Rugby union in the United States

Rugby union in the United States

Rugby union in the United States is a growing national sport. It is played at the youth, high school, club, semi-professional, and international levels. The United States is a second-tier rugby nation. The game was first introduced to the United States in the 1870s. The sport gained popularity throughout the late Nineteenth Century, however it started to decline from the early 1900s. Its growth collapsed in the country after the 1924 Olympics, and did not re-emerge until its renaissance in the 1960s. The United States of America Rugby Football Union (now known as USA Rugby) was formed in 1975.

The United States national rugby team, the Eagles, competed in the first Rugby World Cup in 1987. They compete annually in the Churchill Cup. The semi-professional domestic Super League was established for the country's top clubs. In 2006, the International Rugby Board (IRB) sponsored North America 4 competition was introduced, with two American teams participating. The women's United States national team was established in 1987, and is a world power; winning the Women's World Cup in 1991, and finished runners up in 1994 and 1998.

There are over 60,000 players registered with USA Rugby; including over 20,000 high school students. The 570 clubs in the United States are governed by seven Territorial Unions and 37 Local Unions.



Rugby football was first introduced to the United States by English soldiers and immigrants in the mid-1800s. In 1872, rugby clubs were established in the San Francisco Bay Area which mainly comprised of British expatriates.

The first recorded rugby match in the United States occurred on May 14, 1874 between Harvard University and McGill University.

In 1876, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia formed the Intercollegiate Football Association, a competition based on the traditional rules of rugby union. Around the same time, the aforementioned British rugby players of San Francisco introduced rugby to the University of California, Berkeley.

The unfamiliar and complex game play hampered initial growth on the East Coast. Controversy arose in 1905 when photographs of a match between Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania were published. The pictures were used to depict rugby as a "harsh game." Rugby union grew on the West Coast, however, and as many as 26,000 spectators regularly attended matches between the University of California and Stanford University.

In 1908 and 1909, the Australian national team visited the U.S. as part of an international tour. The US-Australia matches marked the United States' first international tests.

In 1910, a combined Universities rugby team comprised mostly of players from Cal, Stanford, and the University of Nevada went on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The underdog American side upset both Rotorua RFC and Auckland RU, which came as a great surprise to the international rugby community.

In 1912, the Wallabies returned to America; this tour was the first and only America-specific tour by Australia to date. The 1912 tour of the United States saw the United States national team play their first international test, which they lost 12-8.

After a promising start on the international stage, the Americans were thrashed a year later by the All Blacks, 51-3. This test was organized by former Cal president Benjamin Ide Wheeler in an attempt to popularize rugby among his students.

The national team won their first test in 1919, defeating Romania. In 1920, rugby union was a fixture at the 1920 Summer Olympics, and a United States team ended up winning gold after money was raised in San Francisco to send them there. In 1924, rugby union was again included in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. An American side was invited to participate, and the team surprised spectators by landing a place in the final with the hosts - the French. An estimated 50,000 turned up to Colombes Stadium to watch. The United States defeated France for the Gold in 1924. This was, however, the last time rugby was a fixture at the Olympics, making the 1924 United States team the last to win the medal.


In the 1960s, the game started to see some form of growth. In 1975, the United States of America Rugby Football Union was formed.

In 1987, the first Rugby World Cup was held, and the United States was invited to participate. The following world cup, the 1991 tournament, saw invitations abolished in favor of a 32-team qualifying tournament that saw the United States successfully gain entry. They were in a pool with New Zealand, England and Italy -- all strong rugby powers.

In 1996, the Rugby Super League was created by the 14 major governing bodies of the sport in the United States with the intention of creating a competitive and national competition. 1997 saw the inaugural season of the competition. There were 14 teams competing which were divided into two seven-team divisions: the Western-Pacific Conference and the Midwestern-East Conference. Aspen won the first championship.

After missing out on the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, the national side qualified for the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales. They subsequently qualified for the 2003 Rugby World Cup, finishing fourth in their pool winning one game against Japan. The US recently qualified for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France by beating Uruguay home and away to clinch the Americas 2 spot.

