Rugby World Cup ’15 Clipped by NFL?

According to this story from the Daily Mail, Wembley Stadium’s obligations to the National Football League have forced Rugby World Cup 2015 organizers to schedule only two RWC matches in the fabled stadium, instead of the eight matches that were originally planned for Wembley.

As the article states, that reduction in matches (along with a decision by Manchester United that Old Trafford was not to be used in the Rugby World Cup – because, you know, actual men playing on their pitch might tear it up a little bit and these primped and pampered soccer players might have to actually show some athleticism on the field, but I digress) left the Rugby World Cup organizing team scrambling to locate adequate stadia to hold the various matches. This also means that RWC 2015 ticket prices will probably be raised to hit the expected 80-million pounds that England had to guarantee to the International Rugby Board.

(Soon we’ll take a look at the sham that is the schedule of matches for Rugby World Cup 2015, and how the IRB screwed North America and Eastern Europe yet again. So much for wanting parity between rugby nations, and for encouraging “rugby growth” in North America. As usual, the IRB says one thing and does something completely opposite, in order to protect its monopoly on the game.)

Rumblings of “Rugby Challenge 2″

Tru Blu Games and Sidhe Games recently announced the upcoming development and launch of Rugby Challenge 2 (known around the world by more titles than I care to share here). In this interview with Mario Wynands, the founder and managing director of Sidhe, Wynands talks about the effort needed to not screw up what was already strong in the first Rugby Challenge game, while strengthening the game’s weaknesses (which he admits were the Career Mode, some of the missing elements of the game of rugby (always a fluid and moment-to-moment changing game) and, I think, a small imbalance of focus between the Southern Hemisphere and Northern Hemisphere of the Rugby World).

Sonny Bill Signing with JRFU’s Wild Knights

New Zealand All Black Sonny Bill Williams announced at a press conference today that he will be leaving the Waikato Chiefs at the end of the Super Rugby season and heading to Japan to join his new club, the Panasonic Wild Knights (page needs translation) for the start of the Japanese Rugby Season. During the press conference Williams discussed how much of a surprise the impact of playing rugby in his home country impacted him.

“I didn’t think I would love it as much as I have, back here,” Williams said. “To be honest, I’ve kinda felt like I’ve found my place at the Chiefs.”

By moving to Japan, Williams is removing himself from consideration for the All Blacks squad as they prepare for the 2012 Rugby Championship tournament with New Zealand-Australia-South Africa-Argentina, and possibly might be the permanent end of his All Black career. Williams ended his current All Black career on a strong note, scoring nearly back-to-back tries in the first half for New Zealand in their final summer test, beating Ireland 60-0.

It’s expected that this was a first step for Williams to move from Rugby Union back to Rugby League, and possibly a larger salary. Despite being a fairly popular player with All Black Nation, Williams did not show the same dedication to his national team that many fans wanted, opting to sign year-to-year contracts instead of long-term agreements with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

Williams has not actually signed his contract and no terms have yet been released, but according to Sports Illustrated:

Australian media has speculated Williams will receive up to $1.2 million for his short stint with the Panasonic Wild Knights and could receive more than $800,000 to rejoin the Bulldogs National Rugby League club that he quit in 2008.

You can watch excerpts from today’s press conference below.

Despite any concerns about Sonny Bill Williams’ dedication to his national team, I’d like to wish him well in his future rugby endeavors and hope his eventual move to Rugby League pans out the way he hopes.

Armed Forces 7s Set

Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. has been selected as the tournament site for the U.S. Armed Forces Rugby 7s Championship from Aug. 18 & 19, featuring All-Star teams representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

“We are honored that the US Military teams have agreed to co-locate their annual championship here at Infinity Park with our first International Defense 7s tournament,” said Mike Dunafon, Mayor of the City of Glendale in a press release.

The two-day event will be played in conjunction with the inaugural International Defense 7s tournament, with international military teams from the British Army, Australian Army, British Royal Air Force, and the French Armed Forces. The two tournaments will conclude on Sunday, Aug. 19 with the U.S and international teams facing off for Gold, Silver and Bronze places.

The International Defense 7s will be raising money for the Homeland Defenders Fund, a nonprofit organization providing support for Colorado Veterans and their families.

