cup with only a relatively small improvement in their quality.

    Strangely while 15 a side doesn't lend itself to those that run American TV ( advertisers ) the 7 a side game does. 7 minutes each half , advertising break every 15 minutes , high scoring , hard hitting action and no real need to understand the "dark arts" of the technical side of the game. 7s is a perfect vehicle for rugby to make inroads into the American sporting scene.

  • Comment number 63.

    Posts 44, 60 and 62 are really interesting perspectives collectively, I would agree that taking the world cup to the USA would have a huge benefit to the game, but ni matter where players are 'recruited' from, unless that happens at a young age the skill set of a top class professional 15 a side player will simply not be there to compete with the best in the world.
    It goes way beyond speed, power and pace which no one would argue the american college atheletes have in abundance, but the skill, vision, technique, stamina and understanding required to play the game at first class level will always be lacking if the game is not played from an early age. There will always be exceptions to this, but to be competitive it needs to be the rule not the exception.
    They have the potential, but will find it hard to harness until it becomes a competitive mainstream school sport, 10years is probably optimistic, look at Italy 10 years on from joining the six nations, much improved and much still to do.

  • Comment number 64.

    Very interesting article and even more so the comments made! The following needs to happen to put Rugby (great game) TRULY on the International map.

    - One Rugby (not 2: League and Union) - Somebody needs to work it out!

    - Develop an US Market, for the sport: this will cost MONEY and ALOT of PR!

    I believe everyone on this thread wants to see Rugby do well, now that it has (temporarily) International limelight. But as long as we continue to divide (League & Union) the sport it will never fulfil it's potential, the only way to do that is to develop/resolve the abovementioned points - the US market is key, for the sport of Rugby, because there is a potential for the sport there i.e. failed college americian football athletes! There are of course the sceptics, however you have to look at the success of soccer now and compare it to it's mediocre start - it can be done! It won't be easy, but it can be done!

    Going back to one Rugby - this will inevitably be a huge discussion point, but it is essential and I believe if the higher powers of the sport come to together on this, then you'll see even more growth in already established countries of the sport.

  • Comment number 65.

    Hey, I'd say someone like the young and talented rugby coach Caitlin Koch, who caused quite a stir on x-factor USA, could inspire a lot more people to take up the sport there :)

  • Comment number 66.

    Hey,didn't I see a long white cloud there in your picture??

    AOTEAROA is God's own country !!... as a Kiwi mate used to say.

    Mind you with tongue lashing and nose rubbing as welcome ceremony, you can't get more intimate than that.

    I phoned my mate and asked for the name of the park where the Museum in Auckland is located. He said DOMAIN. Domain Park?..sounds strange, doesn't it?
    No, he said, Auckland Domain,... at which point I decided to give up !! Strange people aren't they??

  • Comment number 67.

    Good to see rugby is making strides in the US. Didn't "W" play it at College?

    Hopefully they don't become too good at it, though. With the money in the existing sports it is hard to see any sport other than Gridiron, Baseball, Basketball and Ice Hockey making strides anywhere outside college or the Olympics. Maybe 7s is the way - as others have said.

    As for NZ ( and that picture is making me feel homesick ) I have been listening to the ZBs to get me in the swing for the return home. Interesting question being asked - if you could choose only one, would you go for the Warriors winning the NFL or the All Blacks winning the Webb Ellis.

    Wouldn't it be great if we could do both.

    Ben. are you getting a sense of this back in NZ?

  • Comment number 68.

    Matt-Stone

    Most Aucklanders should be able to point you in the direction of the Domain. It is a large park not too far from the centre of Town and has a fantastic view of Rangitoto and the Waitemata Harbour. One of many extinct volcanic craters you'll encounter. The Museum is brilliant. Just as well you didn't ask about Madill's Farm ( which isn't a farm ).

    As for the welcome, some of Abel Tasman's men were on the receiving end back in 1642 and the result was that NZ remained an uncompleted squiggle of West Coast for the next 120 odd years - people were a bit wary after the initial encounter. The ceremonies these day are waaay less hardcore.

    There is nothing more welcoming than a hongi.

  • Comment number 69.

    On Hookers and tom Rowlands' side-bar...

    You might want to get down off your high horse a sec there Hookers.
    Sure there's a "2nd" (even 3rd and 4th... all the way down to 8th) division in European Rugby but it can in no way be considered The 2nd Division of the 6Nations as the two competitions are not linked.
    Goergia have won it four of the last five times and are on course to win it again, for all the good it'll do them.
    Unless there's some form of carrot in the form of promotion to the 6Nations the 2nd level will stagnate.
    Some will complain that it'd be a disaster for, say, Italian, Scottish or Welsh Rugby if they were relegated from the 6Nations but so be it. A place at the top table should be earned.
    And if there were fears about the new arrivals being nothing more than whipping boys we could provide an easy out fot the "Big Boys".
    Every two years the winners of the ENC would play the bottom team from the 6Nations from the same period on a home and away basis as part of the AI calendar. If the incumbents prevail they stay in the 6Nations, fair enough but, if they lose, well, no complaints, right?

  • Comment number 70.

    Really interesting blog again Ben.

    On the issues of growing the second tier of the game, I think the IRB needs to step in and take control of the international game a bit more.

