Rugby Nation USA Profile: Atlanta Youth Rugby Part 1 of 2

AYR.png

When you think of rugby hot beds most think of New England, Southern California, Texas, and Colorado. There are other pockets of growth that have quickly begun to emerge; Atlanta, Georgia is one of them.

In this two part interview I get a chance to ask Atlanta Youth Rugby President and Board Chairman Anthony Forbes-Roberts as well as youth coach and Red White and Black Eye podcaster Warren Mullis about the growth of rugby in Atlanta and their challenges and successes.

Rugby Nation USA (RN): The Atlanta Youth Rugby website has a nice bio of you but tell the readers a little bit about what drew you to rugby?

Coach Anton Forbes-Roberts (AR): Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, rugby was more prevalent than football from Middle school on. It was an easy choice for me. Rugby is a fluid game that can’t be played well without real sacrifice for the team, a lesson that I have always appreciated. I’ve played and coached many sports, and rugby builds teamwork like no other. 


As an adult many years later, living in Atlanta, I saw an AYR yard sign, contacted Stewart Haddock, found that both my boys could play, and signed them up for the 2014 season. 

RN: How long had AYR been around?

AR: Stewart started AYR in 2012 because of his son’s interest in rugby, and recruited a handful of boys. Coach Paul Raio saw them practicing one day and joined in. By the second season they had grown to about 35 players, and had begun our relationship with Life University with first Life student-athlete coach Colton Cariaga. 

RN: Has the growth exceeded your expectations?

AR: Based on the potential for Atlanta, we have a long way to go. My first and second years with the club as Advisory Board Chair, we put in a more formal structure and plan including tactics for recruiting, and grew to about 110 players. I was elected President last year, and this season we have about 135 including our new U8 Coed touch side. We have also started after school Rookie Rugby programs at local Boys & Girls Clubs and for the City of Atlanta that have served about 200 kids. We’ve grown the participation of paid Life student-athelte coaches to 3 in our ‘core’ program; and 5 in the after school program, from both the Life Men’s’ and Women’s national champion teams. We’ve added a paid Program Director from Life U – ex-national team player and current Life coach Laura Miller; and Colton Cariaga has joined the AYR Board this year to replace the departed Dan Payne who now runs USA Rugby. And, with the addition of new sides we have a new generation of leadership with coaches like Warren, who is the perfect blend of rugby and professional organizational skills. 

RN: How many teams are there in the Atlanta area?

AR: Rugby Georgia is the SRO that oversees youth rugby here. It was formed last year and a new Board, which I am part of, elected last September. There are many, many dedicated rugby people that have been volunteer leaders for a long time – including Daan Pretorius, Niall Fenton, Randall Joseph, Carrie Harwell, Steve Vermaak, Stevie Roberts, and others. Clubs ebb and flow, but right now there are 8 or so. My goal for Rugby Georgia is to standardize an operating approach, and then make clubs stronger by adding Middle and Elementary sides. Second, we will make the after school programs we developed at AYR scalable to the Metro.

RN: With rugby powerhouse Life University in the area what’s the rugby environment like in Atlanta?

AR: Well, there’s a lot about Life above, and it’s only going to get better. We are institutionalizing our partnership, and with their new Lupo Family field Life is a showcase for events like the RCTs coming up in June. Recently we held a tourney for Rugby Georgia youth teams, you can read about it here:

http://www.liferunningeagles.com/article/853.php

RN: Is it a challenge to get youth introduced when there are so many other sports in Atlanta with professional leagues. 

AR: Well, everything in life is a challenge. You just need to start with the end in mind, have a plan, and execute with the right people.

RN: Recruitment seems to be a common challenge across the country, how are you overcoming the challenges of recruitment?

AR: We have a number of tactics, but it still isn’t a cohesive strategy, especially across all the clubs. In the off-season this year, we want to build an executable ‘toolkit’ that includes online and offline methods.

RN: How many kids do you currently have in the program?

AR: As above about 135 in AYR core and about 200 annually in the after school Rookie Rugby programs, and about 450 in Rugby Georgia.

RN: Aside from recruitment, what are some of your biggest challenges with AYR?

AR: Any organization has to have the right mix of personality and process. Rugby is a ‘lore’ sport, compared to something like football which relies so heavily on set plays. That lore mentality is prevalent in how most rugby clubs are run, by strong personalities. When those personalities leave, the club fails. On the other hand, passion runs very strong in rugby and is the key ingredient to success. So you have to harness the passion, but create belief in and adherence to structure and process. Some people get it, some people don’t. The ones that don’t are the biggest challenge.    

RN: What are some of your biggest successes with AYR?

AR: My goal is to build both AYR and Rugby Georgia into a state where I can leave them in the hands of leaders like Warren. We have over 30 volunteer adults in AYR alone. There’s really no such thing as ‘success’ to me, but the more we can create a foundation that people can say “Sure – give me that to run” and then can actually do it, the better.

RN: What are we as a nation doing right and wrong in terms of rugby development?

AR: Ask Dan Payne – he has been a great sounding board for me and I do believe we think very much alike, but he is the real deal and I’m just a dad who is trying to give back. I’m definitely aligned with his goals to grow Elementary.

