OXFORD, ENGLAND – This weekend I had the opportunity to referee Oxford University Old Boys vs The Netherlands in rugby league. The Netherlands are currently ranked last at 29 on the international rankings table. The game has been played every year for the past 9 years during Oxford’s tour to the Netherlands. However, to mark the 10th anniversary, they are playing two games; one home and one away. But let’s get the game out of the way so I can get on to the fun stuff.
The teams opted to play in quarters, as Oxford were filled with a few oldish players. This suited their “maturing” physical fitness. Never the less, they still managed to ask how much time was left – about 10 minutes into the period. The first half saw the Netherlands lead 20-18 – but would they hold the lead??? No. The game opened up significantly in the second half as the old “quarter horses” found the Fountain of Youth, scoring a bunch of tries in winning 60-38. All in all, though, it was an easy and fun match to have the privilege of officiating.
Now on to the fun part, which has actually nothing to do with the rugby on the pitch.
As a bit of history, Netherlands’ Rugby League started in the late 80’s. They played in the Student World Cup, losing all their games. After that the game disappeared from the country.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the national team appeared once again. Even then they didn’t compete again until World Cup qualifying in 2008. Since then, however, they have played very few games as a national team. They played the one-off vs Oxford each year and have also played a few one-off internationals against local rugby league countries like Germany.
The Netherlands are at best a Tier 3 rugby nation – but that doesn’t stop them. What’s interesting is that their goal for the next 10 years is to bring a Super League team to Rotterdam. This is a very ambitious goal, as currently there is only one team playing outside of the UK, the Catalan Dragons. This would be an excellent venture, as it would boost a growing sport within the Netherlands.
Could this be a viable strategy within the United States? Could putting a pro team in the United States bolster the USA love of rugby? With the national team now pulling about 20,000 fans to their games in Houston, I bet putting a pro team in America would strengthen the love of rugby.
The only thing obstacle are the logistics. What league could the team play in? The USA has no substantial league within easy traveling distance – the closest being some of the RaboDirect PRO12. And most of those teams are in cities without major international airports.
What are your thoughts on a USA pro Rugby League team?