IRB Fumbles the Ball for Updated World Cup Hosting

According to the New Zealand Herald and (possibly, reports are kind of sketchy since the “official” remains unnamed) the International Rugby Board (IRB), the city of Auckland in Kiwiland might be selected over, well most of the rest of the country, to host more matches for the upcoming 2011 Rugby World Cup.

These additional matches come at the expense of the rebuilding Christchurch, which SuperSite fans, and anyone who takes the time to read the news in the last month or so, know took a serous amount of damage from a recent earthquake.

Instead of spreading the games around to attract travelers to other New Zealand venues, as well as show the Rugby Universe that the rest of the nation could pull together to help the potentially overtaxed Christchurch, the IRB short-sightedly decided to dump all of the games on Auckland.

Continue reading “IRB Fumbles the Ball for Updated World Cup Hosting”

Is America Ready for a Pro Rugby Sevens Series?

Paging “Major League Rugby,” paging “Major League Rugby” – Patient in Operating Room Two.

Many years ago, back when we were still communicating with rocks and chisels, I had written a story about the feasibility of an organization called “Major League Rugby.” (link provided by the way way back machine at archive.org)

At the time, Major League Rugby was a curious idea – with teams based in a variety of cities, USA Rugby had its own competition which was, and to be fair after many iterations, still is USA Premier Rugby. Major League Rugby failed because it tried to bring a sport which was not ready for “prime time” into the American mainstream without the support of USA Rugby. When Major League Rugby then demanded use of USA Rugby’s officials and were denied

So fast forward to 2011 – we have a more mature international Sevens Series which is developing athletes and fans in parts of the world often overlooked by the Powers that Be of the Rugby Universe, we’ve recently witnessed a very successful USA Sevens International Tournament in Las Vegas and thanks to NBC we enjoyed live coverage of the USA Sevens and we’ll have the opportunity to see the collegiate Olympic Rugby championship and parts of the 2011 Rugby World Cup on network TV for the first time ever.  Rugby is the third fastest growing sport in America, and the women’s collegiate game is being considered to be a NCAA sport.

And of course, there’s that whole Olympic inclusion deal…

Is now the time to resurrect the “Major League Rugby” moniker (regardless of who owns it) and applying that to a new Olympic Rugby Series in America? I think it is, and in the next few posts I’m going to look at how a league might take shape here in America.

If it’s managed right, then rugby has a great potential to develop into a second tier sport, much like Major League Soccer or even the National Hockey League. But we have to have more foresight to developing a league that will last for years and take advantage of the inclusion of Olympic Rugby in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Some of my quick notes:

  • The league needs to be city-based, much as Major League Rugby.
  • There should be two conferences, east and west, with two divisions for each conference, for the north and south based teams.
  • In the new collegiate premier conference there have been reports of travel concerns as the season moves into the playoff rounds. This has to be avoided in Major League Rugby, with only the championship match to be played between the two conferences. (Say, maybe… at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports? Make it a weekend event for the entire family)
  • A maximum of 17 players per team, with room for reserve/”practice squad” players. (It allows for teams to play multiple matches per game without tiring our too many players)
  • Games should be played in a best-of-3 match series. The first team to win two matches wins the game. This will make it more attractive to TV if you can fill either 30 or 60 minutes of air time. Teams can field more players in a total series.
  • Draft – teams can’t be allowed to stockpile players, possibly with provisions to “franchise” one or two local players that come through their collegiate or youth rugby systems.
  • Salary Cap – each team has to have the same amount of money to offer in salaries to their players.  Possibly even a maximum per player spent amount, with bonuses built in for winning.
  • Teams need to be located in higher population centers, for marketing and interest reasons. Preferably with sevens teams that are already established and popular (NOVA, Atlantis, Seattle, etc.)

An important place to look for ideas has been the development of Major League Soccer over the past 2 decades or so.  MLS started out much in the same way that Major League Rugby needs to develop now.The original “Major League Rugby” might have been ahead of its time, without the organizational support, a broader spectator interest, or the financial foundation to make sense in the late 90s/early 00s, but now might be the right time to turn the growing interest in the sport into a second-tier professional league.

