LEICESTER, ENGLAND – USA Rugby has defended its decision not to sanction a game between English Premiership side Leicester Tigers and the NRFL Rough Riders – a National Rugby Football League (NRFL) representative team – in Philadelphia.
Tickets for the NRFL Independence Cup match, which was due to be played at Lincoln Financial Field on August 8, had been on sale for weeks. Some had been sold to fans of the English club, who had made the game part of their holiday plans in America.
In a statement on its website, USA Rugby – the governing body of the American game – said: “A sanctioned game between an overseas team and a domestic USA team requires the sanction of both USA Rugby and the overseas team’s National Governing Body. The teams need to be in good standing with their domestic Union and comply with the rules and regulations of World Rugby.
“In this specific case, the Leicester Tigers are in good standing with their governing body, the Rugby Football Union (RFU). The Rough Riders, however, are not a registered USA Rugby Club and, as far as we are aware, their players and coaches are not registered members of USA Rugby. Thus, the match cannot be sanctioned at this time. The NRFL has previously stated its intention to exist outside of USA Rugby and World Rugby.”
Former All Black Ali Williams had signed-up to captain the Rough Riders, which was set to feature a number of overseas professionals and American converts from college and professional football.
The decision prompted furious reaction from both Leicester Tigers and the NRFL.
Leicester’s chief executive Simon Cohen told local newspaper the Leicester Mercury: “USA Rugby should hang their heads in shame. In so far as I can see, and judging by this episode, they are much more interested in protecting their own commercial interests than developing the game in the United States.
“I am sure that the Leicester Tigers playing a game in the United States would have been good for the development of the game and it is a shame that the very people charged with protecting the game should have taken this very short-sighted decision.
“We are still very determined to set up a number of community projects and coaching camps in the Philadelphia area. Those plans … will be unaffected by USA Rugby’s decision.”
A terse statement on NRFL website said: “Leicester Tigers have been forced to cancel a ground-breaking match in America this summer after national governing body USA Rugby refused to sanction the fixture. Simon Cohen’s sentiments, CEO of the Leicester Tigers, hold true for all of us at RugbyLaw and the NRFL.”
Another NRFL-organised match between English Premiership side Saracens and Super 15 team Crusaders in New Orleans on August 1 has been given the go-ahead, pending approval for the artificial pitch at Mercedes Benz Superdome.
USA Rugby’s statement said that this game had been approved because “both teams are in good standing with their respective Unions,” pending approve for the playing surface “under World Rugby Regulation 22.”
The statement added: “It is USA Rugby’s understanding that these tests are being undertaken and the match should be played without issue.”
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