RN: Finally, what else would you like the Rugby Nation to know about AYR?

AR: We are about respect. Respect for everyone who is putting their shoulder to the wheel of growing the youth game in America, past, present and future.

RN: Thank you so much for your time and the energy and commitment you put into developing rugby in your area.

Upcoming Profiles:

Mar 27: Atlanta Youth Rugby Pt 2

Apr 3: Nampa Rugby Head Coach Chris Kovac

Rugby Nation USA Profile: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt. 2

Meridian.png

Rugby in Idaho is growing, quickly. The sport as exploded and Meridian High School Head Coach David Heaton and Assistant Coach Vanessa Monrroy have their fingers on the growing pulse. Their perspectives are vastly different…Coach Heaton having never played, transitioning his passion for the sport into coaching and Coach Monrroy recently graduating from Meridian as a player and carrying her passion for the sport forward…but their goal the same. Rugby growth in Idaho and the US.

Both were kind enough to share their experiences and thoughts with Rugby Nation USA. Last week I profiled Coach Heaton, this week is my interview with Merridian Assistant Coach and current Boise State University Rugby player Vanessa Monrroy. 

RN: Coach Monrroy, what’s your rugby background?

Vanessa Monrroy (VM): I started playing rugby back in 2014 when I was a sophomore in high school (RN: Meridian HS). I started off as a back but gradually made my way to the forwards and became a prop. I played 15s through the majority of my high school years and this past summer I decided to play 7s and joined Mambas Rugby here in Boise. I played with Nampa Rugby Club in high school which is bittersweet now because they’re going to be our rivals! It’ll be an interesting season because I’ll be coaching against some of my former coaches and teammates!

RN: How did your 7s experience go?

VM: I gained a lot of knowledge while playing 7s because it was such a different platform and I enjoyed every moment of it. We went to Salt Lake City where we took second at the North American Invitational 7s that featured multiple different youth programs. On top of that, we also took home the state championship trophy and it was bittersweet because it was the first and last championship trophy I won in high school because I had graduated in May.

RN: So you’ve decided to keep playing beyond HS?

VM: I always knew that I wanted to continue to play rugby, so when I decided to continue with my education at Boise State University, I was overjoyed that the women’s rugby club was being reestablished.

RN: What made you decide to be a coach?

VM: I love this sport and really wanted to help grow rugby at the high school level. I’ve played for multiple years and I really want to help within the rugby community. I want others to love this sport as much as I do and hopefully have it make an impact in their life as it has with me. I always wanted to see things from a coach’s perspective and this is a great opportunity for me to not only grow as a coach but also a player.

RN: What do you bring to the coaching staff?

VM: I’m still young enough that I’m able to relate more with the team. I’m that coach who gets involved with the drills rather than standing on the sidelines telling the players what to do. It also helps me work on my own skills which is a bonus!

RN: What are your club options in your area?

VM: When I was back in high school, girl rugby teams were hard to come across. I had to join a team in a different city because options weren’t that great back then. I’m so excited now that the sport has grown immensely here in Idaho especially for girl’s teams. Now girls can find a youth team in their backyard but for Women’s teams, there isn’t much in the area. We have the Boise Nemesis who is the only team in the area and they are well known around town. So playing with Boise State or with the Boise Nemesis is the only options I have as a young adult who is graduated from high school.


RN: If you could change anything about the current rugby landscape what would it be?

VM: Rugby is an amazing sport. It teaches character and self disciple. I would never change anything about it.

RN: Your age group will be pivotal to sharing the future of rugby in the US; how do you think we could reach kids sooner?

VM: We need to reach out to athletes at a younger age; especially here in the US. Up until recently, rugby wasn’t well known. It was around but people would still scratch their head when they would here of the sport. Growing up, I was surrounded by other sports such as soccer, basketball, and even football. I’m not saying they’re bad sports because I played basketball when I was younger and that helped me as I transitioned into playing at the high school level. Most athletes don’t get the chance to experience rugby growing up and it makes them hesitant to try it out later in their lives. I feel like implementing some simple rugby basics into P.E. classes at the younger age group and having the sport be recognized as a varsity sport and be fully supported by schools rather than it being a club.

RN: What’s your future in rugby?

VM: I hope to continue playing five, ten, maybe even fifteen years from now. It’s become such a huge part of my life and I always want to be involved. I hope down the road that I’ll be able to start my own rugby club and become a coach and mentor to those athletes. I know for a fact that I’ll be doing whatever I can to continue being an active member in the rugby community. This sport has done a lot for me so I want to be able to give back. I feel like its everyone’s dream to meet and even play with the USA Eagles and I hope that I’ll be able to be involved with them in some form.

RN: If you could spend a day with any rugby player, who would it be and why?

VM: If I could pick anyone it would be Portia Woodman. Have you seen her play? She’s everything and more the type of player that I want to be. New Zealand is widely known for rugby and she just makes that statement even more true. I believe that she started playing rugby later in her life and it makes me admire her even more because she’s so talented and you can clearly see that immense love that she has for the sport. I almost cried with her when New Zealand lost against Australia in Rio. I just have the upmost respect for her.

RN: What do you want people to know about you or rugby in Idaho?

