“Expecting a rugby match between Russia and the USA to promote rugby in North Wales is the equivalent of putting a Belarus vs. France hockey game in Mississippi and expecting it to promote hockey there.”
COLWYN BAY, WALES – In November, the Team USA Eagles (15s) will go on a three-match tour of Europe, taking on Tonga, Russia and Romania. The match against Romania will be played in Romania, but the Tonga and Russia matches will be played in Colwyn Bay, a small town in North Wales. This leads to the obvious question: Why?
The IRB is funding the matches in North Wales and they are looking to promote rugby there, as rugby’s popularity in the Principality is mainly in the more populous South Wales. However, it’s obvious to anyone with knowledge of the situation that putting these matches in Colwyn Bay is an awful idea. Not only does it do a huge disservice to the teams involved, but people who were not previously interested in rugby are not going to be drawn to watch Tier 2 rugby teams to whom they have no allegiance. Expecting a rugby match between Russia and the USA to promote rugby in North Wales is the equivalent of putting a Belarus vs. France hockey game in Mississippi and expecting it to promote hockey there. For all of its blunders, even the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) would not be so foolish.
The first thing it does is put the match near people who have a reason to show up. Unless people really love rugby, they are unlikely to attend a match between two teams they have no reason to support. Germany is home to over 50,000 active duty members of the US Military, far more than any other country in Europe. These servicemen tend to be patriotic and supportive of things American. It’s a natural fan base for the Eagles to tap into – far better than that of people in North Wales with no ties to any team involved. If USA Rugby and the IRB got creative about the marketing of the event, it might even get some media coverage in the US, much like the early season basketball games on aircraft carriers have been able to attain widespread media coverage at a time of year when college basketball is usually an afterthought.
Putting an Eagles test in Germany also serves as a testing ground for future matches there, and not just for normal tests but for potential entry into the European Nations Cup. With much of the current Eagles squad playing in Europe, it would make sense to try entering this European competition. It takes place during one of the IRB-mandated test windows and could have the Eagles playing nations at their level. The alternative is burning out Eagle players coming off lengthy European seasons by playing all summer in the rumored new Pan-Pacific competition, which is replacing the Churchill Cup.
Further, Germany would be the ideal place for these matches because playing home matches in the USA (in such a competition) is unrealistic – due to the cost and travel. Granted, Germany would need to be tested as a base for the Eagles before committing to the European Nations Cup, but a November test, that would otherwise be played at a neutral site, is the ideal time to test this out.
Lastly, hosting an Eagles test near US Military bases in Germany would strengthen the ties between USA Rugby and the US Military. American rugby has been bolstered by players from the military for years and the military academies have historically been among the best collegiate teams in the nation. With members of the military such as Will Holder, Marcus Satavu and Eric Duechle – among others- in or around the USA squads (15s and 7s), playing a test in front of their fellow servicemen would further promote those ties and foster good will.
The tests in North Wales are the IRB’s blunder, but the onus is on USA Rugby to move forward with a November test in front of our servicemen in Germany in the future.
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Filed in: Mike Holzman