Tuesday, February 3, 2015

International Rugby: British and Irish Lions interested in playing in USA

Photo The Telegraph
The Americas remains the only region yet to be allocated hosting rights to a Rugby World Cup.  This could change in 2023 with former Pumas captain Agustín Pichot having confirmed his desire for Argentina to host. Another country deemed as a strong candidate, albeit, not so soon, is the USA. The size, population, economy and growing status of rugby in the country all make the USA a realistic option overtime. This is likely to become increasingly clear in the coming years as a greater quantity and quality of high profile rugby is expected to be played in the country. Indeed the marketing power of the Americas has again been underlined as the British and Irish Lions are reported to be interested in playing in the USA in 2017. 

Reports coming out of New York and London confirm that the possibility of having the USA play host to a match against the British and Irish Lions in 2017 are being seriously considered. The composite side which tours a Southern Hemisphere power once every four years could add a new stop onto its 2017 tour of New Zealand by using the long flight to its advantage by playing a match on the way to the South Pacific.

The team which calls upon the best players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will be lookming to win back-to-back tours in 2017 after a successful series win in Australia in 2013. The tour of Australia was a busy schedule in which the visitors played against the five Australian Super Rugby franchises and a combined Country team. The first match of the tour, however, was against the Barbarians in Hong Kong. 

In recent times the team has looked to utilize the British and Irish Lions brand to achieve greater financial return. This not only saw a match in Hong Kong but also a home international in 2005 with Argentina famously competing to a 25-25 draw at the Millennium Stadium in a match played when Marcelo Loffreda could not obtain the release of an estimated 30 European based Argentine players. 

The match drew a strong, but below full-capacity, crowd to Cardiff but highlighted the risk of starting the tour against a Tier One opposition crowd. With Australia having faced New Zealand in 2008 and 2010 the opportunity presenteed itself for the British and Irish Lions to play in the former British colonial city in 2013. In contrast such a fixture was not possible prior to the 2009 tour to South Africa due to there being direct flights from London to South Africa and there being no logical destination located in between.  

Getting to New Zealand from the British Isles and Ireland requires multiple flights which gives the iconic team an opportunity to explore the opportunity of playing again in Hong Kong or an alternate city between Western Europe and New Zealand. With the All Blacks playing in front of a full house at Chicago's Soldier Field the location currently being explored is North American.

A match in North America carries with it the identical considerations that were debated prior to USA Rugby securing a test against New Zealand last November. In order to host such a fixture the USA will need to provide evidence of comercial value to the visitors which is, arguably, fvisible already given the success of the Eagles v All Blacks. In return the Lions would need to agree to face the USA Eagles and not request a match against a composite team due to the rugby matches in the domestic market in the USA being more marketable against test teams.

A stop-off in the USA could become regular over time. It has been suggested that a British and Irish Lions tour of Argentina could be placed into the agenda for 2021 due to 2017 bringing to an end the current cycle of playing South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in that order every four years. Argentina previously hosted the Lions touring sides in 1910, 1927 and 1936. The Lions have also played in North America, doing so in Canada in 1959 and 1966.

Secring a match in 2017 is something Nigel Melville seems confident about. The head of USA Rugby and former British and Irish Lion is looking to expand rugby in the USA by having a professional competition begion before Rugby World Cup 2019. Melville insists that playing in the USA will ''help them with a good run-out at the start of a tour''. An announcement is expected to be made in the months prior to Rugby World Cup 2015.

1 comment:

  1. How about the Eagles and Pumas hosting both the Lions and Maori, then a Lions-Maori and North America versus South America?