The Eagles’ two warm-up matches against Canada were a bit like England’s games with Wales: we dominated possession for long periods but made silly mistakes and conceded sloppy tries so we lost both.
But that’s one of the problems we have in American rugby: we have an athletic squad but a lot of them are still at an early stage of their rugby understanding. We’re growing the whole time as a squad but still lack experience.
Obviously for us the big game in New Zealand is the one against Russia. We’ve beaten them the last two times we’ve played them – including in June’s Churchill Cup – but the World Cup will be completely different.
The fact we’re playing them is a marketing dream as there’s still an element of the ‘clash of the superpowers’ about any sporting occasion between America and Russia. I remember during the 1980s being glued to the USA v Soviet Union ice hockey clashes in the Olympics, and now we have something similar in rugby.
In both this RWC and in 2015, NBC will broadcast a number of games on their main network. That is unbelievable for us and I can’t stress enough the importance of getting rugby into mainstream TV – it will go to more than 100 million homes.
What we need next is good ratings to help us establish rugby even more across America.
Of course, there’s a risk the Eagles might be well beaten by Australia or Ireland but I don’t think that would upset most Americans. Yes, they like to win but they also like to see great athletes and increasingly America is waking up
to the idea that rugby today produces fantastic athletes. They also appreciate what a phenomenon the sport is in many countries and I think the World Cup will show them it’s more important globally than American Football.
Playing Australia and Ireland will be tough but we aim to be competitive. I don’t have too many dealings with the on-field side of the Eagles but I know (head coach) Eddie O’Sullivan has a lot of confidence in the squad.
We had great news with the release of the Sports Goods Manufacturing Association 2010 report: it revealed that rugby is now one of the fastest growing team sports in America. That, and the fact that we’ve now got over half a million kids playing ‘Rookie Rugby’, bodes well for the future.
When I arrived here in 2006, I realised that some of the things I’d been told about rugby’s development in the US weren’t as accurate as I’d been led to believe!
So the first plan I put into operation was to lay a strong foundation for the future by targeting the kids, and we began with the six- to ten-year-olds. Rookie Rugby is like touch rugby and we took it to the schools, and it’s grown and grown.
Now rugby is taking off in high schools and colleges, and the final of the college competition last season was played in front of 11,000 fans.
It’s these players who’ll play for USA in the next two World Cups, and not only will they be great athletes but they’ll have a far better understanding of the game.
This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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