    The 6 Nations closed shop is one door to be broken down. Quite rightly said elsewhere that Italy/Scotland voting this in is like turkeys voting for Christmas! If the IRB stepped in they could enforce a teague structure top to bottom in Europe, as they have with the Asian 5 Nations. Japan may dominate, but at least more merging nations are getting a crack at them every year thanks to promotion/relegation.

    Secondly, I think a promotion/relegation between an expanded Quad-Nations (ex-Tri Nations) with a Pacific Rim Cup (Pacific Nations, Japan, USA, Canada) would be another step.

    On the issues around getting Tier 2 nations signifcant game time in the AI's the IRB should enforce a calender like the ICC do. So each of the 6 Nations play 3 x SH nations (2 x Tier 1, 1 x Pacific Nations) plus a Tier 2 European (Georgia, Romania, Russia, Portugal, Spain).

    The Churchill Cup as has been said is done with now as the USA & Canada can expect more incoming tours, it's a shame that traditional tours are back on the cards for Eng, Wales, Scot, Ire in the Summer with increased squad sizes so precluding a tournament featuring England Saxons plus Euro Nations. The only benefit can hopefully be that midweek games are against Samoa, Tonga, Fiji et al.

    Onto the US and it's growth potential. Surely the World 7s Series & Olympic inclusion are the catalysts for growth. it's certainly the case with Russia as that is why there is more investment their. I think it is Leeds Rhinos who have begun pre-season trips to Florida but maybe some Aviva Prem teams should also take the plunge. If a couple went then theres a mini-tournament. The Premier League do this with the trophy in Asia, maybe PRL could sort something similar.

    The small steps taken now can make for a huge long-term benefit!

  • Comment number 71.

    @ tom_rowlands25

    The fact that you admitted that you don't know about the IRB set up and what they do and then spout nonsense about creating something that already exists proved my point. As I said, gain some knowledge before you talk nonsense!

    @ Haventaclue52

    The idea of playing the smaller nations in the AI's should be adopted by all the 6N teams. A lot of Georgian and Romanian players earn a living in France and there are comunities from these countries in France who would pay to see their country play.

    As for the other 6N countries, if the games were played as the 1st test of the AI's then the public would pay attention as it would be an indicator of form/playing potential before taking on the SH tams.

    The Churchill cup has been abandoned in favour of developing other rugby tournaments, but I still believe it had great value as a stepping stone for the tier 2 nations to play against each other and tier 1 nation fringe players.

    I liked the idea of getting the SH teams to play tier 2 nations too. But why not go a stage further? Lets have 6 set tours which all of the 6N unions sign up to?

    They could be set out as follows

    Japan, Fiji, Samoa & Tonga (1 Test against each)= Tour 1
    USA, Canada, Uraguay, (1 Test against each) & Argentina (2 Tests) = Tour 2
    Russia, Romania, Georgia, Ukraine, Portugal, & Spain (1 Test against each)= Tour 3
    South Africa (3 Tests) & Namibia (1 Test) = Tour 4
    Australia (3 Tests) = Tour 5
    New Zealand (3 Tests) & NZ Maori (1 Test) = Tour 6

    The only tour that would be very long is the Americas tour due to the travelling involved. But all the others would not be any worse than a standard 5-6 week summer tour.

  • Comment number 72.

    I always liked the Churchill Cup matches matching the 'A' teams of a couple of countries against the American countries, shame to see this go and the IRB will have to do something to replace this.

    I do think that the IRB are being very successful with the 7s tournaments, getting around the world and also various countries playing produce a great tournament (never thought at all about Kenya being a up & coming hotbed of rugby).

  • Comment number 73.

    Don't think that a European league system will ever be put in place with the 6nations to produce a nations cup, however maybe a European Cup event every 4 years would be the way to go forward (possibly shared with the Lions tour so then the home nations have their fringe players on display), although I think European clubs will have a fair few issues with this.

    Other than that I would like to see a Shield system in place in the world cup for teams finishing 3rd and 4th in the league. Someone has mentioned it before with the shield teams playing midweek and the main trophy at the weekends. Would definitely keep interest in the tournament up especially for the 2nd/3rd teir of teams. With the tournament in England next time around these fixtures could be held around the country in the more tradiational staduim.

    Apologies for the double post however the website doesn't like big posts of mine =D

  • Comment number 74.

    Hookers,

    Again, missing an important point in Mr Rowlands suggestion.
    He advocates a 2nd division with promotion and relegation.
    This clearly does not exist at the moment.

    p.s. Dismissing the comments of others as "nonsense" and "pathetic drivel" does nobody, including yourself, any favours.

  • Comment number 75.

    Taras,

    I and others have explained why there won't be promotion and relegation - MONEY!! the Scots in particular can't afford not to be in the 6N.

    Personally I have been an advocate of promotion/relegation since Georgia gave the Irish a scare in 2007.

    But the 6N as a tournament is not controlled by the IRB but the unions who play in it. And the Scots are afraid that if they drop off the top table that they will never make it back (they probably wouldn't). So unfortunately it will never happen. Again if Rowlands did his research he'd know this.

  • Comment number 76.

    OK Hookers, have it your way.
    But remember the parable about casting the 1st stone and think back to your claim at the weekend, in an article on the All Blacks invincibility, that said dark clad warriors would have a tough time beating one of Australia one week and the other in the final a week later.

  • Comment number 77.

    Taras, if I wantede a theology lesson I'd go to church, not on the BBC Rugby blogs.

 

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