Australia 22, Wales 19: Enter the Dragon? Or maybe not…

The Welsh Dragon was close to roaring Saturday in a place known as a “Land Down Under,” (Danger, video link) as their match with Australia teetered back-and-forth like a prize fight in the final quarter of the game.

The current Six Nations champs, the Welsh have looked incredibly strong in recent matches, reaching the 2011 Rugby World Cup semifinals only to lose 9-8 to France; and winning their third Six Nations title in six years. Their tour of Australia has been no different.

Mistakes turned out to be the name of the game for Wales throughout the first 60 minutes as each time Wales started to drive they’d get hit with a penalty, or knock the ball forward. Australia was able to capitalize on many of those penalty kick attempts.

In fact, much of the game was based around penalty kicks, in a stark contrast to the All Blacks-Ireland tryfest. Australia’s flyhalf Barrick Barnes traded shots with Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny for much of the first half before Welsh #8 Ryan Jones took advantage of Wales’ attack to score the game’s first try, and thanks to a successful Halfpenny conversion Wales held onto a 16-12 momentary lead.

Because shortly after the game resumed Australia responded with their own try from centre Rob Horne, which had to be confirmed by the TV Monitoring Official. Barnes missed the conversion kick, which left Australia with a precarious one point lead, 17-16.

In the last ten minutes of the match, Wales and Australia traded the lead as each team scored penalty goals, with Australia holding onto to the win.

While Australia did take the series 3-0, all three of the Wallabies’ wins were close – the largest margin being 8 points in the first match in Brisbane. This should be taken more as a sign of Wales’ continued positive team development than it is of Australia taking it easy on their visitors from the North.

New Zealand 60, Ireland 0: What the hell happened to Ireland??

After almost racking up their first non-defeat by the All Blacks last weekend in Christchurch, with the All Blacks winning the game on a last minute drop-goal by Dan Carter, Ireland decided to get the whole pesky “end of game” collapse out of the way in the first 20 minutes of their third Test Saturday in Hamilton. The 60-0 final score was the worst defeat ever by the Irish at New Zealand’s hands, just seven days off from having almost beaten the All Blacks for the first time ever.

Ireland’s collapse started off strong, giving away four tries in the first 22 minutes to the All Blacks, including a back-to-back pair to… wait for it… (no not Gavin Henson)… reputed soon-to-be-returning to Rugby League star Sonny Bill Williams.

The Irish never appeared to be very comfortable, especially once New Zealand took such a commanding 26-0 lead in the first quarter of the game. Ireland were never able to capitalize after captain Brian O’Driscoll started to engineer a drive into New Zealand territory. At the half, Irish fullback Rob Kearney intercepted a pass that would have led to yet another New Zealand try, but the ref decided he deliberately knocked it on, gave  Kearney a 10-minute yellow card, and gave a penalty for the All Blacks, who tacked on a three-point penalty kick to go into the half leading 29-0.

The second half looked no better for the Irish, as the All Blacks picked up where they left off, charging through a battered Irish defense time and again to score nearly at will. By the time it was over the Irish looked dejected, bewildered, wondering if anyone got the name of the train that ran over them in Hamilton.

Unfortunately, last week’s question of “what could have been” has been replaced by “what the hell happened?” Both are questions that will take a long time to answer.  And the way the tour schedule is firming up for the future, Saturday was the last time in the next 12 years that Ireland had a chance at gaining their first win against New Zealand, outside of any possible faceoffs in the World Cup.

Team USA Wraps Up Summer Schedule

Will Team USA end their summer tour schedule with a winning or losing record? This is the question the Eagles will answer today when they square off with Six Nations perennial Wooden Spoon winner, Italy.

Earlier this week, USA Rugby announced the starting lineup to face off against Italy in this weekend’s match being held in Houston, Texas, made up of the same starting team that upset Georgia last weekend in Colorado, only flipping wings James Patterson and Luke Hume to opposite sides of the field.

The task ahead of the Eagles this evening is more daunting – while Italy comes into the match with a 9-55-1 record in the Six Nations, keep in mind they are still in an annual competition facing the best national teams the Northern Hemisphere has to offer!

This is the final match of the Eagles’ three-week international extravaganza, losing to Canada earlier in June before surprising the Georgians, 36-20, last week. (Well played, Eagles – taking on Georgia at altitude was a great idea!)