Sri Lanka RFU Suspended

The Sri Lanka rugby union is the latest to fall under the watchful eye of the International Rugby Board, as the Rugby Universe’s head organization stripped away full nation member status and relegated them to the minors… I mean, associate level status until April 11.

According to the IRB:

The decision, taken by the IRB Council after a comprehensive review of the membership status of the SLRFU, follows ongoing concerns regarding the governance and management of the Union and its ability to meet IRB requirements to hold an Annual General Meeting and elections in accordance with its constitution by January 31, 2011.

So it looks like something similar to the Fijian rugby problem, but with a team that is much lower profile. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the two nations.

Olympic Rugby’s Ready to Roll The Dice in Vegas!

And they’re off! We’ve just seen kickoff of the USA Sevens Tournament in Las Vegas with Sevens Series Co-Champions England putting the wood to Guyana 49-0, while Argentina squeaked by a plucky French side, 21-19 to round out the first set of matches in Vegas’ Pool A.

There are a lot of questions coming up for this weekend’s tournament in Vegas, let’s see how the world’s elite Olympic Rugby teams answer them:

Will New Zealand continue their winning ways, started in South Africa in December and continuing last week when the series resumed in their home country, and overtake England in the Tournament standings?

Las Vegas could be the most important tournament of the Sevens series this year for co-leaders England and New Zealand. Remember that both teams enter the tournament tied for first place in the rankings at 64 points apiece. The USA Sevens could be the turning point for either of these two. A win in Las Vegas can provide the momentum needed to break away and hold onto the lead going into the second half of the tournament series.

Will the dice come up snake eyes for the mighty USA at their own tournament. While not ready yet to compete with the titans of the Olympic Rugby Universe, the Eagles have made great strides in recent years, and Al Caravelli has scouted out some great players with little budget from USA Rugby.

Can the Kenyan’s hit a full house in Vegas, build on their tournament results from last week, having beating Tonga for the NZ Sevens Bowl Championship? We already know with their flair and passionate fans they can fill the house at Sam Boyd Stadium.

And to continue the Vegas-Gambling metaphors, can 09-10 Series champs Samoa finally land hit that inside straight and make up ground on co-leaders New Zealand and England and repeat as series champions? They have to put a couple of tournament wins on the board for that to happen.

And what about the King of Olympic Rugby? Rumors have been flying that Fijian Sevens great Waisale Serevi has been planning an announcement of some kind for Olympic Rugby in the U.S.

All this and more might be found out, by watching NBC this weekend, where coverage of the tournament will be shown live, or live-ish. And for $3.99 you can get online streaming tournament coverage at Universal Sports’ Web site.

New Rugby Movie, “Play On,” Deserving of Accolades

(Disclaimer: I’m not 100% sure about the legal disclaimer stuff the FTC has in place for bloggers, but let me state that I was not paid to write or review this movie, I did receive a voucher by the people who produced, created and marketed the film that allowed me to watch it, much as your standard mainstream media reviewers will get to see movies. I might do an affiliate program with the movie in the near future, based on how awesome I thought this movie was. That said, let’s get on with the review!)


Welcome to Melrose, Yanks!

This phrase, uttered to the fictional Kansas City Wanderers near the end of the new rugby movie “Play On,” is just as appropriate a welcoming phrase to movie viewers who aren’t familar to the game of rugby as it is to the band of rugby players and their first trip to the Scottish Borders.  And it’s a great introduction to the movie, recently released online in a true labor of love, by rugby players turned movie makers for rugby players, the people who love them, and those who have never seen a game of rugby in their lives.

(Rugby players should quickly understand the importance of the Melrose area to the game of rugby, not just because of the toughness of the players – which is pointed out in the contrast between the flashier Keir and the Melrose Borders team – but also because the Borders region is where the game of Olympic Rugby was founded.)

On its surface, “Play On” is about a young man, Keir Kilgore, who grew up immersed in the game of rugby, with his father named as one of Scotland’s greatest players in his era, and the expectations being that this young man would do the same in his time. Keir ended up blowing a chance to play for the Scottish national team in the last game of the season for the Edinburgh Warriors when his team lost because of his own poor and selfish choice.  Instead of face up to his critics, in a drunken haze Keir purchases a one-way ticket to Kansas City, where he hopes to fulfill a financial dream of taking a spot kicking for the Kansas City Chiefs in the National Football League.

