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RUGBYPASS+ USA and Wales important stops on All Blacks' world tour

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USA and Wales important stops on All Blacks' world tour

The debate had started before the match even kicked off, ignited as the All Blacks posted 50 points in just over half an hour, continued after the game, and is even threatening to spill into the next one.

What was the point?

What was the point in throwing what you always knew was going to be an understrength USA Eagles team into a game against the All Blacks when there was only ever likely to be one outcome, an absolute hammering?

Why do it the same week the US launched their bid to stage the Rugby World Cup, and at a time when the US sports fans are devouring the Baseball World Series, the early weeks of the National Hockey and Football Leagues, and the start of the basketball?

And what possible good can it do to players to be on the end of a 100-point hiding?

The Eagles simply couldn’t keep up with the All Blacks’ pace and power in the 104-14 thrashing. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Photosport)

Well, if you try really hard to get past the negatives, you can find some reasons.

First and foremost, money.

It’s a dirty word in some places, and it’s easy to criticise, but not so much when you’re not in a country where the gate takings from a couple of tests will see you right for a year.

Let’s remind ourselves that last year, USA Rugby went bankrupt, and didn’t get to stage a single game.

The crowd wasn’t anywhere near the 62,000 the All Blacks drew to two games at Soldier Field, but it was still a healthy 40,000, and when the bills are paid Rugby USA will hopefully have a few million to put in the bank to help the game along.

People who’d travelled great distances were wowed by what they saw from the All Blacks “in real life”, but also got a kick out of the Eagles scoring their first try against the New Zealanders, and a second to boot.

New Zealand may not exactly be beggars, but neither can they afford to be choosers, living in a relatively small economy and facing an ever-growing wage bill and the constant threat of overseas clubs with seemingly bottomless bank accounts. The million or two share they get will be put to good use.

It would be wrong to presume that Americans going to watch a rugby international for the first time will be put off forever by the sight of their team getting flogged by a cricket score – not that they’d know what that is.

The Washington Post, for example, painted the occasion in a very positive light, especially from the viewpoint of fans they spoke to. People who’d travelled great distances were wowed by what they saw from the All Blacks “in real life”, but also got a kick out of the Eagles scoring their first try against the New Zealanders, and a second to boot.

American fans don’t just go to a big sports game to see who wins and who loses, they go to have a great day out. This, apparently, was no exception.

Few nations are as passionate about sports as the USA, potentially making it an ideal destination for a future Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

Which leads to the question of whether the USA would actually make a good host of a Rugby World Cup.

Australia look to be strong favourites to stage 2027, but 2031 would be an ideal opportunity to take the game’s biggest showcase into much needed new territory.

To suggest, as one of England’s major dailies did, a touch imperiously, that the hammering the Eagles took on the weekend should disqualify them from serious consideration for 2031 is to miss the point entirely – but one suspects it was a comment really made to further the chances’ of another UK-based tournament.

Yes, the USA has got a way to go with their TV production – the required camera angles in particular are way different to those of American Football – but there is plenty of expertise to call in from around the globe.

The host nation didn’t make it to the quarter-finals at the 2015 tournament, and that was still a pretty good event.

And it might be a battle to draw crowds to some games, but can you imagine the numbers of fans that would descend on an England game in Las Vegas, or the Irish in Boston or New York, or from the Southern Pacific to California?

The US is a travel magnet: it’s easily accessible, internal air travel is not prohibitive despite the distances, food is not expensive, it has all the hotels you need and a full array of fan-friendly stadia from the giant NFL arenas to the more boutique facilities like Glendale.

I’ve been lucky enough to have two trips to the States for rugby, and I’ll rate them up there with the best I’ve experienced.

As for the strength of the USA team, is that really a factor? The host nation didn’t make it to the quarter-finals at the 2015 tournament, and that was still a pretty good event.

Of course, it will take a very strong case to stop World Rugby from awarding the tournament to the UK for a fourth time, but a move to the USA would be bold, a fantastic fan experience and might just do wonders for a sport battling to crack the worlds toughest sports market.

Chris Robshaw dejection
The 2015 World Cup in England was still a roaring success, despite the hosts not progressing pass the pool stages of the tournament. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Other than that, what positives were there to take from the game?

It’s a bit cliched to say the Eagles will learn from the experience, and it’s no given. That comes down to Gary Gold and his coaching staff. They’ll need to smarten up the defence and maybe the experience will open the eyes of the players to a more positive game plan than the one that failed them against Uruguay.

As for the All Blacks, it was an ideal opportunity to set things in motion for what lies ahead, and they’ll be delighted with the way an inexperienced fringe group took their chances.

Youngbloods Quinn Tupaea, Will Jordan, and Tupou Vaa’i were standouts, while Finlay Christie with his lightning speed to the breakdown and swift clearance made a compelling case to back up Brad Weber for the big games.

And so onto Cardiff.

Wales too, will be under-strength, but it is still Wales, it is still the Principality Stadium, and yes there is a healthy gate take for two nations at a time when both need it badly.

So yes, there is a point to this one too.

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