As we approach another great weekend of Autumn International matches the dust has well and truly settled at Chicago’s Soldier Field after the sell out All Blacks Vs USA Eagles match.
The focus and intensity of preparation from the All Blacks was reflected in their performance, delivering a mix of brutal force and clinical accuracy which at times was breath-taking. They unloaded everything they had into The Eagles and offloaded at the tackle line in a way which is helping to redefine attacking rugby.
A closer final score would have required an element of underperformance from the New Zealanders and a maximum performance from The Eagles.
No one will question the heart and commitment of the USA men but they will be the first to acknowledge that they weren’t quite at their best on the day. The scoreline reflected an encounter with an ABs team that nearly was.
I’ve followed with interest the post-match debate around what this match will or won’t do for the future of rugby in USA.
Far too much of the discussion has focussed on the scoreline and not enough about the wider context of profile and exposure for the game in a nation that has an insatiable appetite for sport.
It’s that context which ensured this game was always going to be a massive success and provide a unique opportunity for those already committed to playing, coaching, refereeing, administering and supporting the game throughout the US to recruit more to their cause.
I’ve seen a lot of the rugby world over the last 20 years but it’s only been the last few that I’ve spent any time in the US.
Those of you who have experienced rugby in the US will know what I mean when I say US rugby people truly love the game. They have a passion for the game which is as strong as any I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.
They sacrifice and dedicate a lot to coach, play, referee, administer and support a game which is a long way down the food chain of sport in the US. Yes, they are the poor cousins of the big professional sports like NBA, NHL and NFL and they know it, but they don’t let that define them.
These are also the ones who will ensure the most is made of the All Blacks visit to promote and grow the game at all levels.
At the top end, this game was a catalyst to encourage other rugby super powers to regularly stop and engage on US soil and to drive more television exposure to generate revenue from TV rights and sponsorship, which will eventually fund fully professional national rugby competition.
Funding has also been increased for national and regional coaching and development resources to support the rapid growth in “rookie rugby” and the game at all levels.
It was a privilege to be at Chicago’s Soldier Field to see and feel first-hand how much this game meant to these dedicated US rugby missionaries. For the coaches, players, referees administrators and fans at all levels of the game this was their day.
It was a catalyst moment, there was a real sense of a new beginning for US Rugby.
And we are delighted to be able to sponsor a US club, the Washington State University Rugby Club, who are the lucky winners of our survey competition.