Upon reaching Arrowhead Stadium, Keir quickly finds out that while he’s in Kansas City, yes Toto he’s not exactly in Kansas anymore. After being mugged and having his clothing and money taking from him, he crosses paths with Dante Hamilton, a former football star who is trying to earn his way back onto an NFL team.  The pair end up with a tryout for the Chiefs, and while things do not go as planned for Hamilton, Keir finds himself offered a further year of playing for the Chiefs “second division team.”  The arrogance of the young Kilgore costs his that chance for playing in the NFL and soon after Keir ends up connecting with the Kansas City Wanderers, a fictional team of men who play the game of rugby not for glory or the adoration of large crowds and huge paychecks (a fact Keir stumbles across quickly as he has to also learn the fine art of construction to secure a job in Kansas City), but for the love of the game.

I won’t tell you any more about the plot, because I think you have to watch “Play On” in order to really appreciate how this movie is different from many other sports movies.  From the amusing and touching storytelling, to the beautiful scenery, especially the areas surrounding the Scottish Borders near the end of the movie, to the great acting, “Play On” should not be missed.

Adam Gray-Hayward plays an excellent Keir Kilgour, diva rugby player who has been humbled by his choices until he has no choice but to rebuild himself. At the beginning of the movie, Gray-Hayward’s body language shows the subtle signs of arrogance, and he hit the facial expressions perfectly for someone who was supposed to have been overly pampered as an athlete.  It’s a small thing, I know, but those make for some of the best movies, and Gray-Hayward hit it strong here.  We get to watch as the character of Keir develops from someone who represents the things we dislike in divas (whether rock stars, athletes, or models) into a more humble man, grateful and mindful of the wonderful chances ahead of him, turning into the man his father always wanted him to be.

The character of Finlay Kilgour, the patriarch of the family who sets the standard for hard-hitting Scottish rugby in his day, was played by Chard Hayward, the real-life father of Gray-Hayward.   Finlay Kilgour represents an older school of thought about rugby, back before the game was played professionally, when men were men, and you know the rest of the saying.  Many of the standard archetypes played through my mind as I watched Hayward. Gruff, tough, unable to express his love to his son until near the end of the movie (and at the very end in, of all ways, giving his #7 Scotland jersey to Keir to take back to the U.S.) the elder Kilgour epitomizes the simple toughness of another era of rugby. While Keir becomes more the man that Finlay wanted him to become, Finlay becomes more of the father figure Keir might have needed growing up.  

This movie isn’t just about Keir’s last chance to become a man, it’s also about a father understanding the desire to be more of a part of his son’s life. And the fact that Gray-Hayward and Chard Hayward are son and father in real life probably helped cement this part of the story for me, the interaction between the pair felt like it needed very little “acting.”  Going beyond this pair, the movie makers selected very well when they were looking for actors in this movie.

(I don’t know how many of the actors playing the Wanderers were actually members of the Kansas City Blues, if so then I have to ask – who in the hell knew rugby players could act?? Usually those Academy Award winning acting performances are left to soccer players who have been tapped on the ankle in the middle of a game 😉 ) 

What’s the game-changer for “Play On?” 

It’s the multi-layered stories woven together in the movie.  You have Keir trying to move on from his actions when he left the Gunners in Edinburgh and change from the man he was at that time (selfish and petulant) and become the kind of man he needed to be for his future.  

You have the story of the Kansas City Wanderers, a group of misfits and weekend warriors barely able to put 15 guys on the field but filled with more rugby spirit than a team full of Keir Kilgours, and how they came back together thanks to the efforts expected of their newest player, and even ended up in Scotland.  

Then there’s the story of Dante Hamilton, played by Wesley Hall – a fiery young former NFL player who is trying to get a second chance to play in the NFL after a knee injury sidelines him and ends up finishing his career, sending him to work at a BBQ trailer in Kansas City (don’t laugh, if there’s one thing people in Kansas City take as seriously as the Chiefs, it’s their BBQ!).  His journey back into sports crosses paths with Kilgour, who convinces him to play for the Wanderers, with the promise that Hamilton will have ample chances to take out his frustration with the young Scotsman.

