Rugby America

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Rugby America

by dom_pedro on Tue Aug 22, 2006 2:14 pm

Nearly two years ago now I started a year long secondment in the US and penned a small article for the Sunbury Centre at the time. A post by MrDean on the Craic reminded me that I'd intended gratifying my ego :wink: by putting a copy of it on the current Sunbury Centre. So here it is with a few modifications and additions. Apologies to those who've read it before.

Rugby America (previously a Letter from America).

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I’m sure you all know that many years ago, William Webb Ellis picked up a football at some posh school and a new sport was born and he had a trophy named after him. What you may not be aware however is that as the game spread across the globe long before there was a second code, it emerged as a popular sport on the west coast of America, thanks in part to English soldiers and colonists. Unfortunately, it appears that the rules were a bit muddled and that the participants found it too complex, so many of them drifted away to other past-times (cattle rustling maybe). Major changes were made to the rules as the scrum was replaced by a line of scrimmage and attempts were made to emphasize the free-running game.

In 1905 though some particularly brutal pictures of a violent game between Swarthmore and Pennsylvania caused such a stir that the then President Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban the game unless more changes were made to lower the brutality of it. This sounds a little harsh, but digging around a little more I found out that in the collegiate ‘football’ season that year 23 players died of injuries sustained on the field. The game’s brutality was due to the nature of what we would probably call a maul. When a player carrying the ball hit the line of scrimmage, players on both teams were said to pull, tug, crash and punch the pile of players to move it in the proper direction. Beatings in the pile or maul were part of the game and many collegiate teams had been accused of hiring railroad workers and thugs to play for their ‘amateur’ teams. Under the threat of abolition though the colleges bowed to pressure and with the introduction of the forward pass and other rule changes the game of rugby died off in the USA. Within a few years the game more closely resembled the ‘Football’ that they now play with 4 downs to make 10 yards, long passes down field, punts, field goals, timeouts and penalties for violent or dangerous play like grabbing an opponent by the helmet guard or ‘holding’ them. By 1922 professional teams were playing in the NFL and college football was no longer of interest to the majority of Americans.

Rugby seems to have resurfaced in the 1960s again in the colleges of North America and has been steadily growing ever since. It has recently been referred to as the fastest growing sport in America (but is probably a long, long way behind Football, Baseball, Basketball, Soccer and Hockey as currently the most popular).

Everyone knows that George 'Dubya' Bush was a rugby player, as was Bill Clinton.
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Spot the nutter!
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Is it true that the U.S.A. won a gold medal at rugby in the Olympics?
Yes, it's true; the US did win the Olympic gold medal for rugby last time it was competed for and so is the current Olympic champion! In fact the US has won the last two rugby gold medals at the Olympics. Here are the details.

In Paris in 1924 three teams entered the Olympics Rugby tournament - France, USA and Romania. Each country played two games. Both France and USA beat Romania, who were awarded the bronze medal. France won 59-3, scoring 13 tries. The USA then defeated Romania 39-0. The final was played at Colombes stadium, Paris on 18 May 1924 and the USA took the gold with a 17-3 victory infront of 30,000. The match finished in uproar, when Gideon Nelson, one of the reserves, was flattened by a walking stick. The American anthem was jeered, and rugby ceased at the Olympics.

Before that in 1920 in Antwerp only two teams entered - USA and France. The USA caused a shock by winning the only match 8-0 to take the gold medal.

Arguably the most famous American rugby player is Mark Bingham who died on September 11th 2001 on board United Airlines Flight 93. United 93 was the plane that didn't hit its intended terrorist target that day and many theories suggest that Mark was one of those passengers responsible for making sure that the plane went down in an empty field just outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The 9/11 Commission's official report states that pilot LeRoy Homer, flight attendants CeeCee Lyles and Sandra Bradshaw and passengers Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett, Andrew Garcia, Jeremy Glick, Richard Guadagno and Mark Bingham, among others, fought back against the hijackers.

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Mark Bingham of the San Francisco Fog Rugby Team (right)

In a tribute to Mark Bingham, the International Gay Rugby Association renamed their annual tournament The Bingham Cup and the trophy is played for by teams of any sexual persuasion from around the world.

