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In the first ever Premiership match held outside of England, the Saracens defeated the London Irish 26-16 at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. Despite being at opposite ends of the table, the teams provided American fans with a good taste of pro rugby.
Coming into the match the London Irish was in the relegation zone while the Saracens were at the top of the standings. The first half, however, the Irish took the game to the Saracens and went into halftime with a 13-7 lead. The 14,000 plus crowd, which was primarily a sea of green supporting the Irish, was fired up.
Saracens settled into the match in the second half, though, earning four penalties. The London side only mustered a penalty and after a charged down kick yielded a try in the waning moments to seal the defeat.
For the first Premiership match on American soil, the game did not disappoint. Both coaching staffs indicated the match could have gone either way. The result was a microcosm of both team’s seasons, the Saracens pulling out a victory and the London Irish just falling short. Nonetheless, the match provided a first hand account of the Premiership. With England’s top league inking a deal with NBC Sports to broadcast games, the exposure will only continue to grow.
“I think it was a nice brand of rugby played,” said former Eagle and current Saracens lock Hayden Smith. “Hopefully it was entertaining for the crowd. It was pretty tough to play in so that is usually a good sign. They did a great job. They scrapped for everything. They made it messy at the breakdown….It was pretty tough and hopefully a fantastic product.”
Both teams indicated that playing in the United States was a wonderful experience and something they hope the league will continue to do in the future. “It has been a fantastic week for us. Bar the results it has been really great. The weather has been fantastic. We got to pull a favor on the New York Jets and spend a week training at their marvelous facility. We are a flagship for the Premiership. First time off English soil, playing here in the US. I understand it is the fastest growing sport here in the US, Rugby Union, so there are lots of reasons to be positive,” London Irish coach Tom Coventry said in the post game press conference.
The premiership match provided the American rugby community with a glimpse into the standard of club rugby in Europe. With the emergence of Pro Rugby in the United States, many American fans can get excited at the prospect of continued growth for the sport at home. For a pair of Americans playing abroad this is a welcome sight.
“It was fantastic to get back and play a game on US soil. I think it was really good timing to have a Premiership game out here, to get some professional rugby on display before the pro rugby season kicks off,” Smith added.
“There are so many amazing sports and New York is such a big city. New York is known for its amazing sports. So, it is difficult but….hopefully we made a small dent into that,” said Eagle mainstay and Saracens back Chris Wyles. “I have been involved in USA rugby for a while now and there has always been excitement around what could happen. I think if the right things are put in place like this new pro rugby league becomes a sustainable league, and the Olympics gain us some great exposure, there could be some exciting things happen in USA Rugby.”
These are exciting times for USA rugby supporters. With the Premiership tentatively agreeing to return for a game next season, and the emergence of pro rugby in the States, the sport could be at a real crossroad. Only time will tell.