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It seems a little weird to have players from one territory playing for another territory, but in fact it’s not a particularly rare occurrence.
Players have on several occasions opted to play club rugby in one territory, and all-star rugby in another.
Often, the reason has to do with the coaching, or history, or who wants the player.
This past weekend at the National 7s All-Star Championships, the Southern
California team used a couple of players from outside their territory.
The NASC is a national championship, but it’s also a tryout. The USA National 7s team is looking for players, and asked coaches to make selection decisions with that in mind. Picking non-USA eligible players won’t help the USA win the Pan-Am games.
Most territories tried to accommodate USA Coach Al Caravelli’s wants, but in the West, they opted not to pick Corey Council, a crossover player with some potential but not a polished game.
Unfazed, Council, along with two other players, drove from Colorado to Southern California to the SoCal tryout and combine.
This leads us to another point. All the tryout/combines were open. Players could, and did, participate despite being from outside the sponsoring territory. Council was not barred from the tryout.
Council was picked by the SoCal team. Remember, the West didn’t want him, and he tried out for another team, which picked him.
Out in Hawaii, there are several players with some talent. A team from Hawaii was given a seed to the national club championships in part because they have players who deserve a shot at competing, and in part because asking them to fly to the mainland twice in the space of two or three weeks would have bankrupted a not-very-flush program.
Those players also needed a chance to participate at the territorial level. Remember, Caravelli had already publicly stated that players not injured or locked into a pro team or the USA 15s team had to be at the NASC to be considered. Hawaiian players, then, needed a venue.
They could have tried out with the Pacific Coast or Southern California. Both territories are about 2,500 miles away. Apelu So’oalo chose the SoCal tryout because it was later in the summer. His club and his union pulled together the money to send him to San Diego for the tryout, and he stayed in Craig Hartley’s house through the week.
Should we not have allowed these players to play? Of course not. The Hawaii
players need some place to try out. And Corey Council wasn’t wanted by the
West. Should we now have a rule locking out players if you don’t pick
Some people think you should, but, as I so often have to remind people: the game is not professional in the USA. No club or territory owns rights to a player. Rugby competition exists in the USA because players want to play the game, and too often we have rules that seek to prevent players from playing rugby.
The horrific debacle of locking out the players that transferred from Aspen to Glendale is one example of this; the changing of Super League/DI player rules midseason in the West is another, and the banning of Super League players from playing even one game (even on a rehab assignment) in DI in the Midwest is another.
(You ever notice that a DI club that has a territorial all-star on its roster is proud, but if that same club has to play against a player who participated in the Super League, they quake in their boots?)
At the All-Star level, there should be no grumbling. There are rules governing the competition: the number of non-Eagle-eligible players is restricted. The national coach, given that this is also a tryout, has the right to consult with TU coaches, and all players should have an opportunity to play. If you are not picked by one team, and another team wants you, that’s good for the level of competition.
Looking ahead, USA Rugby looks be migrating to a Geographical Union system. In this system there are no territories, just smaller GUs. We can’t, however, have 16 or 24 GU teams, can we? (Can we?).
Maybe we can. Maybe the GU system will give us the freedom to establish a broader, freer base of all-star play. Maybe we can have a 7s NASC with 24 teams, or a return to a men’s senior all-star championship that is a true season.
Maybe we can finally recognize that players should be allowed to go to the best level of competition available to them; that winning doesn’t really count if you did it by coming up with a bunch of rules that ensured your opponents weren’t as strong; and just as we owe the weekend player a chance to play rugby for fun, so we also owe the higher-level player a competition unencumbered by picayune BS.