VM: I just want people to know that rugby DOES exist in Idaho. We might be overlooked a lot but we are growing. We have so many talented athletes here and I’m excited to see more athletes playing at the next level.

RN: Thank you Coach for your time; I look forward to following your career as you climb through the playing and coaching ranks.

Upcoming Profiles:

Mar 20: Atlanta Youth Rugby

Mar 27: Nampa Rugby Head Coach Chris Kovac

USA Rugby Structure Series: Frontier Competitive Region


by Jason Graves

In this post I contine my series providing an overview of the USA Rugby structure by taking a look at the Frontier Competitive Region (CR) which encompasses the Rocky Mountain and Mid-American Unions as well as part of the Iowa Local Area Union (LAU).  There are eight States in the Frontier CR, many of them US rugby hotbeds or emerging ones; Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Missouri, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and the western portion of Iowa. 

Starting with the Rocky Mountain; oddly enough the Rocky Mountain Union has three teams in the Elite category (Denver Barbarians, Glendale Raptors, and Rugby Utah) competing in various top level competitions yet it does not have a DI level competition. The Union is made up of three men’s division ranging from DII-DIV. DII consists of some familiar and not so familiar names; the Glendale Raptors D2, Provo Steelers, Boulder Rugby, Denver Barbarians D2, Park City Haggis, and Denver Harlequins. DIII is made up of the Colorado Springs Grizzlies, Glendale D3, Denver Highlanders, Queen City Rams, Northern Colorado Flamingos, and Denver Harlequins D3. The DIV is unique in that it’s only made up of Rocky Mountain Union clubs; the Littleton Eagles, Boulder Rugby D4, Colorado Springs Grizzlies D4, Laramie Lumberjacks, Queen City Rams D4, Denver Harlequins D4, Colorado Rush, Marauders Rugby, and Colorado Stags. 

As for the Mid-America Union the clubs making up DII are the St. Louis Bombers, Kansas City Rugby, Omaha Goats, Kansas City Islanders, and Kansas City Blues D2. While the Mid-America Union does not have any DIV clubs they do have two DIII divisions. First the Mid-America: Heart of America; Wichita Barbarians, Northland Rugby, Arkansas Gryphons, Springfield Rugby, and Topeka Rugby. The other division is the Mid-America: Missouri with the St. Louis Royals, St. Louis Hornets, St. Louis Bombers D3, St. Louis Ramblers, Sunday Morning Rugby, Columbia Outlaws, Belleville Rowdies, and Kohlfield Scorpions. 

The Frontier CR is pioneering rugby in the US, three of the Elite Clubs forming the new Major League Rugby (MLR) are from the Frontier as is the premiere rugby stadium in the country aptly named RugbyTown USA. 

Up next: Red River Competitive Region

Previous: Pacific South CR

Rugby Nation USA Profile: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt. 1

meridian

Rugby in Idaho is growing, quickly. The sport has exploded and Meridian High School Head Coach David Heaton and Assistant Coach Vanessa Monrroy have their fingers on the growing pulse.

Their perspectives are vastly different…Coach Heaton having never played, transitioning his passion for the sport into coaching and Coach Monrroy recently graduating from Meridian as a player and carrying her passion for the sport forward…but their goal are the same. Rugby growth in Idaho and the US.

Both were kind enough to share their experiences and thoughts with Rugby Nation USA which I’ve split into two parts. In part 1 I talk to Head Coach David Heaton.

Rugby Nation USA (RN): Coach Heaton, tell us about your rugby background.

David Heaton (DH): I got introduced to rugby late in life, my best friend who is my next door neighbor, and about 20 yrs my senior played in college back east, he kept talking about it, and I was like what? Then he took me to a game with our hometown men’s club, and I was hooked, that was ten years ago, unfortunately I’m one of the odd coaches that never played, I beat the crap out of my body when I was younger. They didn’t have high school or youth rugby in Idaho when I was younger, otherwise I would have gotten started earlier. Four knee surgeries, and a wrist surgery later I’m pretty hobbled, but I kept studying the game, I couldn’t get enough, and still can’t.

RN: What is it about rugby that hooked you?

DH: It’s a game of brotherhood and I love that.

RN: What got you interested in coaching?

DH: I got my kids watching, and when my oldest son got a chance to play in high school, I went to the practices, and was asked if I wanted to help, that was three years ago. The head coach started a middle school youth team, and asked me to coach it. I had a blast passing along my knowledge and basic principles along to the kids, and it really started from there. The next year I moved up to assist another high school team, and was asked if I would like to start a team at my alma matter, Of course I jumped right on it. Brand new team, being able to start new traditions. I highly believe that’s what rugby is about. Family, brotherhood, and tradition.

RN: So what are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

DH: Meridian rugby is brand new, we have a fair amount of young kids that are brand new to the sport, that love the concept. It’s hard recruiting for something that most have never seen, only heard. Having a few local high schools that the school competes with helps, and probably the biggest recruiting tool is having it back in the olympics. That’s huge for rugby in the USA just in itself.

RN: What’s the future for Meridian Rugby look like?

