Ben Foden’s inbox is evidence of the growing interest from Gallagher Premiership players to finish their careers in the United States. The 34-times capped England and Northampton fullback is in his third and final season with Major League Rugby’s Rugby United New York, but has no intention of heading back to the UK, believing there are real opportunities to help grow the game in the USA.
As part of his preparations for the next MLR season in February, which will see ex-England captain Chris Robshaw make his debut for San Diego Legion, Foden is taking part in the World 10s Series Rugby Tournament, which runs from October 24 to November 7 in Bermuda.
Foden is part of the London Royals, a team based around the England 7s squad that is currently without RFU funding and includes record try-scorer Dan Norton, who has just completed a short-term deal with London Irish.
With a 10-a-side circuit set to launch next year to offer MLR players a chance to supplement their income during the off-season, these are significant times for the sport, and Foden believes the interest from current Premiership players proves the USA can become a viable alternative to Japan for those seeking a shorter season.
Robshaw will play his 32nd game of the English season when he runs out at Twickenham on Sunday for the Barbarians against England, and the attraction of halving that schedule by moving to the MLR was a major factor in his decision to join San Diego.
Foden told RugbyPass: “My inbox is constantly inundated with messages from players in the Premiership asking what the MLR is like and is there any chance of coming over because they would love the opportunity to finish their careers in the USA.
“The interest is definitely there from English coaches, young and old players and everyone is waiting and watching the MLR.
“I think we are three or four years away from the TV and money coming in, and because of where rugby in the USA is currently at there are so many opportunities to get involved. It is not just in the MLR, college sport over here is massive and they have lots of money and if they want to be involved there will be chances to carve out another rugby career.
“I want to help push American rugby to the forefront and put it out there as an upcoming sport in this country, and (in future) the USA could dominate.
“When rugby takes off then the Dallas Jackals will be have their own TV channel and the same will be true in New York with their own ex-players as pundits. I know that World Rugby is waiting for it to take off in the USA and it will then be a cash cow for rugby in general. It could be a game changer.
“The fact the season is only six months long means the body doesn’t take such a battering. One of my pet peeves with the Premiership is that far too much rugby is played, if you are involved in international rugby, Heineken Cup and Premiership it means you are at it every week.
“I can fully understand why Robbo (Chris Robshaw) is coming and he spoke to me about joining New York and has ended up on the west coast with San Diego, who are a really good team and he will have a nice lifestyle. They had Ma’a Nonu last season and have brought in Robbo and Cecil Afrika, the 7s star into their squad.
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“I believe the MLR are getting it right now and the league is expanding and what I would like to see is the MLR and USA Rugby merging so they can jointly govern. If they are not working hand in hand then there can be a conflict of interest as the game grows. All the guys involved in the MLR want to get better with teams growing and now Los Angeles and Dallas, two big cities, are joining.”
While Foden has big plans for his rugby future in the USA, the 35-year-old ex-England fullback has the 10s to experience for the first time in Bermuda.
Asking any member of the England team to sit out of a club game would not mesh well with their instinctive nature.
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He added: “Having Dan Norton in our squad is excellent and in my career I played 7s with guys like Danny Care and Dave Strettle, but never 10s.
“I am interested to see how the game works and do we play with a constant scrum-half and a pod system or just a bigger version of 7s? I believe there is room for a 10s circuit and the more rugby available the better, and getting the USA involved is great because the States is like 50 different countries and we have the MLR, the Sevens team doing well and potentially a Rugby World Cup in 2031.
“The World 7s series has gone a long way from when I played and we only used to get paid a bonus if we won.
“It is healthy for any sport to have different dimensions and tens could be a transition or a stand alone option where they guys can earn good money and see the world.”
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