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The report card isn’t in on the USA vs. All Blacks game. The final score is, a resounding 74-6 win for New Zealand. And the attendance is final – there was every bit of 61,500 in Soldier Field Saturday. The TV ratings will be tabulated before long, as will the final take from ticket and merchandise sales for USA Rugby. But the long-term impact of the monumental match isn’t clear.
Nonetheless, that’s what most of the questions in the post-game press conference were about. What does the game mean for USA Rugby?
“That’s up to USA Rugby, sponsorships and investors and what else. We were on primetime TV selling out Soldier Field playing against the World Champions. The question is, what are we going to do about it?” said captain Todd Clever.
“We need to have more sponsorships coming into the game and set up a professional league and getting guys playing full time and feeding into the National Team so we could compete with the Tier One nations.”
Was the score line really indicative of the gap between the United States and the top rugby nations?
“I think today, it was a reflection,” answered USA coach Mike Tolkin. “You have the best in the world playing against a group of guys who consist of some professionals, some amateurs, and guys who’ve played a handful of games this year, so I think it does reflect it. I think our guys had to dig deep to get where we were.”
Is America decades away from being able to hang with the likes of the All Blacks?
“I don’t see it as decades,” said Tolkin. “Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I see the athletes there, and the guys who have been professionals have performed, and you saw some of those performances out there. Hopefully it’s far less than that.”
While the question marks will keep coming, there are some certainties. One is that the Eagles laid it all on the line, and they’re coach and captain are proud of them for that.
“When they scored an early try, we went back down there and got points ourselves. They scored another try, and we got points again,” said Clever. “It was 14-6, and we were feeling good. We wanted to play phases, and throughout the game we were able to put some phases together and put them on their back foot but couldn’t quite crack them.”
Another certainty is that Saturday’s spectacle was a once-in-a career moment for the Eagles.
“I never thought in my playing career we’d be able to fill Soldier Field and play against the All Blacks, but got to tick it off, and I’ll take that memory,” said the skipper. “Things didn’t go our way. We got punished, but that memory and moving USA Rugby forward, it’s going to last a lifetime.”
The memory of Saturday’s sellout will linger in the minds of fans, the All Blacks, and the rugby world, too. The game’s official hashtag trended worldwide, and tomorrow newspapers and media outlets from around the world will have reports. But, in the end, how it’s remembered, is to be determined.