Friday, December 20, 2013

Prospects of USA Eagles v All Blacks November 2014

Samu Manoa impressed against Ireland in June in Houston
The prospects of the Eagles facing the All Blacks in 2014 are very strong with statements made in the mainstream media in both the USA and New Zealand having clarified rumors that should such a match go ahead it would be a test match between the two countries and not an exhibition match. 

Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald pointed out that the patriotic public that exists in the USA would be far more attracted to a match involving the national team rather than a composite North American or World XV. He also alluded to the possible host city not being New York, as originally planned, but instead either Washington DC or Chicago. 

What is yet to be made clear is the date of the fixture and on Wednesday Curtis Reed pointed out why the match could suffer due to Aviva Premiership side the Northampton Saints being finned £60,000 for releasing George North for international duty in November 2013 against Australia. The match fell outside of the IRB international window and in an attempt to demonstrate a no-tolerance policy the club was punished for allowing North to play for Wales. 

The match took place on November 30 which despite being in November fell outside of the designated three weeks set aside for international duty. The match was added on to a complete list of autumn internationals in which Wales had already secured home matches against South Africa, Argentina and Tonga. North played in the three fixtures and then also faced Australia. 

Herein lies the issue - Premier Rugby Ltd allows players to play up to three tests every November not four. Premier Rugby Ltd also has a non-negotiable position for non-English players that prevent them from playing international rugby outside of the international windows unless they are granted permission which is the case of Argentine and South African players in the Rugby Championship. 

Wales secured the fixture against Australia knowing that it faced the prospect of not being able to call upon a number of players based in not only England but also France. It needed not matter as the fixture was of vital monetary importance to Welsh rugby. So much so, that the WRU paid the ARU £750,000 as an appearance fee. With 67,434 in attendance the WRU was able to pay the ARU and make a good return. 

A year earlier the RFU had paid the NZRU £1.5 million for a test outside of the IRB international window but in 2014 New Zealand opted to play in Japan rather than Wales. The reason was that due to sponsorship reasons the NZRU was attempting to unlock new markets and do so by also collecting an appearance fee that saw it break even. NZRU CEO Steve Tew said that the match in Tokyo was very successful and added that an equivalent was being sought in the USA for November 2014. 

With complete player control the NZRU can play tests outside of the IRB international window and have total access to all eligible players. It is based on a belief that players based abroad have no right of playing international rugby. It comes with problems for opposition teams unable to gain full access to players outside of the designated international windows, one of which is the USA. 

As Reed argued success of the potential match between the USA and New Zealand could hinge on player availability. Northampton being fined has the potential to mean that leading USA players could miss the match. Also of note is that the USA was without Aviva Premiership players Samu Manoa, Blaine Scully and Chris Wyles for the non-international against the Maori All Blacks on November 9. 

The date of the Japan v New Zealand fixture from 2013 is also illustrative. Played on November 2 it fell outside of the international window and with New Zealand confirmed to face England on November 8 2014 it is evident that either November 1 or 2 would be used for the Eagles v All Blacks fixture. After playing the All Blacks England will host three other tests on November 15, 22 and 29. The USA is therefore in a very difficult position due to the available dates falling outside of the release window. 

There may well be a light at the end of the tunnel for USA Rugby though as the policy of collaborating with clubs has seen players miss out on international duty. Such gestures keep the clubs happy and enable the players to shine and return for top flight international rugby as better players. 

The USA is also to have fewer test matches in June 2014 with fixtures against Canada, Japan and Scotland in place of 2013 which had the USA facing Canada, Fiji, Ireland, Japan and Tonga. Fewer tests mean happier clubs and in turn increased chances of subsequently being able to gain access to players on November 1 or 2. In other words, a likely trade-off will see established European based players only face Scotland in June. 

While it is not an ideal situation it is, nonetheless, a trade-off worth pursuing which would enable the USA to break the attendance records twice in one year for rugby matches in the country. It would also enable the USA Eagles to perform as strongly as possible against the number one side in the world which would aid in promoting the sport significantly and enable future options to become increasingly viable in places such as Canada. 

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