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During this early January lull of matches at home and abroad, it’s time to assess the state of key elements of rugby in the United States and compare it to remarks from years gone by. At the outset, with the cessation of Gainline, Kurt Oeler’s informative USA rugby blog that offered the community a platform for internecine comments, the drumbeats for criticism and change have all but disappeared. Complacency and contentment rule the American rugby discourse.
Review what has happened to many past core topics for complaint.
No USA Men’s Coach – Mike Tolkin from Xavier and the NYAC was appointed coach, and then, with a losing record no different from past foreign coaches, was dismissed. The cacophony of proposals that an American born mentor would “understand” the dynamic of rugby in the United States and thus produce a winning Eagles side, proved not to be true.
No American CEO of USA Rugby – Recall the years of squawking about those foreigners (i.e.; Nigel Melville and Kevin Roberts). American Dan Payne ascended to the position, and puff, after a few years, he resigned. Payne is now working for World Rugby. Enter interim CEO Ross Young, a Brit, and not a murmur of domestic protest. The affable and competent Young served as CEO of Atavus since 2013 and is familiar with the landscape of American rugby.
A Domestic Professional League – Recollect the decades of yearning for a professional league in the United States as the key element to improve Men’s play. The USA will begin its second year of Major League Rugby (Actually, a third professional year counting the one season of PRO Rugby and its five-team season). Nine clubs will suit up in 2019, with two new clubs waiting in the wings for 2020. Will MLR in the short-term be the long-pursued answer to elevating club rugby to a higher standard? Or, is MLR merely the failed Super League amateur club organization in fancier dress?
Need for Stars – The posit offered that if the USA could produce marquee players, the sports media would take notice, and rugby would attract greater awareness. And wonderfully, this happened thanks to the USA 7s Eagles: Perry Baker (World Rugby’s 7s player of year twice), Danny Barrett, Carlin Isles, and Mattie Hughes. Their notoriety was enhanced by the Rio 2016 Olympics that featured rugby sevens for Women and Men.
The Women 7s also produced many breakout players of note: e.g.: Alev Kelter, Kristen Thomas, and Naya Tapper to name a few of many.
A Winning Record in 2018– The Eagles won the Americas Rugby Championship, beating the other five nations, including the Argentina XV. And a first ever victory against a Tier I fifteen, Scotland. Plus, an upset win against Samoa for another first-time win.
The Dysfunctional USA Rugby Board – Almost all of the past board resigned. Never forget the RIM debacle, nor the significant revenue shortfall at the World Cup in San Francisco.
So, the variables that caused past dissent and discussion have witnessed turnarounds and success. What are the hot button issues that will foster additional commentary and concern?