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At the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., Wales and South Africa officially announced the June 2nd international test at RFK Stadium, held in conjunction with Rugby International Marketing. The First Minister of Wales, Rt. Hon. Carwyn Jones AM, and South Africa Ambassador to the United States, Mninwa Johannes Mahlangu, announced the event at the embassy on behalf of their countries.
The game is being held on the same day as two big, annual events on the American rugby calendar, USA Rugby's club 15s national championships and the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. The latter is being held 117 miles away from Wales versus South Africa.
"Obviously, there are limits on the availability on tier one teams to come to the U.S. for matches like this, and typically that window is only there either in June or prior to the Autumn internationals, so there’s never an ideal moment," said RIM chief executive David Sternberg. "Obviously, we want to be as supportive as we can of the game at all levels in America, so we’re doing as much as we can to minimize the impact."
United World Sports, which owns and operate the CRC, as well as this publication, offered to collaborate with USA Rugby and host the events together in Philadelphia, where the nationally-televised CRC has drawn thousands of fans every year since 2011. However, the offer was declined by RIM, which opted to keep it in the 45,000-seat RFK instead. Only twice ever has a crowd that large or larger ever assembled for a 15s match in America, both times involving the famed All Blacks.
The Springboks haven't been to the States since playing the Eagles in 2001 in Houston in front of 13,000 people, and the Welsh haven't visited since 2009. The record for an international test match on American soil not involving New Zealand is 23,212 for USA versus Australia at Soldier Field in Chicago in 2015.
“DC is a really important market for the sport. From a USA Rugby standpoint, it is one of our top 10 development markets and the No. 2 market in per capita registrations in the USA. We know there is an avid following for the sport here and a solid base we can mobilize around the game," he said. "There also was a venue available where we don’t have to worry about soccer or baseball.
“The goal of RIM is to fund the growth of USA Rugby and help support the expansion of the sport on all levels,” Sternberg said. “By exposing potentially new fans to the game at this match in DC, it will help that goal aside from the financial benefit.
“From a strategic standpoint, it is important for RIM to be in this space and to be the commercial engine behind the presentation of events like this,” Sternberg continued. “We have a lot of experience doing USA test matches, we co-promoted the New Zealand versus Ireland match about a year and a half ago in Chicago. We are ready to take the next step and do events of this caliber to reinforce that role and increase our return on investment.”
Wales and South Africa first played in 1906, and after a long series of Springbok victories, the Welsh have earned their share of wins recently. Both nations pride themselves on their history of the game and look forward to the match.
“Rugby is at the heart of Wales’ nationhood,” said First Minister Jones. “It is a very strong working class game in Wales. At a time where Wales had very little by way of political identity, two sporting teams in soccer and rugby were hugely important in keeping Welsh identify alive.”
“As for South Africa as well, rugby formed a strong part of their national identity over the years,” Jones added. “It is incredible to think that the US will host a game between our two nations. We will look forward to the game itself as it will be a fantastic advert for the game here in the US and particularly in the city of Washington, D.C. I know there will be very many people around the world watching the game not just in our two nations, but also in the USA and beyond.”