Mark Bingham wrote:When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always thought that my interest in other guys would be an anathema -- completely repulsive to the guys on my team -- and to the people I was knocking the shit out of on the other team. I loved the game, but knew I would need to keep my sexuality a secret forever. I feared total rejection.

As we worked and sweated and ran and talked together this year, I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby player. My two irreconcilable worlds came together. Now we've been accepted into the union and the road is going to get harder. We need to work harder. We need to get better. We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play sports, but never felt good enough or strong enough. More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good as they are.

Gay men weren't always wallflowers waiting on the sideline. We have the opportunity to let these other athletes know that gay men were around all along -- on their little league teams, in their classes, being their friends.


{sorry the article is a bit disjointed, it's what comes from trying to edit/add to something that you wrote two years ago - dp}
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by Christine on Tue Aug 22, 2006 2:52 pm

Nice article DP.

To bring things up to date, a few of our Parma friends play for the current American international side.
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by AlecW on Tue Aug 22, 2006 4:41 pm

Nice one, Pedro!

FYI, Boris Karloff was a keen rugby player, having played rugby at Uppingham and in his native Hungary.
In 1937 he co-founded the South California RFU (his signature is on the Articles of Association).
He also formed a rather unlikely, but probably quite terrifying 2nd row combination with Victor McLagen (of "The Quiet Man" fame - he & John Wayne have the famous brawl) for the Hollywood Rugby Club in the 30s...
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by dom_pedro on Mon Oct 09, 2006 8:27 pm

A Rugby America Update of sorts

The USA rugby team qualified for RWC 2007 over the weekend with a second win over Uruguay in the reperchage matches having beaten the South Americans 42-13 in Montevideo and then 33-7 at home in Palo Alto, but all is not so rosey for the Americans, as USA Rugby doesn't sound to be in great shape though it sounds like they may have a plan to get better. First of all they have a to do list : http://www.usarugby.org/cgi-bin/02/pres ... mentId=453 and top of the list is hiring a new President of Rugby Operations and CEO, so perhaps the RFU's cast offs from the Elite Job vacancy might be interested. To be honest I'd doubt it, but good luck to USA Rugby in attracting the 2009 World Cup 7s (for both men and women).

But this to-do list isn't why it sounds like USA Rugby is struggling right now. The results have been poor recently apart from the two leg repercharge games against Uruguay. In August the Eagles had travelled up to Newfoundland in Canada for a must win game against the Canucks and came away having been hammered 56-7 in remote St Johns (which is 1000 miles East-North-East of New York). 5,000 supporters watched the uneven match at the out of town Swiler Rugby Complex as the strength of the Canadian squad took the visitors apart apparently. Canada had their strongest squad with 15 professionals and 15 semi-pros available, while the USA couldn't match that and even their coach Peter Thorburn is an 'interim' coach (I found rumours that the out-going coach had not left behind even the contact details for the Eagles squad of players). In fact of the Eagles' squad only three appear to be full time professionals based in Europe (Mike Hercus and Paul Emerick at Newport-Gwent Dragons and Albert Tuipulotu at Parma).

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Parma's US international Albert Tuipulotu

The defeat up in St Johns, the oldest 'town' in North America at 509 years old must have been a real disappointment not only for USA Rugby and the new interim coach, but also for Cecil and Carolyn Meador of 29 Palms, California who travelled by road the 10,000 or so miles to Newfoundland and back (via British Columbia). That's quite a drive and makes our 600 or so mile round trip to Newcastle look like a trip to the shops.

One of the other points of the USA Rugby to-do list is the launch of commercial/marketing committee to explore the brand of USA Rugby, and this unfortunately could be where the real problems for USA Rugby lie.