And the underlying story of the movie, touched on firmly yet with a delicate hand throughout the film, is the story of the game of rugby itself – how it has morphed in the last two decades from an amateur sport where the idea of taking a paycheck for playing would never be tolerated, to a professional sport, with salaries, publicists and growing egos to match.  It uses the clashing  dynamics of the family Kilgour to glimpse at the differences in the two rugby eras, the elder who played the game for love, and the younger generation who grew up at the dawn of the professional era of the game.

At times the storytelling and acting reminded me of Oliver Stone’s professional football epic “Any Given Sunday,” but without the over the top, unbelieveable storytelling, or the overdependance on “shock acting” by the cast, and much less of a need to use gratuitous athletic violence to hammer plot points home for the audience.

Keep your eyes open when you watch “Play On” or you might miss cameos by Scottish Rugby legends such as Gavin Hastings (one of my personal favorites in Scottish Rugby). 

There were a couple of minor inconsistencies in the movie, but they don’t take away from the story itself and go on to explain to movie goes who are not familiar with the NFL why Keir won’t automatically be signed by the Kansas City Chiefs, and is asked to play a season in the NFL Developmental League (of which there really isn’t one).  It’s necessary to show the selfishness of the character at the time, and the event and it’s aftermath do have an impact on how the character develops. Like I said, unless you’re a rabid NFL fan who can’t stand any inconsistency in how the league is represented, you’ll see how it flows into the movie.  And if you are that rabid of an NFL fan, well then you really need a life.

Anyone who has ever played rugby, or any sport for the love of the game, needs to watch “Play On” to remember what drew them to their game.

The bottom line:  While “Play On” isn’t meant to be a traditional blockbuster movie, it did deliver that level of theater enjoyment for me. From the multilayered storywriting to the superb acting performance, to rugby play so authentic I found myself wincing from time to time remembering being on the pitch, “Play On” is a must-see indie movie for 2011.  I hope that the production team behind “Play On” will be able to secure a short theater run in parts of the United States, while this movie was great to watch on my computer, it will be even more amazing on the big screen – especially the scenes showcasing the luxurious Scottish countryside.

Play On” is available for rental through the film’s Web site, and can be rented or purchased on the iTunes platform.

Final Grade: 9.5/10

Bar Etiquette for the USA Sevens

So you can’t make it to the USA Sevens tournament, as we discussed in a previous article and you’re going to meet up with the rest of the team at a local bar. You probably already know how to act in a bar, or not act depending on how rowdy the team is.

But if you’re bringing friends with you to the bar check out the glorious rugby, or you’re having friends over to your house to check out the tournament, you might want to show them this video on etiquette at the bar, courtesy of Jed Thian at the Alternative Rugby Commentary.

Fiji Rugby: Unrest in Paradise?

Update: The Council of the Fiji Rugby Union has weighed in with what looks like a vote of no confidence in the Directors of the Fiji Rugby Union and is now claiming that the FRU is using the IRB’s interest in the case as a way to get around the FRU’s constitution.  And according to the story, the directors of the FRU report to the Council, not the IRB. Curiouser and curiouser…


The International Rugby Board has upped the ante in the growing Fijian rugby crisis, announcing that Fiji’s national team will not be allowed in the upcoming Rugby World Cup should the forced resignations of the Fijian Rugby Union board go through in “contravention of the constitution of the FRU.” The IRB has asked the members of the Fijian Rugby Union board who were told to resign not to give in to pressure from Fiji’s military-led government.

According to Reuters Africa:

The IRB also warned the FRU they faced a ban if they did not adhere to their constitution.

“Any action in contravention of the constitution of the FRU will result in the Union potentially not remaining in good standing as a member of the Union of the IRB which may result in the IRB having to take a determination on the continued membership of the IRB of the FRU,” the IRB’s letter said.

On the other side of the argument, the Fijian government has stated that the country provide the necessary funds (Fijian $3 million, approx US$1.6 million) for the team’s 2011 Rugby World Cup preparation.