DH: We are trying to have three teams. A girls team, JV boys, and varsity boys. It’s a work in progress for sure. The kids so far are having a blast. Practices are pretty basic right now, but I’ve assembled a great set of coaches for both girls and guys, and a lot of different knowledge and perspectives of the game. We got a great sponsor, and looking for more, like any rugby club.

RN: What are some challenges you’ve faced?

DH: I’d say the biggest challenge we are facing right now is numbers, the school is still getting a remodel for the fall school year which will really help, and being able to have return players that are ready to perfect skills will be a big help, they will be able to help with mentoring new players. Also as I stated finding sponsors is tough, Idaho rugby is still in its development phase, and growing every year, I’m not sure on numbers but enrollment has grown leaps and bounds every year I’ve been apart of it, and that thrills me.

It’s such a great sport, anyone can play. Its very time consuming as a coach for sure, working full time, being a family man, and an even bigger family man to my new extended Rugby family, but it’s worth it in the long run I think.

RN: Its a young program so, biggest success do far?

DH: My biggest success right now is spreading the word, and recruitment. Winning games and championships will come with time and coaching.

RN: How many teams do you play?

DH: Right now I believe there are thirteen girls teams, and eight division two boys teams. So quite a few, we haven’t got our schedule out yet, but last year I think we played seven different squads across the Treasure Valley, and eastern Idaho.

Meridian High is a new club, and I believe four others this year, that’s a mix of boys and girls, but it’s growing every year.

RN: What’s the Idaho rugby environment look like?

DH: Rugby in Idaho has a great environment, with more clubs, creates more of the “brotherhood,” that rugby is tied too.

RN: Are their local opportunities for kids to continue playing beyond high school?

DH: Having our local colleges like Boise State both men’s and women, University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Rexburg College, and colleges close in Oregon, Utah, and Nevada help for kids to look at for the future, also having two men’s clubs, and a ladies club, allows the kids to see that rugby can be played well into there adult years is a huge bonus.

RN: What are your thoughts on Rugby Idaho?

DH: I think Rugby Idaho has got a great youth development league starting at age 5 to middle school, and a girls pink league is definitely showing Idaho is in the hunt to get this game to levels seen in California, and back east. Plus we are now starting to see more television coverage in our area, so the word is spreading definitely. The more the merrier.

RN: If given the opportunity what would you change about USA Rugby?

DH: I can’t say for sure, but the biggest challenge the USA has right now in my opinion, is we are along way behind the international countries, that started this game, we adapted rugby over to our football, and lost touch for so many years. Now that we are back into it are development league isn’t up to where they are, don’t get me wrong we are strong, but without financial backing like they have, it’s hard. Most teams are all volunteer, unlike the New Zealand’s, Australia’s, England’s, etc. those guys are getting paid, and to me are basically like the pro sports we have here. NFL, basketball, baseball, they have the trainers for when they are hurt to get them right back in the game, the facilities to work out in, perfect pitches, kind of makes us look like we are doing this out in our back yards. A huge bonus is the sponsors, USA big business is starting to catch on, but in my opinion we have a ways to go.

RN: Do you see us getting there?

DH: We’ll get there soon I believe. It’s starting to really catch on here in the states. Once folks realize how interesting and fun this sport is, we will get the fan base, and that will draw big business to sponsor. Baby steps. You have to crawl before you walk. Biggest step that we have accomplished is we are out doing it along side, with the internationals, win, lose, or draw match after match. Blue collar mentality.

RN: Anything you’d like to see different from USA Rugby?

DH: I’d like to see more corporate sponsors in USA rugby, across the board, from youth development to USA eagles. I really don’t see a lot for change, just growth. We need more players, fans, and sponsors. It will come with time. I think USA rugby is doing a great job.

RN: Thank you for your time Coach, good luck this season and beyond.

DH: Thanks Jason for the opportunity. 

Upcoming Profiles:

Mar 13: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt 2 – AC Vanessa Monrroy 

Mar 20: Atlanta Youth Rugby

Mar 27: Nampa Rugby Head Coach Chris Kovac 

Rugby Nation USA Profile: Clayton Bootleggers Founder Ted Hardy 

clayton-rugby

Many of you may know Ted Hardy as Editor and writer for Americas Rugby News but did you know he’s the founder of the Clayton Bootleggers? Maybe this is a side of Ted some of you didn’t know about.

Ted was kind enough to take time away from developing rugby in the Carolina area to answer a few questions for Rugby Nation USA about community, development, and building a program.

Rugby Nation USA (RN): I know you started covering rugby in 2008 but how long have you been involved with rugby?

Ted Hardy (TH): I started dabbling in rugby in the early 2000s. At that time, I was still heavily involved in baseball and was having a hard time letting go of the sport I grew up with for something completely different. I had brushes with rugby throughout college and it had been on my radar for years to give a go. After a few years of thinking about it, I finally committed full time around 2005 and haven’t looked back. 

RN: When and where did you first get involved with rugby? Coaching and playing?

TH: My home club is the Akron Rugby Football Club in Ohio. I started as a player and after a few years started coaching youth clinics around the area to spread awareness. I continued to do both for Akron until we moved to North Carolina in 2012. 

RN: You founded the Bootleggers in 2013, why?

