Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Canada and the USA set for Full-Houses against Maori All Blacks

Toronto´s BMO Field is close to being sold-out 
The continuing expansion of the global game of rugby requires the sport to be played and followed in higher numbers in more parts of the world. The last region to be allocated a Rugby World Cup, the Americas is home to some crucial players in this regard as Argentina, Canada and the USA are arguably, together with Japan and Italy, the most crucial nations for the future of rugby. 

Of the three Argentina is a Tier One union while Canada and the USA are both of the Tier Two variety. There is reason, however, to believe that this could change over the course of the coming decades. Argentina´s rise to get into the Rugby Championship came after the country had some of the leading players in European leagues throughout the majority of the 2000-2010 decade. The exposure to regular top flight rugby elevated the players to make them the level of their peers of the home nations and France.

In Rugby World Cup 2007 the team that defeated France to open the tournament had fourteen professional players while the bench was also packed with players from notable clubs such as Montpellier and Perpignan.  The only amateur was Horacio Agulla. In 2011 it was similar with Julio Farías Cabello being the only amateur to start against England, Scotland and New Zealand. Canada and the USA, in contrast, had not only less professional players but also less playing at the elite level. Indeed, many North Americans professionals were playing in the likes of the RFU Championship, Pro d2 or in Italy. 

Here in lies the key to Canada and the USA joining the first tier in terms of performances. More players need exposure to Tier One professional rugby. The unions agree as the authorities in both Canada and the USA are encouraging their players to pick up professional contracts. Since Rugby World Cup 2011 it has seen players from both countries make the step up and it has enabled the test sides to improve but remain outside of the first tier. Now, though, there is reason to feel that teams such as Italy and Scotland can be competed against and defeated. 

Both Canada and the USA are heading into their European tours with chances of returning home undefeated. Canada will face Georgia, Romania and Portugal while the USA will face Georgia and Russia. Before flying east across the Atlantic Ocean both countries will host a non-international against the Maori All Blacks. The New Zealand side is to be made up of professional players while both Canada and the USA will be below full strength despite having some professional players. As such the Maori side is likely to come out on top in both matches. The matches should therefore interpreted carefully. While it is not going to be the actual New Zealand test side neither Canada nor the USA will be fielding their test teams

Off the field both Canada and the USA are rapidly closing the gap as home crowds in both countries have boomed in recent times. The USA v Ireland fixture earlier this year was the highest attended match ever in the USA as was Canada v Ireland in Toronto also played in June. Over 20,000 were at the matches against an Irish side missing its British and Irish Lions players. Both Canada and the USA have annoiunced that they are close to having full-houses for their matches against the Maori All Blacks. In the case of Canada it would mean a new national record for rugby. The BMO Field in Toronto had sold all but 797 tickets as of 4pm local time on Tuesday while the USA confirmed on Saturday that only 300 tickets remained for the match at PPL Park in Philladelphia. 

Both BMO Field and PPL Park are home to Major League Soccer teams as is the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston which in addition to hosting Italy and Ireland in 2012 and 2013 will host Scotland in 2014. Rugby in both countries is experiencing unprecedented interest which should only increase to rise now that more players are active professionally. Smaller countries such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are never going to be global players off the field. On the field they continue to deliver impressive results but they will never be able to host a Rugby World Cup. Canada and the USA, on the other hand, could certainly do so and if Argentina host in 2023 then the chances of North America doing so, possibly in 2031, will be all the more likely. It is also highly positive for the prospects of a professional North American League.

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