In October 2005, a federal court reached a verdict in favour of the United States Polo Association and Jordache Limited in their decade long dispute against Ralph Lauren's Polo clothing company. The dispute involved the polo horseman logo of PRL and the double horseman logo of the USA Polo Association as Ralph Lauren pleaded that the USPA infringed on their copyright by using an image of polo players on their clothing line. The cheek of it, a Polo organisation using an image of the sport to promote its merchandise. Well, thankfully for the USPA, they won the case, but can you imagine if a Rugby clothing manufacturer couldn't use a logo of a rugby player with a ball, the famous hooped style jersey or even use the word "Rugby" when trying to promote their own rugby jerseys. Well, in 2004 Ralph Lauren's organisation trademarked the term "Rugby" for their new line of clothing and have apparently been threatening legal action against other rugby clothing manufacturers in North America including USA Rugby. The governing body could find itself in a legal predicament similar to that of the USPA that took a decade to resolve and according to reports "rugby promotion (in USA) would cease, just as the sport is catching fire at the youth and school level".

As an American based, rugby playing, female blogger called "Blondie" wrote recently "seems Ralphie doesn't want us using the word "rugby" on any clothing ... in which case, I still like your clothing, but you can kiss my ass." Barbarian rugby clothing company has received the go ahead to challenge Ralph Lauren's "Rugby" trademark in court with the case due to start sometime in this year. I shall be keeping an eye on how things develop.
Last edited by dom_pedro on Tue Oct 10, 2006 10:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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by Christine on Tue Oct 10, 2006 9:02 am

Quick correction DP it is Albert Tuipulotu, not Alex. :D
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by dom_pedro on Tue Oct 10, 2006 10:10 am

Thanks Christine. I've amended it.
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by Big Papi on Tue Oct 10, 2006 10:36 am

There was an interesting article in the Times on Sunday.....................

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0, ... 93601.html

Would love to do the link thing but I have no idea how to.
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by Big Papi on Tue Oct 10, 2006 10:37 am

Jaysus - it worked without me doing anything.............impressive or what?
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by dom_pedro on Tue Oct 10, 2006 1:09 pm

Thanks for the link Papi. Interesting article which suggests that the vacancy that USA Rugby are trying to fill could well be of interest to those who were talked of during the hunt for the Elite bod for the RFU.

He wants to start a professional rugby set-up in the country, with four regional teams, plus their own academies springing from the IRB grant, with a real prospect of a new Tri-Nations involving Canada, improving rapidly with their own IRB grant, and Argentina; plus a Super 12 with four teams from each country, growing from the existing NA4 event.

Sounds like a great plan and it'd be interesting to see how professional rugby faired in the USA against the established football, baseball, hockey, basketball and soccer. I'd also be interested in where they are considering setting up the four regions. California, Pacific North West, North East and Mid-West (Chicago) areas?

I don't think 'thumpings' at the hands of England, South Africa and Samoa at next year's RWC will help their cause but difficult to see how much improvement could be made in the short-term.
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by Big Papi on Tue Oct 10, 2006 2:21 pm

The idea of a Tri-nations with Canada and Argentina sounds good. Longer term it might solve the problem of giving The Pumas some more meaningful competition without them having to travel half way round the World.

On the down side more call ups for Gonzo and JML.
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by dom_pedro on Tue Oct 10, 2006 4:19 pm

You could be right though it is still a very long way (5,500 miles) from Buenos Aires to St Johns, Newfoundland.

I read a post on the IRB forums that mentioned that for sometime Canada's favoured prop pairing were a player from Newfoundland (Rod Snow I think) and one from British Columbia which is an estimated distance of 3,500 miles. Even getting an international team together can be a trial for some of these 'emerging' nations, let alone finding regular opponents for them.
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by Big Papi on Fri Oct 13, 2006 4:25 pm

So its Nigel Melville then...................................

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/6047692.stm
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by dom_pedro on Wed Oct 18, 2006 9:28 pm

I was looking at some YouTube videos this evening of this summer's Churchill Cup (Eng v Sco and Can v Eng includes Delon's try) when I found details of the inaugural NA4 Rugby Competition.

The NA4 is funded by the IRB along with both Canada and USA Rugby governing bodies and made up of four teams with the Falcons and Hawks from the US playing against Canada East and Canada West. At the moment they are funded by the governing bodies but they will be sold as privately owned franchises in 2008. Maybe this is the start of building up some teams towards a competition like the Super12.

Here are a few of the vids from the inaugural competion:

Canada West vs US Falcons (amusing bit at the end where the IRB's loaned camera gets covered in a beer shower - doh! :roll: )
Canada East v US Hawks
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