TH: There were a couple reasons that we started the club. The initial reason is that we saw the growth we had experienced at the youth level. At some point these kids were going to need a club to play for after High School and College. We figured if we got things rolling and focused on creating a good club foundation that we’d be ready when our first generation of youth players moved on to the club ranks. Little did we know that the approach we took would lead to a rapid growth at the men’s level. So, we had to change some of our timetables. At the same time, we saw an opportunity to create something unique and special. I had been around long enough to see a lot of good things and a lot of bad things from club rugby. We took good elements of club rugby and intertwined them with a family friendly, community centered focus on delivering rugby. Behind that we assembled a strong, passionate, and progressive Board of Directors and put in place a development plan to map out the future of our club. 

RN: Any advice for upstart clubs?

TH: Patience is the key. It takes time to get things rolling. Outside of a few rare cases, growth and/or success is not overnight. It is tempting to take shortcuts, but don’t fall into the trap. Too many clubs get caught up in wins and losses and end up skipping over important steps in building a sustainable club structure. Which then leads to the cycle of surviving from one year to the next. Running a rugby club is no different than running a business. Expect to take hits in the first three years as you build your foundation. The goal is sustainability. Sit down, take the time and write a 5-year development plan and/or business plan for your club. Be realistic with your goals and hold yourself accountable for following it. Get involved in your community… volunteer and donate time to causes that don’t directly impact your bottom line. There is no better way to advertise your club, open doors, and network within your community. Last, but not least… get involved in youth rugby whether it is starting a program or getting your players to coach with an existing program.  

RN: I believe North Carolina is the next big hotbed of rugby; what’s the rugby scene like in the Raleigh area?

TH: I’m biased, but I think you’re right. There are a lot of great things going on around North Carolina. Youth rugby is exploding in pockets of the state (Charlotte and the Triangle in particular), so it is important that we build on that and start filling in the gaps between. On top of that, our location is perfectly placed along the eastern USA coast and our weather allows for almost year-round play in most parts of the state. Clayton is just outside of the Triangle Area of NC (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). In our area we have four men’s clubs, two women’s clubs (soon to be a third), three men’s and women’s collegiate programs, five youth rugby programs (soon to be six), and four High School teams (a fifth is in the works as well). All of which are within an hour of each other. There are a lot of reasons to be bullish on the future of rugby in our area and North Carolina. I think we’re only beginning to scratch the surface. 

RN: Football is big in NC, big everywhere, how are youth being introduced to rugby in your area?

TH: In Clayton, well over half of the kids are being introduced through football. A handful of the Copperhead’s coaches also coach youth football and they’ve used the rugby makes better football players platform to bring a lot of kids to the sport. Which has resulted in some really good youth football teams in the area. One of the youth clubs in Raleigh works with the Boys & Girls Club and draws quite a few players from that program. Others have recruited out of soccer programs. There are a lot of ways to accomplish the same goal, which is more kids playing rugby. We’re in the process of working with 2-3 local Parks & Rec programs to launch rugby through their departments which we feel will be a big step for rugby in our area. Along those same lines, we’ve started to look outside of Clayton to set up free clinics as a way to raise awareness. Community events are also great venues for reaching kids. Clayton hosts a couple large events, as well as some smaller ones, and we make sure to have booth/promotional space at all of them. 

RN: Where you involved at all in the National Championships at Cary?

TH: We weren’t involved at the National Championships due to conflicts. Our youth teams were out of state at a tournament and the men had a community event that weekend. The roll out for the National Championships wasn’t as well planned as the NACRA 7s Olympic Qualifiers which we were heavily involved in throughout the weekend. 

RN: What is North Carolina doing that other States aren’t?

TH: I don’t feel like we’re doing anything different than what I’ve seen from other states. The biggest difference is that I think the timing and climate is right for rugby to explode here. The Triangle and Charlotte are very diverse areas with people relocating from all parts of the country and world for work. There is a surprising amount of rugby awareness in North Carolina. It’s just a matter of connecting the dots and pointing people in the right direction. The positive rugby values also aligns well with many traditional Southern family values… community, respect, sportsmanship, honor, integrity. All of these values seem to resonate with parents. More so than what I noticed when I was in Ohio. 

RN: Tell me about your clubs Founder’s Initiative.

TH: A little background first. Early on in our club’s existence we determined that the future of our club depended on our ability to find a permanent home for rugby. The past few years we have spent looking in every fox hole and exploring different opportunities. Last Spring we started working on a public/private partnership between the Clayton RFC and a neighboring town with plenty of rural space. As part of the agreement, they are providing us land to build 3-4 rugby fields, clubhouse, and support structures. A rugby club’s dream. In return, we are making the fields available for the community when not in use for rugby. We are also serving as the recreation for the town and will be start a youth rugby program for them. We get a permanent home, increased hosting capabilities, and they get recreational space that they couldn’t have otherwise provided their citizens. 

When figuring out our plans to finance the development, we broke the funds into four categories… internal, corporate sponsors, grants, and traditional fundraising. The internal component is where the Founder’s Initiative comes into play. It was important for us to be able to show sponsors and grant foundations that we could “put our money where our mouth is”. So, we came up with the Founder’s Initiative as a way for members, family, fans, whomever to make a permanent mark on Clayton Rugby. We have multiple Founder’s Levels (some with monthly payment options) with all of our Founders receiving permanent recognition on a memorial that will be placed at the fields and also inside of the clubhouse when it is completed. To date, we are over 2/3 of the way to our initial goal and hope to surpass it by the end of the year. 

