Did you know that rugby was originally played with a pig’s bladder? Or that it has been considered a gentleman’s sport to be played by hooligans? Or that it is the second most popular sport in the world after soccer? If you don’t know the first thing about this high-contact, high-energy sport, that is about to change! Recently, NBC inked a three-year deal to broadcast American rugby into living rooms just like yours in the hope that American fans will finally realize what they have been missing. While you are waiting, you can check out this blog by Brendan Triplett, a correspondent covering amateur and professional games, with lots to say about the ins and outs of the sport.
Rugby has all the things we love about our games. It is a team sport, and especially with the shift to 7-person teams instead of 15-person games, it is a fast-moving and highly athletic game more like basketball than football – in fact, the inventor of basketball credits rugby as one of his inspirations. Also, it is a game that is played with the hands rather than the feet. And finally, given some of the concerns about head injuries in football in the last number of years, rugby might give us exactly what we want – a high octane contact sport – but one played without helmets or other protective gear which can give football players a false sense of security. This might be changing as new technologies are developed, but everyone involved wants to make sure that this doesn’t change the game. Brendan Triplett has a great post on these new wearable technologies.
Given this, it is strange that rugby has not achieved the level of popularity here as it has elsewhere. Now, rugby may finally be getting ready to crack the US market. It hasn’t been played as an Olympic sport since the 1920s when the US won back-to-back gold medals, but this summer it made its return at the Rio games. We didn’t make it to the podium, finishing 9th overall. But the men’s team, the Eagles, have a good showing world-wide, finishing strong in the World Series since 2008, earning medals in the Pan American Games, and winning the 2015 NACRA Championships. Things are definitely on an upward-trajectory!
With about 115,000 registered players (with more than 25,000 girls and women), rugby is the fasted growing team sport in the country. Lots of new players are joining highschool and university teams, and many others are joining amateur clubs nation-wide. Keystone Rugby Conference is one of the best conferences feeding into the USA Rugby Collegiate Championship.
Even though Americans might be arriving to the global rugby party a bit late, it won’t be long before we get into the spirit of this high energy, athletic and fast-moving sport – be sure to keep your eyes out for games coming to your living room soon!