Thursday, October 23, 2014

International Rugby: Is prioritizing USA v All Blacks in Chicago right?

Image USA Rugby
An off-field victory was ensured this past week as USA Rugby gained confirmed access to its players contracted to Aviva Premiership teams for the upcoming break-through home fixture against New Zealand in Chicago. Securing player release means that the North Americans will be able to have a strong team go up against the number one team in the world, the All Blacks. It has, however, come at a cost as the agreement reached means that the Aviva Premiership players will return from Chicago to England and play no part in the subsequent tests against  Romania, Tonga and Fiji in Europe. What is the opinion of those who dedicate their time to covering our great sport in the United States. Argentina 2023 seeks to find the answer to the the question on everyone's mind. 

What is your opinion over the move by USA Rugby to free-up Aviva Premiership players for the All Blacks test match in Chicago but, in doing so, not be able to have them play any part in the European tour test matches against Romania, Tonga and Fiji?

Pat Clifton (Rugby Today)
''I think it’s a gamble by USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville. If the Eagles play competitively enough to put the twinkle in the eyes of mainstream American sports media and fans, then the gamble paid off. If they get run off the paddock and it’s a four-try game by halftime, then it didn’t pay off. That’s oversimplifying all of it, but that’s the crux of the issue for me.''

''Some of the subplots are interesting, too. I don’t think it’s good business to thumb your nose at the IRB, which shells out enough grant money to account for a significant amount USA Rugby’s budget, by making a backdoor deal that flies in the face of a regulation that’s put in place to protect the IRB’s moneymaker – international rugby. I have not confirmed that the IRB is upset with USA Rugby or the move, and Melville has denied that they are, but there are rumblings that the IRB isn’t happy, and it’s easy to see why.''

''While I think the experience of playing the All Blacks can’t be understated, there are only so many games between now and the World Cup. Is this All Blacks game bigger than the World Cup? Barring the USA winning, I don’t think so. So you have to ask, which will help the Eagles be better in a year’s time: playing one game with your full team against the All Blacks, or having a complete fall tour with your full team?''

''I also think things like rankings matter, especially to those mainstream media members and average American sports fans we’re desperate to infect with the rugby bug. If they look at the IRB world rankings and see the Eagles are further from the All Blacks than the American basketball team is from Iran’s basketball team in the FIBA rankings, it doesn’t project a positive message. Giving up the availability of Chris Wyles, Blaine Scully, Samu Manoa, etc. won’t help the Eagles improve their world ranking.''

''All that said, I think the Eagles may well win two-of-three tests in November, anyway.''
Doug Coil (Real Time Sports)
''Decisions are made at the USA Rugby level. The USA v New Zealand match in the US could be a difference maker for USA Rugby. I understand that sometimes it is necessary to make tough decisions and can't fault USA Rugby. I was at the USA v Maori All Blacks match last November and will be covering this match from the Press Box.'' 

''While the USA has recently sold out 20,000 seat stadiums, potentially selling out a 61,500 seat NFL stadium is unreal. I hope that the match is competitive as it would do wonders to grow the sport in the US. Just taking the pitch v New Zealand is already a win for the US.''

''In terms of the other internationals involving the US, the talent pool is growing rapidly. With an injury and a retirement, the prop position may be tested. Years ago when Pele played a Soccer match in the US, the benefits jump-started US soccer. The same could be true for the All Blacks.''

Grant Cole (This is Texas Rugby)
''I do not think the outcome of the Autumn Tests would've changed if top level Eagles had been available for them. Put best Eagles in Chicago and best available in Europe seems to be a business decision and it is probably the best money decision that Nigel (Melville) has made. If the Eagles go 1-3 this autumn, I'd call it a win''.

Ted Hardy (Rugby America)
''This is a tough one. I understand why USA Rugby made the deal. They want to put out their very best side against the All Blacks. The game is going to be on National TV and it is important to put their best foot forward. I also think it is a nice gesture as playing against the All Blacks, in front of a packed crowd at a storied NFL stadium, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any American rugby player.''