RN: You have a Youth program; what can you tell me about the Copperheads?

TH: Unlike most areas, where the adult club came before the youth, in Clayton the youth program was founded before the men and we spawned off of that. We are actually run as separate entities with different board structures and personnel. However, we share coaching resources and a number of our men’s players coach with the Copperheads at the both the youth and high school levels. We encourage all of our men’s players to turn out to Wednesday night youth practices at least once a month. It is important that we show them that we are here and support them. We work closely together and have teamed up to have the youth teams play curtain raiser matches and intermissions during men’s games. It’s not your traditional “one club” approach, but it works for us as we feel like we can have a bigger impact on growing rugby by starting and helping support multiple youth programs as opposed to just focusing on one. 

RN: How involved are you and the Bootleggers in the local high school rugby clubs?

TH: We provide coaching support to the Clayton High School team. We have also run clinics for another local High School as they are attempting to build enough interest to field a team in the next year or so. As more high school teams come online throughout our county I foresee that we’ll play some sort of role (coaching, admin, sponsorship) in all of them. 

RN: Tell me about the CottonTown 7’s; teams, origins?

TH: The CottonTown 7s is our annual Summer tournament event. The name comes from a bit of our town’s history. At one point in the early 1900s Clayton was one of the major hubs for cotton in the USA. There are still some of the old cotton mills left in town that are now being renovated into great new spaces. Our club’s primary sponsor, Deep River Brewing Company, also produces the CottonTown Lager as a nod to our history. So, it was a no-brainer for us to go in that direction in naming the event. This year will be the second year for the tournament. Just as when we set out to start our club, when we looked at hosting a 7s tournament we knew that we needed to do something different. There are a lot of great tournaments in the Carolinas each Summer, so we didn’t want to be just another day of 7s. So, we brought in food trucks, local vendors, and even had a pipe and drum band playing an intermission set. It turned out great and gave us a good starting point for growing the event. Last year we had 18 teams. We’ve added an extra field this year and have added a Women’s Division to the mix. We are expecting around 30 teams this year. We expect to have our new facility open in time for the 2018 CottonTown 7s and have some special plans for that event. 

RN: As President of the club what’s you vision for the entire organization?

TH: To be the kind of club that people want to be a part of and are proud to share with others. Whether that is as a player, social member, fan, supporter, or corporate partner. Create a club culture that lasts well past my years. Our primary goal is to increase the participation in, appreciation, and enjoyment of the sport of rugby. We want to be a club that provides opportunities for all types of players, regardless of age or skill level. As long as we stick to that mission I believe that everything else will work out. When it is all said and done and I finish my time as President, I want to hand off a club that has defined administrative processes/structures in place and sustainable revenue sources that provide our next generation of leadership the ability to continue our mission successfully.  

RN: Is club professionalism in North Carolina’s future?

TH: I think that professionalism is inevitable, but what form that takes is up in the air. There currently aren’t any clubs in North Carolina that are close to professionalizing in the sense that players, coaches, and admin are paid a good living wage for their services. That said, professionalism goes well beyond just paying people. It is a mindset and approach to how things are done. There are clubs in North Carolina that have been making huge strides in how they approach rugby. Every club can have a professional mindset. That doesn’t require any extra funds. 

RN: How do you support that? Will it be the Bootleggers?

TH: It will all depend on what the final product looks like. To engage consumers, it is going to need to be a very good product. I will support professional rugby in North Carolina in any way possible as long as it is a product that I can get behind. Not just in quality of play, but in operations on and off the pitch, marketing, player welfare, and community engagement. What we saw from PRO Rugby last year was a step forward, but not professional on many fronts. Whether that can be the Bootleggers? I hate to put a cap or restriction on ambition, but I can safely say that we have a five year development plan in place and it is not even remotely on our radar. However, we are actively pursuing a professional approach and mindset in how we manage our club, develop sustainable revenue streams, and provide a quality product to our members and fans. We’ve been working with Nathan Bombrys from the Glasgow Warriors since early last Fall. There are some marketing and administrative structures that we are using right now that are scaled versions of what is being done in Glasgow. He’s been an amazing resource to have for our club and we have high hopes for the future of our relationship. Where things go in the future? We have control over the direction of the club, but it is important that our members are on the same page. We have a motto that has worked thus far… “Focus on rugby, do the right things for the right reasons and things will work out.” We’re going to keep focusing on that and see where the road leads us. 

RN: If given the power what would you change about rugby in the US?

TH: I’d push rugby as a school sport at least at the High School level, but preferably starting in Middle School. That would produce a seismic shift in participation, perception, and validity for the sport in the USA. All of which would have a direct carryover effect on all segments of the game here in America.

RN: When I think of South African rugby I think power, when I think of New Zealand I think speed and skill, what is the rugby identity of the US?

