In the United States, rugby is not a new game. If anything, it is one of the fastest growing and popular sports in the country. Citizens have come to appreciate the game and it shows from the match attendances and the wagers put on the game. The game is not only played at professional and international levels but also trickles down to amateur, college, high school and youth club levels. So far, the country boasts of more than 100,000 players registered with USA Rugby. That is how popular the game has become. It gets even more interesting when you realize that there are more than 2,000 rugby union clubs in the country.
Given this interest in the game, many competitions take place on the national and international scenes. Take the USA Sevens, a game known to draw more than 50,000 fans to Las Vegas. Its broadcast also reaches a considerable number of people, proof that this game has made quite its mark in the country. The national team plays in international matches every year which draw more than 20,000 fans. The same goes for the Collegiate Rugby Championship which draws a similar fanbase.
From these and more stats, it is clear that rugby has just began to carve its place in the country.
If you follow the origins of rugby, you will see that it dates back to the nineteenth century. The story goes that a young William Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School, decided to take football to another level by playing with his hands. That was back in 1823. It is not quite clear if this story holds any water. However, it is evident that rugby soon caught on and in the decades that followed, the game grew from a school sport and became a professional sport.
It made its way to the US in the mid-19th century and continued to gain popularity in the decades that followed. Historical records show that the first recorded match took place between two schools in 1874. That was the beginning of a long-standing history of interschool rugby matches. However, at the start of the twentieth century, there was a shift in its fanbase owing to the perception of American football. At the time, there was a tug of war between differing ideas. Some people felt that American football was too violent a sport and favored rugby as an alternative. Even so, rugby lost out on some fans.
This shift did not dampen the spirits of rugby players who kept at it, going ahead to win the gold medal in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. Following this last win, there was yet another decline in its fanbase. Some areas kept playing, such as New York, San Francisco and St Louis. After this, there was a long hiatus in the game before it started gaining pace again towards the end of the 60s. At the time, many colleges were forming rugby teams and had started actively competing with each other. With this improved popularity, it was not long before the United States of America Rugby Football Union was formed. It now goes by USA Rugby. This formation took place in 1975, paving the way for the vibrant gaming scene today. It was only a year after this event that the national team played against Australia. It was quite a milestone, given that its last match had been in the 1924 Olympics. This change set the pace for the years that followed.
From the formation of this union, the game soon began to catch up with other sports. The men’s national team, for example, has been playing in 4-year tournaments since 1987. It now attracts up to 20,000 people during these games. Other teams have also been instrumental in the growth of this sport. They include the men’s sevens team, the women’s national team and the women’s sevens team.
Rugby union falls under World Rugby, a board that has its base in Dublin, Ireland. It not only governs plays but also makes rules that affect the play of the game. So far, it has more than 100 members, with the USA forming part of this membership. In the US, USA Rugby represents this global governing body, having got its membership in 1987. It takes charge of the union’s activities and actively trains teams to make sure they abide to the set rules.
Most registered rugby players come from California, Pennsylvania, and New York. Colorado and Utah also contribute greatly to the number of active participants in the sport. It helps to note that there are many women taking part in the sport. Take an example of senior level rugby. Of the more than 40,000 participants, more than 11,000 of these are women. The situation is not different at high school levels. In fact, the USA has the highest number of female rugby players compared to other countries in the world.
The game has just begun and has a lot of potential, player-wise and fanbase-wise. For more information you can visit my blog.