Editorial: USA/All Blacks Match Needs To Happen
by Ted Hardy
By now, most of you have heard that there is a proposed USA Eagles match against the New Zealand All Blacks on the table. If you haven’t heard about it by now… what rock have you been hiding under? Anyways, moving on. Rumors of the match have been swirling for some time. In the beginning it all sounded like some dream scenario.
The All Blacks? Coming to America?
Seriously, there have been rumors for years about the All Blacks wanting to come to America, but it has always involved them playing someone else. There was the proposed Bledisloe Cup match to be played in Denver a few years back then there was talk of New Zealand taking on an International All Star team like the Barbarians. In the past few months, it has turned to our very own USA Eagles taking them on.
Awesome right? You bet your butt it is awesome. You can credit the increased attendance at International rugby events in America for the All Blacks even considering coming here. Record numbers have turned out in the last few years to the USA 7s in Las Vegas, Italy then Ireland playing the Eagles in Houston, and the Maori All Blacks game against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Numbers have been off the charts. Now it is time to really test things.
Yes, there are a number of issues surrounding making this game official. Issues that need sorted out or we may miss a great opportunity. While many have taken issue with the timing of the game (November 1st) or the location (Chicago’s Soldier Field), the issue that may derail this game is the fact that overseas Eagles may not be released from their European clubs in order to play the match.
It appears as if the All Blacks will only play the game if it can be competitive, which means they want all of the top American players in Chicago on November 1st. Clubs in the Premiership face fines if they release players outside of the test window, which could mean that the English Premiership could undercut this game. Awesome… huh?
That means no Manoa, no Wyles, no Scully, or even Ngwenya and LaValla among a handful of other Eagles that play for Premiership or French clubs. Since it is outside of the test window, the IRB cannot force the clubs to release players.
All speculation and black ops espionage stuff aside, it seems pretty petty if that were to happen. So much for the rugby ethos of brotherhood, right? A Tier 2 nation, like the USA, could see a massive swell of positive press and momentum if this game were to go off like gangbusters. If anyone happened to want to keep the USA at bay, this is a perfect opportunity to keep us in our place a little while longer.
Think about it a little bit. We’ve all heard the pro rugby rumors over the years. Whether they are bunk or not is a subject that has been beat to death. The one unifying factor is the lack of investors to launch a competition. There are some really great concepts out there, I have seen multiple detailed proposals myself, but without funding they are just words on paper. Slowly, but surely, there are some investors coming around, but there needs to be that X Factor to push them over the edge. Paid research has proven that the market is favorable and receptive to rugby, but these are business people. They want to know that they’ll get a return on their investments. Filling stadiums in Houston, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia have shown that there is a market for rugby. However, Houston and Philadelphia are smaller stadiums and Las Vegas is part of a three-day tournament/festival and not a real apples to apple comparison.
As much as it is a test match, the All Blacks/Eagles match in Chicago is a showcase for American rugby fans. Put 40,000 or more people in the NFL stadium and it opens a whole new set of eyes when it comes to where rugby stands in the American sports market. It also shows potential investors, both here and abroad, that rugby can be a money-maker in the USA.
Simply put, we need this game to happen regardless of location, date, or circumstances.
The solution? Talk the All Blacks into playing regardless. As much as I’d love to see our top Eagle side play the All Blacks, even our top side is likely to take a hiding from New Zealand. Do the All Blacks really want to miss out on the opportunity to show off in front of America over a handful of players? Nobody wants to see them drop 100 points on a under-strength USA side, but is that a risk we should be willing to take?
If anything, the All Blacks should agree to the game purely as a good old-fashioned rub against their Northern Hemisphere rivals. When it all comes down to it, this is a battle to see who gets to show off to the American sports public first. No doubt a game like this will garner national media attention and end up on national television. This is not only a great opportunity for American rugby, but for the All Blacks who desperately need to expand their audience.
Whether the game goes forward will likely be hotly debated in the comings weeks as negotiations continue. Keep your fingers crossed everyone. This one may get messy before it is settled. Whether the IRB steps in as a mediator to try to settle the dispute may say a lot about their intentions in regards to the American rugby market.
Doesn’t really matter, just as long as it gets settled. Then we can all start worrying about playing a test match in Chicago… in November.
Until then, let’s pray we even get to that stage.