TH: Passion. Without a doubt. The passion for rugby in the USA is unbelievable. The lengths that people go through to play, coach, and support rugby is inspiring to me. Making 2-3 hour trips (one way) to play matches, poor facilities, little attention, negative public perception, and a host of other issues that we face. I have friends in developed rugby nations that have told me that if they had to go through what we do in America that most people wouldn’t play. The American rugby community has breathtaking passion for our sport. Despite the many obstacles we face, people at the grassroots levels continue to grow the game at an amazing pace. It’s just a matter of aligning that passion in the same direction with a vision for the future. Then we’ll see some real magic. 

RN: What’s one major rugby success you’d like to highlight?

TH: I’ve never been one to relish in achievements of accolades. The most satisfying moments or successes for me are when new people are introduced to rugby. Whether that is at age 6 or age 50. Years ago I wrote an article called “Everyone Deserves Rugby” and I try to live those words. It means a lot to me to give people the opportunity to play and enjoy this great sport. 

RN: What’s something you’d like a do-over with?

TH: There was a point in the early 2000s where I was on the fence about starting to play rugby or getting involved as an administrator with a baseball league. I went with baseball. It was a nightmare and delayed my full time crossover to rugby by a couple of years. I did learn some hard lessons through the process that have served me well in my rugby administrative role. So, there is a silver lining I guess. 

RN: Tell me about Coach Rich Munro.

TH: Interesting story. Rich and I both hail from the Akron Rugby Football Club, but came from different time periods in the club’s history. We originally met at Akron’s Annual Old Boys weekend shortly after I started playing, but he was living in North Carolina and only came home for the event, so I never got to know him. We didn’t finally connect until I moved to North Carolina. Rich is an Old School rugby hard man, but with a heart of gold. He was a stalwart for Akron in the 90s and played for the Midwest in 7s and 15s back in his prime. He is one of the most giving rugby men in our area. He has a tough work schedule, but makes it out to Men’s training on Tues/Thurs, coaches Middle School rugby on Mon/Wed, attends every Men’s match and then turns around and coaches Middle School on Sundays. He’s an absolute soldier and a credit to the sport. 

RN: Who in your club deserves that extra special nod and why?

TH: There are too many to name. We have so many wonderful volunteers that help us deliver rugby to our members and the community. If I had to pick one though, I’d say Philip Davies. He’s been with our club from day one and not played a single minute of rugby. He is a true club rugby man. Selfless in everything that he does for our club. He does all of the dirty work behind the scenes and doesn’t care one bit about attention. He serves on our board, cooks at socials (the man knows barbecue), fabricates, and is a jack of all trades. Aside from that, he is the guy that knows everyone in Clayton and has opened a lot of doors for us. We would not be where we are right now without him or any of our volunteers.

RN: Finally, is there anything at all you’d like people to know about Clayton Rugby and/or North Carolina rugby you want people to know about?

TH: Come visit us. We love hosting teams and with the number of clubs in our area, we are more than capable of hosting touring sides looking for multiple games. You’ll get some great rugby and a dose of Southern hospitality. Our new facility is going to be open in 2018 and we hope to become a nice destination for clubs in the Northeast and Midwest looking for warm up matches in the Winter and early Spring. On a separate note, I’m always happy to share our success, failures, and everything in between with anyone interested. Club rugby administration is something that is sorely underdeveloped in the USA and I am happy to help other clubs in any way that I can. 

RN: Thank you for your time Ted, I appreciate your insight. 

TH: Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate the opportunity to share a little about what we’re doing here in Clayton and North Carolina.

Upcoming Profiles:

Mar 7: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt 1- HC David Heaton

Mar 14: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt 2 – AC Vanessa Monrroy 

Rugby Nation USA Profile: WVU Women’s HC Brian Lemme

Lemme.png

by Jason Graves

Rugby in West Virginia is sparse.  Yes, there is the men’s powerhouse Wheeling Jesuit but their Women’s program is just getting started as of Fall Semester 2016 however for the past 17 years women’s rugby has been played an hours drive south in Morgantown, West Virginia, home of the Mountaineers.

Coach Brain Lemme took some time to talk about the challenges and successes of rugby in West Virginia as he talked with Rugby Nation USA.

Rugby Nation USA (RN): What’s your rugby background?

Brain Lemme (BL): I played 1-1/2 years at WVU from 2003 and 2004. After graduation I played 10 years for the Pittsburgh Rugby Club.

RN: Do you have a particular attacking style?

BL: Our current style is fairly basic. We try to move the ball from side to side and avoid getting stuck in the middle of the pitch. This allows us to create space and overloads for the backline.

RN: What is your defensive philosophy?

BL: Currently we play a fairly straight up defense. We have also worked on a bump and slide defense. 

RN: Aside from the playoffs, what’s the big success from 2016?

BL: Winning the conference and making playoffs was the goal. Winning the first round of playoffs and going to Midwest regionals.

RN: What are your biggest challenges?

BL: Recruiting, we needs upwards of 30 girls.

RN: How do you go about recruiting players?

BL: The girls hold information tables at the Mountain Lair and rec center throughout the year. We have also made a few flyers in the past to hand out. 

RN: I can imagine the challenge; rugby doesn’t seem to have really caught on in West Virginia, what’s the rugby environment like in Morgantown?