Although coming away from the 2007 World Cup in France without a win, they acquitted themselves honorably with commendable performances against both England and South Africa (tier 1 nations who eventually advanced to the final, with South Africa winning the game and the Webb Ellis Cup). One of the high points for the team was the unearthing of a gem in the (originally Zimbabwean) pocket rocket winger Takudzwa Ngwenya, who scored a scintillating try against the South Africans by completely out pacing Springbok speedster Bryan Habana on the outside and dotting down for a try under the posts that brought the crowd to their feet. Other notable performances came from captain Mike Hercus and Todd Clever respectively, both of whom were involved in the setup of Ngwenya's try. The try earned Try of the Year honors in world rugby at the IRB Awards, which were handed out the night after the World Cup final. The campaign can be considered a success due to the commitment and effort shown by the players and coaching staff, with a great team spirit shown in their four performances.

Governing Bodies

Rugby union played anywhere is governed by the IRB, which is based out of Dublin, Ireland. It is the governing and law-making body for rugby globally. There are over 100 member unions of the IRB, with USA Rugby being the member union of the United States. USA Rugby is responsible for overseeing rugby union domestically and training the various national teams that they put on the pitch.

Within USA Rugby, there are seven territorial area unions (TAU's) that are charged with governing a specific region of the country. Within these TAU's, there are also Local Area Unions (LAU's), which are responsible for governing a specific region within their respective TAU's. A complete list of TAU's and their respective LAU's are as follows:


Over 60,000 citizens are registered with USA Rugby (One needs to be certified by USA Rugby to participate in most matches and tournaments), and 18 teams are entered in the premier domestic competition, the Rugby Super League, for 2007.cite news| url= |title=Rugby reborn in the USA | |date=2006-10-13 |accessdate=2007-02-08 |last=Holt |first=Sarah] cite web| url= |title=Playing Numbers |accessdate=2007-02-08 |] There are 815 referees within USA Rugby.

There are over 1,200 pre-teens currently playing organized rugby union (1,097 male, 197 female). There are over 20,000 high school athletes playing rugby union for their schools or U19 clubs (14,875 male, 6468 female).

The popularity of the game was given a minor boost when it was featured in Friends in the episode The one with all the rugby.


Club and semi-professional

There are 27,488 males and 9,852 females playing senior-level rugby union.


Rugby Super League

The Rugby Super League is a semi-professional competition that was created in 1996 by the major TAU's within USA Rugby with the intention of creating a competitive national competition. There are currently eighteen teams in the competition competing in three conferences. The inclusion of some sub-par clubs and the exclusion of top-performing clubs has been a controversial issue since the inception of the Super League, calling into question whether it is really USA's "premier" competition. USA Rugby Premier Division is another US competition.

North America 4

North America 4 is an elite-level IRB-financed tournament which was introduced in 2006. The competition is contested between four teams, two from both the United States and Canada. The 2006 event will take place over two stages; the first in British Columbia and the second in Columbus, Ohio.

National Teams

Collegiate All-Americans

The following is the current (as of 7 May 2006) list of Collegiate All-Americans.

USA Eagles

USA Rugby's national team is nicknamed the Eagles. The National Men’s Team first took the field in 1976. Competing in international tournaments like the Churchill Cup and the Pan American Championship, as well as specially scheduled matches against rugby powers such as France and Ireland, the Eagles have qualified for four of the five Rugby World Cups, most recently at the 2007 Rugby World Cup held in France. The United States are currently a tier-2 rugby nation. Through professionalism, the Eagles have been making improvements in coaching, management and player development, and as a result have improved on the field.

Potential for development

Although rugby union still occupies a small, albeit growing, place in the American sporting landscape, the potential for development is immense. The US has enormous numbers of athletes who have the combination of size and speed needed to succeed in the sport. The country's sevens national team coach, Al Caravelli, explained this potential in a 2008 interview for the International Rugby Board:

ee also

* Comparison of American football and rugby union





* [ Rugby reborn in the USA (from the BBC)]

External links

* [ Anchorage Thunderbirds official site]
* [ Official site]
* [ US rugby union news from Planet Rugby]
* [ Coverage of all American rugby union at GoffonRugby]
* [ We love rugby] Details on USA team
* [] Rugby Union News
* [] Club schedules, photos and tournament listings

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