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.)

USA Sevens Announces Largest Attendance Yet!

According to the IRB and USA Sevens, over 64,000 rugby fans visited UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium over the three days of the tournament and over 30,000 attended the second day of games – making it the largest rugby crowd ever in North America.

Tournament Director Dan Lyle said

We have quite a lot of people from the southern hemisphere in the stands but it’s Las Vegas and that lends itself to the international party that we promote and adding the element of high class sporting fun it is really exciting to be in the middle of a growth element and proving some points that the sport is on the rise.

With the facilities offered by an NCAA Division I university like UNLV, and the unique entertainment opportunities in Las Vegas, Nev. (as opposed to that hotbed of night life, Las Vegas, N.M.) the USA Sevens has a chance to continue the stellar growth it has achieved since moving to Las Vegas and eventually become one of the top two venues in the HSBC Sevens World Series, second only to the iconic Hong Kong Sevens.

With almost half of the tournament’s visitors attending on Saturday, I wonder if the tourney would be better served moving from a three-day schedule (much like the Hong Kong Sevens) to a two-day tournament to serve as many visitors as possible without taxing their resources.  Some of the matches broadcast on NBC had fairly empty looking stadiums, not a criticism but I’m just wondering if moving the tournament to two days will help keep more fans in the stands.

One of the great things that the team at the USA Sevens have been able to secure is broadcast time on NBC and NBC Sports for the last couple of years. This, along with coverage of the collegiate sevens championship, is presenting rugby in a form that many U.S. sporting fans can quickly understand.

USA Sevens Announces Pools

The United States Eagles once again find themselves facing an uphill battle in this weekend’s USA Sevens tournament after the pool matches were announced earlier this week.

The USA is in Pool B, along side #2 ranked Fiji and #9 Argentina. Even #11 Canada might be giving the Eagles a little bit of a problem this week. What do you think? Will the Eagles repeat their performance of last week in Wellington? Or will they be able to rally and take one or even two wins in the first day of pool matches?

IRB Opens Sevens Series to “Entire World” … Or Does It?

The International Rugby Board had decided to open up the Sevens World Series to all nations in a qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens. According to the International Rugby Board:

Three teams will advance from a dedicated 12-team regional qualifier finale, securing coveted core team status and joining the current core teams…

Which would increase the number of teams participating in each leg of the Sevens World Series from 12 to 15.

I hate to play the part of the wet blanket on the IRB, but I have to ask –

Continue reading “IRB Opens Sevens Series to “Entire World” … Or Does It?”

Getting Your Sevens Fix This Week!

It’s that time again! This weekend marks the latest installment in the IRB’s wildly popular (of course it is… well you tell me how many other rugby matches you’ve seen on network TV this winter?) World Sevens Series tournament – the USA Sevens!

While it appears that this year’s USA Sevens isn’t going to be on NBC’s network lineup this year, if you’re lucky enough to have either Universal Sports, or the NBC Sports channel, you’ll still have the chance to watch plenty of Sevens this weekend.  And, as it turns out, plenty of other World Sevens Series matches this spring as well! You can catch the TV lineup here!

USA Rugby: Desperately Seeking Coaching

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and all the ships at sea. This urgent telegraph message just in from USA Rugby:

USA Eagles men’s coach Eddie O’Sullivan has decided to call it a day in the U.S. and won’t be continuing his coaching career on this side of the pond – possibly wanting to explore professional opportunities in Europe.

O’Sullivan came to the Eagles in 2009, after his resignation as head coach of his home nation of Ireland, having led the green-and-white to three triple crowns (beating the other three British Isles rugby teams – Wales, Scotland and England) and finishing as high as second place in the Six Nations Championship. During his tenure Ireland also rose to as high as third in the IRB World Rankings.

Continue reading “USA Rugby: Desperately Seeking Coaching”

How Fare the Mighty Eagles Thus Far? #rugbyworldcup

The Rugby World Cup continues to charge on, a couple of weeks into the extravaganza that happens every four years. The United States National Team has a lot of pride on the line if they want to show improvement over their 2007 World Cup nightmare, where they lost every match. They are two games in, and surprisingly the Eagles have shown more than just a strong heart and a desire for “a good showing.”

Ireland 22, USA 10

It’s hard to tell which narrative is more true in this game – was the U.S. that inspired, able to hold #8 Ireland to a 12-point victory, or was the Irish play really that off, not able to score more than 22 points against a nation that is still (as I’m sure many rugby nations are truly thrilled with) just a small moon in the great Rugby Universe.

(“That’s not a moon… it’s a space station.”)

As is usually the case, it’s a little bit of both.

The Eagles, led by captain Todd Clever on the openside flank, anchored a pesky defense against Ireland in the first half, holding Ireland to a 10-0 lead at halftime despite the fact that Ireland’s forwards dominated the U.S. at each set peace. Clever was a one-man swarm around the ball in the first half, stuffing Ireland’s rucks and backing up U.S. runners on the rare occasions they had the ball.

But this was the case where a team that had more time training together would eventually prevail – Ireland’s pace, fitness and working as a unit eventually ground down the U.S. pack, who fought this losing battle almost completely inside their own side of the pitch in the second half, and the three Irish tries came out of forward play.

USA 13, Russia 6

This tenacious US defense continued when they faced Russia.  In their most recent game, the Eagles squeaked away their third victory ever in the Rugby World Cup with a 13-6 win over the mighty Russian Bears – the lowest scoring World Cup match since Australia’s 12-6 win over England in the ’91 finals, and a far sight from New Zealand’s 145-17 victory over Japan in the ‘95 World Cup.

“Delighted with the win and the performance of the team. We retained our intensity and work rate from the Ireland game. We knew Russia would play to the very end, and we prepared for that eventuality. We had Russian under pressure on numerous occasions, but they defended really well and made us work for every score we got,” said Eagles Head Coach, Eddie O’Sullivan.

The only try of the game came from Eagles’ scrumhalf Mike Petri, off of a pass from first five Roland Suniula and who crossed the try line 20-minutes into the game, carrying a Russian tackler on his back.

This was an important game for both sides, not just because it was seen as the only game that either team might win, but also because the two teams are ranked right next to each other in the IRB World Rankings – with the USA ranked 18th and Russia 19th. In recent matches where the US was ranked just above their opponent, such as Georgia and Tonga, the US came out on the losing side, then flipping places with their opponent.

The Eagles now have to prepare for their toughest match of the tournament, their Sept. 23 showdown with Australia in Wellington. A game that the United States is not likely to be competitive in, while Australia is expected to rest some of their starters.

USA Captain Given OK to Play

Todd Clever, the captain for the U.S. National Rugby team was cleared today after being cited by Rugby World Cup officials for dangerous tackling and dangerous charging in the USA’s victory over Russia on Sept. 15. You can read the particulars of the case here, but it appears that the contact in question was incidental and there was no malice involved, so Clever has been cleared to play for the USA in their remaining Rugby World Cup matches.

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.