USMLR Round 1 - Done and Dusted!

Posted by John Gates on

What I like about the new US Major League Rugby is the sheer enthusiasm for it and the absolute optimism about their new competition.

I have not been privy to the major network broadcasts, but the streaming services are just gold - you have a guy is probably a professional sports commentator, who has done his best to learn about this crazy game and a guy sitting alongside him who knows about the game, so it's a bit of a lesson in Rugby, but I find it absolutely refreshing to see this world superpower, with its humungous population, just beginning to appreciate this beautiful game.

The commentators have had some great chats about the advantage law, which seems to have generally found favour, and the fact that the kicker takes his conversion attempt from wherever the try was scored. A fair few references to NFL but, in general, a pretty entertaining commentary.

Not sure how many people in the crowd know what is going on, but you would have to think it is a fair number because most of the franchises are using OPS - shorthand for "other peoples' stadiums" and they are not massive. For example, my team the Utah Warriors, coached by Chris Latham are using a soccer stadium that only seats 3,500, but which has incredible indoor and outdoor training facilities. In other words, they are, sensibly, not getting ahead of themselves.

Unfortunately, the Warriors went down in a close one, today with Atlanta, but great signs for the future.... and the wonderful thing about them, which instantly endeared me was the fact that they are raising funds for Aussie Bushfire Relief, and I doubt that it was anything Latho thought up because he has only been there for about 2 weeks.

I have been a great admirer of USA Rugby for many years and have watched its latest gestation from about 10 or so years ago when a Kiwi and a Pom took it by the horns.

The Kiwi was Kevin Roberts, then the worldwide Chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi - a little PR firm!

The Pom was Nigel Melville, a former England skipper and, together they set about getting Rugby into schools and forming a grassroots organisation because, up until that time, most blokes did not learn Rugby until they were in College and College Rugby was largely and massively amateur - more of a "drinking club with a Rugby problem" culture. The East and West conferences didn't communicate and it was pretty much a challenge style system.

No incentive for change, so when Rugby hit the professional era in 1995, USA had no real direction.

So these blokes - Roberts and Melville - got the structure into some sort of shape and I would be doing USA Rugby a disservice if I kept banging on because, obviously many other good people got themselves into the mix, and I don't know who they are.

It's taken a dozen or so years, and a false start or two, but USA Rugby is in a good place. Winning Olympic recognition was huge because that meant that the sport gets funding from the powerful NCAA, or the government or some bugger, but it means that is is ON THE MAP!

...and that is what has happened. US mens 7's team is now hovering around the No 2 position in the world rankings, and we all know that if you can be Number 2 then you CAN be No 1, on any given day.

I have always said that USA is the sleeping giant of world Rugby. We can all remember the movie "Gullivers Travels" when the giant wakes up, yawns, bellows, farts, looks around then breaks the shackles!

That is what is going to happen to World Rugby.

If you think the big franchises in America aren't interested in MLR don't worry - 3 of the franchises have Australian ownership and I believe that there is also European ownership. It won't be too long before cashed up Americans see an advantage of getting involved. It will never be as big as NFL, but it doesn't need to be because it is one of the genuinely international sports, and you can't buy that cache.

This thing will work, or a lot of people will go down trying. I'm excited.

Then look at some other dynamics...

Sth Africa re-aligns with Europe - then Japan and the Pacific align closer with the Southern Hemisphere. Think about who is in our time zone - China, Japan, Hong Kong, the Pacific - we could end up seeing a world competition with conferences based on time zones - Europe, the Stans, Asia, Oceania, the Americas - think about that - a REAL and MEANINGFUL World Championship.

Struth, Narelle! Ripper, Rita, I'm pumped!


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