ESPN Announces Premiership Rugby Broadcast Schedule

Rugby fans, you can rejoice a little bit – even though Setanta Sports appears to be vanishing from the U.S. rugby TV media-sphere, ESPN recently announced their 2010-2011 Aviva Premiership Rugby broadcast schedule.  The Aviva Premiership features many of the top professional teams in European rugby.

ESPN’s coverage kicks off with a London-based doubleheader, featuring Saracens against the London Irish, followed by Wasps and the aptly-named Harlequins, who might actually be able to focus on playing rugby now that they have finished faking injuries like they were soccer players or something.

The complete schedule can be located here.

Botha Update–Springbok Thug Gets Light 9-Week Ban

Springbok thug… er, lock, Bakkies Botha received word today that he’d be receiving a nine-week ban for his flagrant headbutt on New Zealand’s Jimmy Cowan at Saturday’s Tri Nations opening match in Auckland. Botha appeared before a SANZAR judicial officer in New Zealand on Sunday to receive his sentence.

According to the South African RFU, Botha admitted the charge and expressed remorse. Botha left the meeting without speaking to anyone in the media and later apologized to Cowan via a media statement. Look, I work in public relations and if you want to get out of Dodge and make a faux-apology that gives you the appearance of caring about your actions then the South Africa RFU hit it right on the head.  And if Botha is smart he’ll keep his mouth shut for the nine-weeks except for being seen at some photo-op “anger management” course, or teaching rugby to some schoolkids.

I’d understand letting Botha off with a nine-week ban for his actions if this were his first infraction.  Hell if this was his first sentence then I might even say it was too strong.  But let’s take a look at Botha’s list of previous bans for violent infractions, shall we?

  • From Wikipedia: “Botha is known as one of the “hardest” locks in world rugby. He is particularly fond of the dark side of sport and has received bans for biting, testicle grabbing, head butting, and eye gouging.”
    (OK, let me say now – I’ve thrown a retaliatory punch or two in the ruck, but if you ever grab my boys, on the field or off, I’m going to club you like a Canadian with a baby seal)
  • In 2002, Botha received a yellow card for stamping against France, in his first international match
  • Aug. 2003 – Accused of biting and eye-gouging against Australia (8-week suspension)
  • April 2009 – 3-match ban for hitting a player in a Super 14 match
  • June 2009 – 2-week ban for a dangerous charge in a match with the British/Irish Lions (the ban was later dismissed on appeal)

I understand that South Africans love their rugby a little rougher than anyone else, some of us might call it “Cheap Shot Rugby”, allegedly.  But there is a certain point where a player becomes too much of a disgrace to have him on the field. Given his previous run ins with the rugby authorities for his dirty play, Botha might be approaching that line.  If he hasn’t stomped all over it already.

Rugby in the USA, and the LeBron James-Cast

Tonight ESPN hosted a one-hour infomercial for NBA star “King” LeBron James, formerly of the Cleveland Cavaliers, as he announced to the world his intentions to play for the Miami Heat next year.  And given the amount of time and effort spent on this infomercial… I mean, production, James will also undoubtedly figure out a cure for global warming while spending time on the beaches of south Florida.

Now with that out of the way, it got me thinking.  How much money did LeBron put into this broadcast, or how much money did ESPN spend to get one hour of Lebron on prime time last night?  I’m not going to say that it’s more than USA Rugby probably has in its marketing budget for the next year, but it’s not an insubstantial amount.  And that’s the problem for a minor sport, such as rugby is in the United States – we can’t even compete with a LeBron James love-fest infomercial.

Without serious sponsorship revenue coming in to the sport, in addition to a grassroots high school and college outreach program, rugby’s growth in the states will remain far below lacrosse, much less a sport like soccer.  What would you like to see rugby in the U.S. do to expand its reach?

This Just In. Guinness Premiership Rugby Changes Name to WTF Rugby

The English Premiership Rugby competition announced yesterday that it had reached a four-year, 20-million Pound deal to change it’s name from the Guinness Premiership to the Aviva Premiership starting next year.

According to Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby, (emphasis mine)

“A title sponsorship deal with Aviva, which is such a strong international consumer brand, is another significant milestone in the growth of Premiership Rugby and provides us with a long term partnership commitment to our sport and to our work in the community”.

Ah yes, that strong international consumer brand of Aviva.  Why, as soon as you read this, I’m sure you (much like I did when I read it) said the same thing.

Who the hell is Aviva?

And to replace Guinness, which has become quite synonymous with rugby, with an insurance company. That makes perfect sense.  There’s nothing better than sitting at the pub, watching a match and immediately thinking

By Buddha’s sweaty balls! I need to buy some insurance!

Yeah, much better than

I need another Guinness!

Sit Down and Drink Up! It’s Tri Nations Time!

If you’re a Southern Hemisphere rugby fan, then the time for smack talking is over.  It’s time for everyone to sit at the bar, shut the hell up, and start watching the Tri Nations tournament!