''If we weren't leading up to the World Cup, I wouldn't have any issue with it at all. Our Eagles deserve the opportunity and I pray Tolkin empties the bench against the All Blacks. However, given that we're less than a year from the World Cup, the trade is a bit short-sighted''.

''Barring a miracle, the All Blacks are going to win and likely win handily. When the score becomes lopsided, the sporting and rugby public in America, that watches the game, aren't going to know or care whether Samu Manoa or Chris Wyles were released just for this game. All they're going to see is the score''.

With test matches against Romania, Fiji and Tonga in November these players are now missing out on important game time. The USA struggles with getting their team to gel and with less than a year until the World Cup, November is an important tour. I believe that the USA have the players to still beat Romania, but without their Premiership guys, getting one over on Fiji and Tonga now becomes a long shot as opposed to a possibility''.

''The Premiership clubs are the big winner in this deal. They release a few guys for a week or so to come to Chicago to play. They they avoid losing those same players for all of November and into December as the players inevitably need some rest back from tour. They also greatly decrease the risk of having one of them injured as now they are only playing one test match as opposed to three''.
''It would have been nice to see some sort of middle-ground reached. Perhaps a deal where the players could have been made available for one of the three November tests. They all take place in Europe, so they could have returned to their clubs quickly. It is unfortunate, but when you're USA Rugby there isn't much leverage''.

Hedley Lagrand (A Rugby Life)
''It's great that the Premiership and USA Rugby came to agreement to free the players for the All Blacks match, but it's a shame it's at such a high cost. My hope is that this helps highlight that the eligibility regulations need reviewing. Rugby is a global sport, and as such, needs regulations that promote that, not stifle it.''

Martin Pengelly (The Guardian)
''The deal with the Premiership is a good one, in so much as it was the only one USA Rugby could ever hope to make and it gives the Eagles the best chance to be competitive, in some form, against the All Blacks. Premiership Rugby does not usually do deals – look at the fine Northampton, the employers of Samu Manoa and Cam Dolan – were given last year for allowing Wales to field George North outside the window. So this one has to be seen as a plus.''

''Premiership Rugby is interested in the US market – regular-season games on the east coast have been considered, academy coaches have attended the CRC in Philadelphia and some clubs have looked at the NRFL project. In that sense, a successful All Blacks game that boosts rugby in the US could benefit the English club game too, not least in the increased flow of players from the US that is already in evidence.''

''For USA Rugby, in this case, developing or home-based players can be used in the other three November Tests, which will be of some benefit to World Cup preparation. And the prospect of facing the All Blacks without Manoa, Dolan, Smith, Fry, Scully, Kelly, Wyles and co didn't really bare thinking about.''

Curtis Reed (This is American Rugby)
''For players like Samu Manoa, Chris Wyles, and Blaine Scully it's a worthwhile trade off. They have been enough a part of the U.S. system to miss a few games. Plus, they are necessary if the U.S. wants to show well against the All Blacks. The biggest losers in the situation are Cam Dolan, Eric Fry, and Hayden Smith who will all be limited to the one match. They aren't playing regularly with their teams and could use the game time.''

''It's an unfortunate situation but the All Blacks game is so important to the growth of rugby in the United States that it had to happen. That said, it's concerning that only one man, and not a team, handled the negotiations''.

Dallen Stanford (The Rugby Corner)
''This is indeed a very interesting and unique situation. The USA vs All Blacks clash will bring an unbelievable amount of exposure to rugby in the United States, with a record attendance over 60,000 fans, almost triple the previous one set in Texas. The TV exposure on NBC Sports will also reach new rugby fans across the nation, as well as spotlight American rugby around the globe. It has the potential to not only attract thousands of new fans, but also potential cross over athletes interested in being paid professional rugby players who missed out on other sporting codes.''

''At the same time the reality on the field is that the number 1 ranked rugby team in the world could score quite a lot of points on the number 18 ranked side. This is of concern to USA Rugby, who must have thought long and hard about the 1-3 trade off. Given the success of the recent Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) in unearthing future USA Rugby stars that could play a huge role in the European test window against Romania, Tonga and Fiji next year, the strongest Eagles team is indeed needed on November 1st. The Eagles will give everything on the field - and it is our duty to back them against anyone, even the best team in the world.''

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