USA Rugby is the sleeping giant. And we’re about to wake up!
You don’t have to look much further than the recent successes of our men’s and women’s sevens programs, the men’s performance in the ARC and the upcoming Women’s Rugby World Cup to see the evidence. USA Rugby might still be a tier two nation, but we take our opportunities to shine when we get them. And World Rugby has just announced a new international calendar that will give Americans more of those opportunities.
After a meeting in San Francisco, World Rugby announced plans for a new international calendar to be implemented in 2020 and run through 2032. The new international calendar| focuses on ‘player welfare and equity at heart, driving certainty and opportunities for emerging rugby powers and laying the foundations for a more compelling and competitive international game, which is great for unions, players and fans.’
“Agreement on an optimised global calendar that provides certainty and sustainability over the decade beyond Rugby World Cup 2019 represents an historic milestone for the global game,” Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby Chairman, explained after the announcement.
So what does that mean for USA Rugby?
Well, for one, the U.S. is scheduled to host a tour of tier one nations, alongside other emerging nations co-hosts Canada and Japan. There will also be a minimum of 110 fixtures between tier one and tier two countries between 2020 and 2032, a 39% increase on the current schedule. This will give the Eagles more top rated opponents to help continue developing the game.
France and England will tour the Pacific Islands, and there will be six tier two fixtures with the Six Nations countries every November. The four Sanzaar unions – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – are committed to hosting tier two nations for fixtures in July.
Of course, the USA won’t be involved in all of these matches, but it does show World Rugby’s commitment to expansion of international competition to emerging powers. Georgia and Japan, for example, have shown incredibly well in recent tests and will likely look to challenge the lower-ranked tier one nations. After the Rugby World Cup 2019 and 2023 tournaments, there’s an ability for rankings to determine inclusion of tier two teams in the schedule. This move will ensure top emerging teams at the time are provided with tier one opportunities based on merit.
The new calendar also allows for the summer tours of major European countries to move to July, making room for players to rest after their club seasons. Autumn internationals and the Rugby World Cup have also been brought forward a week. These changes mean that the southern hemisphere teams play their tournaments in blocks – a season of Super Rugby, followed by northern teams touring to the Southern Hemisphere, then the Rugby Championship, and finally tours to the north.
The changes bring much needed attention to player welfare throughout long seasons – top players have often been at risk of limited to no rest between their club and international commitments. Finally, the resulting new calendar shows the growth of rugby in developing nations, and World Rugby’s commitment to bringing forth new opportunities for equality between the nations.
This is great news for American Rugby. Not just for the Eagles, but for the local clubs and domestic game as well. It’ll give a chance for young fans to see the best in the world play right in our back yard. It’ll also provide a metric on the national team level that trickles down through the ranks.
If we set higher standards and test ourselves regularly against top teams, it’ll highlight some of our strengths and weaknesses as a nation. We can then take those metrics and apply them to the future stars of rugby, training our young athletes and domestic teams to elevate their game.
Generate more contact time between traditional rugby countries and American fans and players allows for discussion about tactics, skills, club management and more. This collaboration could bring about some improvements in areas we might not otherwise have addressed.
It’s an exciting time for USA Rugby fans, with the prospect of the local team competing yearly against the big names. But it’s even more exciting for the players – a chance to travel more, test themselves against the best, and take care of their bodies in the long-term.
The list of attendees to the Global Calendar meeting were (San Francisco, January 2017): Bill Beaumont (World Rugby Chairman); Agustín Pichot (World Rugby Vice-Chairman); Philip Browne (IRFU); Ian Ritchie (RFU); Serge Simon (FFR); Steve Tew (NZR); Bill Pulver (ARU); Dan Payne (USA Rugby); Bruce Craig (day one) & Mark McCafferty (day two) (PRL); Paul Goze (LNR); Martin Anayi (PRO 12); Rob Nichol (IRPA); Brett Gosper (World Rugby Chief Executive); David Carrigy (World Rugby Head of Development & International Relations); Mark Egan (World Rugby Head of Competitions and Performance) and Martin Raftery (World Rugby Chief Medical Officer).
|Tier 1 Nations||Tier 2 Nations|
What do you think about the new international calendar? Will it help the Eagles continue to develop the game in the U.S. and improve the national team program? Leave your comments below.