It’s not too late to catch this match, if you don’t have Universal Sports on your cable provider (Grrrrrr Comcast!) you can still check out Universal Sports’ web site and watch it online for $9!

TEAM USA

Starting 15

15 Chris Wyles (Saracens)

14 James Paterson (Glendale Raptors)

13 Paul Emerick (London Wasps)

12 Andrew Suniula (Cornish Pirates)

11 Luke Hume (Old Blue)

10 Roland Suniula (Chicago Griffins)

9 Mike Petri (NYAC)

1 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh)

2 Chris Biller (Northampton Saints)

3 Eric Fry (Wellington Old Boys RFC)

4 Louis Stanfill (NYAC)

5 Brian Doyle (NYAC)

6 Taylor Mokate (Wellington Old Boys RFC)

7 Scott Lavalla (Stade Francais)

8 Todd Clever* (NTT Shining Arcs) 

Reserves

16 Derek Asbun (Oxford University – England)

17 Mike MacDonald (At Large)

18 Tolifili (Andre) Liufau (l’Uson Rugby)

19 Andrew Durutalo (USA Rugby Sevens/Old Puget Sound Beach)

20 Mose Timoteo (SFGG)

21 Will Holder (Army)

22 Colin Hawley (USA Rugby Sevens)

USA Rugby Announces June International Team

USA Rugby recently announced the National Men’s 15s team who will face off with Canada, Georgia and Italy later this month. As expected, 2011 Rugby World Cup flanker and team USA captain Todd Clever is returning to captain the side, while Paul Emerick returns from a stint with the Aviva Premiership team London Wasps to help anchor the backline.

Interestingly, the Eagles coaching staff have added three names from America’s top college teams: Army’s Will Holder, Seamus Kelly from 8-zillion-time Collegiate Champions Cal Berkeley, and BYU’s Shaun Davies.  Adding three college players to the national team is something that team USA hasn’t done in quite a while.

Rounding out the rookie ranks of the squad is 6-2, 317-pound prop Tolifili Liufau. The Hawaiian born Liufau played football for the University of Utah, Rio Grande Valley Dorados and Arizona Rattlers (Arena League) before switching to the greatest game, where he currently plays for l’Uson in France’s Fédérale 1 – France’s top amateur level.

See the complete team selections on USA Rugby’s site.

(And a side note to USA Rugby – there has to be an easier way to link to stories on your site.)

Wanna Win Tix to the CRC 7s?

Hurry , hurry, hurry! For a limited time only, A Rugby Life is holding a contest, offering two – count ‘em – two tickets to this year’s CRC 7s Invitational tournament in Philadelphia! It’s an awesome tournament, showcasing some of the best college Olympic Ruggers in the nation!

But how do you enter to win these coveted tickets, I hear you asking… OK, I imagine you asking. It’s easy – to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, check out this link!

Can Kenya Continue USA Sevens Momentum?

Kenya continued to impress at the USA Sevens, which has become their tournament almost as much as it has been for USA Rugby. After what can only be described as a lackluster start to their HSBC World Sevens Series campaign, Collins Injera led the Kenyans to victories over Wales (22-14) and Argentina (21-7) in Las Vegas to win the USA Sevens Plate championship.

Lumped into the same pool at #1 New Zealand and #2 Fiji in the season kickoff Australia Sevens, the Kenyans went 1-2 in the first day, racking up a win against Niue before losing to Tonga and Japan in the second day.

The Kenyans’ woes continued the following week in Dubai, going winless for the first day, including a surprising 21-5 loss to Zimbabwe. They rallied the second day with a 35-5 win against the UAE in the Shield semifinals before losing to Samoa to end their day.

The South Africa Sevens and New Zealand Sevens were not much kinder to Kenya, where they lost to Zimbabwe in the South African Sevens Shield Finals before beating Australia 12-7 in Wellington’s Shield Finals.

The New Zealand Sevens marked the start of Kenya’s upward swing, as they carried the momentum from their Shield win in Wellington to move one level up the competition in Las Vegas with a Plate victory.

The Kenyans have usually stepped up their game when playing in the USA Sevens, whether they are able to feed off of the energy of their fan base in the USA (they are usually a crowd favorite in Vegas) or they begin to gel as a team about that time.  Now the next question is, will they be able to carry that momentum on to the Hong Kong Sevens in late March?