The crisis started when Fiji’s Rugby Union help a lottery to raise money for the 2011 World Cup, but money from that lottery was unaccounted for, or spent on perks for board members – including a trip for one of them to the Hong Kong Sevens tournament.

This is not the first time in recent months that the Fijian rugby team has found themselves in the crosshairs of international pressure because of actions by the government.

Fiji was banned from last year’s Commonwealth Games due to international political concerns in the island nation.  Does this potential RWC ban also mean that Fiji will be ejected from the remaining World Sevens Series competitions if these resignations go through?

Is Gavin Henson the “Ryan Leaf” of the Rugby Universe?

So I’m sure you’re asking why Gavin Henson is able to get under my skin (Buddha knows I ask from time to time). By all accounts, he appears to be quite the talented player, but for a while there has been something overly annoying about not just Henson the athlete, but Henson the man.  The entitled attitude, the subtle, and not so subtle arrogance. It finally came to me this evening – Gavin Henson reminds me of Ryan Leaf, the former quarterback for the San Diego Chargers NFL team, and considered by many to be among, if not at the pinnacle, of the worst draft picks of all time.

This comparison became clearer to me after reading this story on ESPN Scrum, where Henson compares qualifying for the semi-finals of his TV dancing competition as being more exciting and meaningful to him than the two Six Nations’s championships he has won in his rugby career, in addition to slagging off his former team Ospreys, also based in Wales.  He has since moved on to an Aviva Premiership team, Saracens, based in England.  Thankfully for Henson, he won’t face his former teammates during the season, since Ospreys is part of the Magners League, a Celtic based tournament.

And let’s not forget the stress between his Wales teammates and Henson after he published his first book in 2005. Henson said stupid things, feelings were upset and Henson had to backtrack his statements with his team mates. 

It was easy to see the stressed relations with old teammates reappear in 2010 when Wales unveiled their new jersey design – complete with Henson, a player who had been out of Welsh International Rugby for over a year at that point, modeling the new design.  It was easy to imagine the long knives starting to unsheath for Henson. 

Comparing Apples to Apples?

But is it a fair comparison to hold between Gavin Henson, a hot commodity player with years ahead of himself and a record behind him, and Ryan Leaf, a player tagged with the dreaded “potential he never attempted to reach” tag?

During his collegiate football career, it was believed that Leaf was a “franchise player,” the kind of quarterback you could build a team around for many years.  During the NFL draft he was considered “on par” with Peyton Manning,

Henson has the raw ability to be a top flight rugby player, but his petulant and dismissive attitude towards the game, his belief that he alone is the Welsh team (the other 14 players on the field being window dressing) plus his self-imposed 18-month layoff from rugby to learn to be a television dancer, as well as implode his relationship with Charlotte Church, have stolen the luster from one of Wales’ best rugby players of the decade. Currently he’s not even able to qualify for the starting 15 of the Saracens, but has decreed that he’s ready and should be a top selection for the Wales National Side.

Henson has been given chance after chance, time and again, to get away with actions that might have seen players with less luck lose any opportunity for an international career.  After serving a seven-week ban for elbowing, Henson was immediately seen back on the pitch for Wales against Ireland.

At the end of the day, since Henson has had some success in the Rugby Universe, although not as much as his attitude would warrant, he’s not as much Ryan Leaf as he is Eli Manning, Peyton’s younger, less talented but just as egotistical, brother.

But enough of this emo rugby blogging, we’ve got the rest of the Sevens Series ahead of us, plus rumor of a new Olympic Rugby project by Waisale Serevi, the Fijian wonder-rugger who is widely considered the best Sevens/Olympic rugby player to ever play the game and has recently moved to Seattle to coach Old Puget Sound Beach!

So You Want to See the USA Sevens Tournament?

And you’re unable to make the trip to Las Vegas this year to attend the tournament in person? Kicking yourself for not checking out the big party in mid-February? Welcome to the same boat that many of us are in. Before you get upset at the idea of not going to Vegas, think about it. You’re actually in luck, and you have an important responsibility to help the U.S. Rugby community as well.