In order to explain the Tri-Nations to the Gonzo Report’s new readers, I’ll hand over duties to the estimable Alternative Rugby Commentary commentarian, Jed Thian. (Note: these video embeds are done out of respect for Mr. Thian and his mad skillz, and do not constitute an endorsement of my little experiment
by him. )

The yearly international tournament held between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, is poised to kick off this weekend at Auckland, New Zealand’s Eden Park – with the Springboks facing down the All Blacks.

This year the I’d like to say the All Blacks are poised to take it all, as they start the 15-month march to the World Cup. However, if you look at the statistics since the 2003 World Cup, the series has nearly drawn even, with New Zealand leading it 8-7. But in 2009, the Springboks blanked the All Blacks, sweeping all three games. And they play three games again in this year’s Tri-Nations series.  Statistically the All Blacks should win one, if not two of the matches – since they host two of the three matches this year.  But if there has been one team that has been able to slow down the All Blacks power rugby attack in recent history, it’s been the Springboks, who look to repeat their success this year.

If New Zealand can get past the Springboks this year, they will have a strong chance to win the tournament.  In the same time period, since the ‘03 World Cup, the All Blacks have dominated the Australia Wallabies series, 14 wins to 3.

Springboks Confirm Worst-Kept Rugby Secret

In a confirmation of what might have been the worst-kept secret in international rugby, the South African Rugby Football Union has today confirmed that the Springboks-New Zealand All Blacks Tri-Nations match on August 21, will be taking place in the newly minted “Soccer City” in Soweto.  And shortly thereafter, the stadium’s name will be changed to “Rugby Stud City”
.

Let’s just hope the Springboks are a little more serious with keeping their set plays hidden from the All Blacks before game time…

HBO’s “Real Sports” Highlights Rugby Star Gareth Thomas

Last month, I stumbled across an episode of HBO’s acclaimed video series “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” where correspondent Bernie Goldberg was featuring Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas. The focus of the feature was on Thomas’ sexual orientation. Thomas is the first openly gay athlete who is currently participating in any professional sports competition.

You can find a short excerpt of the video here.

Where might you find the Gonzo Rugby Report this year?

I’ve just been looking over the domestic rugby schedule for the next year, en route to a hopeful 2011 Rugby World Cup media appearance, and in addition to blogging about the international rugby scene I want to attend a few tournaments as writing warm ups.  Among them are:

2010 High Desert Rugby Classic – October 16-17, Albuquerque, N.M. (A southwest classic!)

2011 USA Sevens International Tournament – February 12-13, Las Vegas, Nev.

2011 Churchill Cup – Summer 2011, Denver, Colo.

And other matches to be determined.

Collegiate, Grassroots Approach Needed to Expand Rugby in US

So a reporter from Reuters bumped into USA Rugby’s men’s national team head coach, Eddie O’Sullivan (of course he’s Irish!  What, with a name like that you thought he was from Chile maybe?? 😉 ) and the two of them talked about how rugby has grown in the United States since O’Sullivan had previously been in the U.S. in the ’90’s. I’ll leave you to read the story, which is a fascinating read because O’Sullivan really gets that in the U.S. people are invested in collegiate sports.

Unlike in other parts of the world where high performance athletic centers, or sporting colleges where athletes can really hone their sporting craft before (hopefully) moving into the professional ranks, in the U.S. everyone seems to go through the college system.  And for those of us who aren’t athletes of this caliber, we still get to cheer on our alma mater – which gives us somewhat of an identity in the sporting world. (For instance, if you look at the teams I cheer for you’ll find that I’m connected to the UNM Lobos, the All Blacks, USA Rugby and the Buffalo Bills.  And I find an ability to discuss, debate, or faux-argue with my friends based on these affiliations.  And there are others out there who take their fandom ever more seriously.)

It’s an integral part of Americana that is woven through our society.  And in the past, rugby peeps have tried to shoehorn Americans into the Club Rugby model – where people would be interested in supporting the club from their local town, city, or childhood home.  That model doesn’t work out here, much to my chagrin. So again, it’s nice to see O’Sullivan talking about how to focus on what works in America, as opposed to how to force Americans into the model for the rest of the world.

And Some Round-Ball News: Uruguay’s Suarez Lucks the Hell Out!

This in from ESPN, Uruguay soccer forward Luis Suarez, the one who punched the ball out of the goal in Uruguay’s quarterfinal match against Ghana (and also now known as one of the most despised men in Africa) has received a one game suspension for his actions. Meaning he’ll be out of the game when Uruguay loses to the Netherlands on Tuesday.

Dude, you lucked out! That was an action that kept Ghana from moving on in the World Cup, because that ball would have gone in the goal for sure.  And to get a one-game suspension, and no future FIFA game suspensions, is a very light sentence indeed.

But come on Suarez, if you want to use your hands, just make the jump and play rugby.  Uruguay Rugby could use someone of your cunning on the pitch.