As we know, this year is the unofficial “Year of Rugby” at NBC/Universal, as far as I’m concerned. Between the USA Sevens Tournament, potential collegiate rugby matches, and the 2011 Rugby World Cup this Fall, there’s going to be more rugby than ever before on network TV, not counting all of the cable possibilities that come from working with a media conglomerate such as NBC.

Watching Olympic Rugby on TV is not the same as being at the tournament, we all know that. And it’s definitely not the same as being at a tournament like the USA Sevens, with all of the passionate and crazy fans in the stands, as well as world class rugby on the pitch.

Now that that’s been said, you need to get over it, cowboy up and realize that you have a job to do as well to help rugby in the U.S. If you’re not at the tournament, this is your chance to help evangelize the sport that we all love to your friends and family.

Your first instinct about watching the game is probably going to be to roll to the pub to catch the tournament, or to have a bunch of your rugby friends over to watch the tournament. If you do this, and you’re not part of the Nielsen rating system then the Monday following the tournament you need to call your local NBC station, or contact the national NBC Sports office. Let them know that as a fan, you appreciate them taking the time in their TV schedule to show rugby, and that you’re excited for the next time they are going to show some rugby.

Next, and this is going to take not much more work than just keeping a pen and paper near the TV set, jot down the name of one or two advertisers at each commercial break, pay special attention to companies that seem to be buying a more than two or three advertising slots each hour. Early the following week you’re going to, yep you guessed it, contact those advertisers and let them know the same thing that you did above. Advertisers need to know that people are watching about their product, and if they believe there is a market in a certain demographic out there (such as rugby players) they will become more willing to buy more advertising, which invests some money in the sport.

This is all about mustering our own resources, as fans of the game, which is our interest in the game, and our willingness to contact those who are helping to support the spread of the rugby gospel and let them know they are being seen. For every person who watches the tournament at home, ask a few of your non-rugby friends if they want to check out the tournament. If they like it, they might even be willing to make a call to the TV station as well, as a favor for a friend. If you start small and work on building your way up with more friends, the tournaments and TV “get togethers” start to act as a force multiplier, getting more people interested, then getting them to call in, and hopefully getting more rugby on TV, and repeating the cycle.

It’s the old idea behind community relations, and it’s something that you see a lot of politicians doing, getting people together in the intimate setting of a home, or a living room, and getting engaged with them in something that matters to those people. Instead of a politician, we have the TV blasting rugby goodness into your home, and the thing that matters is getting them involved in the sport of rugby, if not playing then at least checking it out, and what better way to do that than in a party setting. Think of it as having your own piece of the stands at the tournament, but without the face and body paint, unless that’s what you go in for.

Fiji Rugby Union in Crisis, Might Miss 2011 World Cup

So what in the blue hell is going on with the Fiji Rugby Union? According to a story coming out of the island nation, the new military leadership of Fiji has demanded that the head honchos of Fiji’s Rugby Union (FRU) resign if they want the cash to prepare for and attend this year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

The story reports that the FRU somehow… “misplaced” over $155,000 (Fijian dollars) that were raised in an improperly run lottery. That money was spent on various things, including sending one FRU official to last year’s Hong Kong Sevens Tournament.

If this does not get resolved soon this could cause problems that would reverberate around the Rugby Universe, as the IRB would then have to quickly determine a team to replace the Fijians – and how would they choose? The next highest team in Fiji’s qualifying pool?  The first team in the IRB rankings that didn’t qualify?  

Due to an internal governmental crisis, including a reported suspension of the nation’s constitution, Fiji had already been denied a chance to play at this year’s Commonwealth Games in India.  For Fiji to miss the Rugby World Cup would probably crush the hopes of those athletes playing on the team, as well as wound the honor of the nation. And the spectators of the 2011 Rugby World Cup would miss out on the exciting, open and flowing style of rugby that Fiji is famous for.

According to the story, the acting Prime Minister of Fiji, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, is a big fan of the world’s greatest game, even going so far as to wait to lead the 2006 overthrow of the government until the yearly match between the police and army had been played.

Read more about the story here, and there’s a new update from Radio New Zealand International stating that the chairman of the FRU has stepped down after an emergency board meeting,