BL: Rugby has been up and down in Morgantown over the years. There used to be boys and girls teams for the local high school along with a men’s club team. Lack of numbers to any team is the ultimate downfall, this is very often seen when a HS team is started. Usually, most areas are pulling several local high schools to start U-19 teams to achieve better numbers and sustain a program longer.

RN: Tell me about the Allegheny Rugby Union. 

BL: In the 2015-2016 season, the ARU collegiate women created a hybrid D2/NSCRO league of all teams in the area. Historically, all teams in the region played every one and only one team could advance to playoffs. In the new structure, the best D2 team will advance to USA Rugby D2 playoffs and the best small school will advance to NSCRO playoffs. This gives more teams opportunities to compete for nationals and get playoff experience. For more information on how hybrid leagues work check out this Goff on Rugby article http://www.goffrugbyreport.com/news/truth-about-hybrid-leagues

There are a total of 11 teams in the union. Starting in 2015 the ARU split between 3 Division II teams (WVU, IUP, SRU) and 8 NSCRO teams.

RN: Whose the big rival?

BL: It’s hard to have a rival with only 2 other teams in the conference, but we have battled with IUP the most since I started coaching.

RN: Where is home field?

BL: The home pitch is located at Mylan Park, both the men’s and Women’s team play there.

RN: If you could change anything about the college rugby landscape what would it be?

BL: I am not sure, the landscape is always changing and you just have to change with.

RN: What was the playoff experience like?

BL: Playoffs was a lot of fun and the girls learned a lot about what it takes to reach the next level before qualifying for championships.

RN: Was it the WVU Women’s first playoff run?

BL: No, previous teams made playoffs. This was the first time in 10 years the women returned to playoffs

RN: Who are they players you’d like to highlight and why?

BL: I can’t really pick one or a few players to highlight. Rugby is played 15 as 1, they work, win and lose as a team. 

RN: Any up and coming assistant coaches we should keep an eye on?

BL: Currently there are no assistant coaches, if you know anyone willing to help out please send them our way.

RN: When people come out to a match what can they expect to see?

BL: A fun, fast paced game with long runs and hard tackles. Hopefully with us on the winning side of a high scoring game.

RN: Do you feel like the US has a rugby identity, as a nation?

BL: I think the US is still looking for an identity with a 15’s team, but have started to showcase and are becoming a powerhouse in 7’s.

RN: Finally Coach, what do you want people to know about the West Virginia Women’s rugby program?

BL: The program is making a strong come back, but we need more women to join the team. This club has true potential and could easily contend for a national title. 

Thank you for your time Coach, I truly appreciate it.  

If you’re a lady rugby player looking for an education, want to continue your rugby career, or are looking for a sport with physicality then check out the WVU Women’s rugby program. 

Upcoming Profiles:

Feb 28: Ted Hardy- Clayton Bootleggers 

Mar 7: Meridian High School, Idaho

Rugby Nation USA Profile: Eagle #464 Chris Baumann

 

Baumann.png
by Jason Graves

His is a long and winding road of rugby clubs from across the United States and the World. Chris Baumann (@Prop3baumann) is the epitome of the American rugger and a success story every club player who dreams of professional rugby and a chance to wear the Eagle crest can look to.


Chris Baumann is among the senior Eagles during the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) and its likely much will be expected from the 6’2″ 275lbs prop in terms of leadership. His vast experience will no doubt be put to use as the Eagles look to claim their first ARC crown.

He took time away from his busy schedule and demanding training regimen to talk his travels, club professionalism, D1 commitment, and “a badass trophy” worth fighting for as he answered a few questions for Rugby Nation USA.

Rugby Nation USA (RN): Thank you very much for your time, Chirs, I know you’re busy. 

Chris Baumann (CB): Camp has been busier then I thought and I haven’t had much free time.

RN: I understand, I truly appreciate it. So, how did you get involved playing rugby?

CB: I just turned up to a practice at the University of Wyoming. All it really takes to get started in rugby is to just show up to your local clubs practice and keep showing up. 

RN: Who have been some of your biggest influences?

CB: Lou Stanfill, Jeffrey Sayle, Mike Hurley, my parents and my sister. 

RN: How did you end up on the Eagles radar, what was your pathway?

CB: My hometown of Steamboat Springs plays in its own Mountain League Competition in Colorado during the summers. It led to me playing for Aspen in the D1 competition. There was no pathway for me. I didn’t know about under 20’s or All Americans. But I learned it doesn’t really matter. If you are good enough, and playing in a few comps, then you should get noticed enough to get invited into a wider training group camp. 

 

Steamboat Springs
RN: You’ve played with quite a few clubs, any particular reason for the moves; experience, opportunity?

 

CB: Yea, my jobs outside of rugby and living conditions have never really made me want to hang around after the rugby season finished. My hometown rugby always brought me back in the summers.

RN: Colorado, Wyoming, California, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and New York; coast to coast, rugby hotbeds to up and coming rugby States, any commonalities you’ve found?

CB: On the coasts, it’s tough for clubs to find proper fields. In the middle states there is plenty of good pitches but not as much good competition.  

RN: I see you played for Tempe, was that the Old Devils?

CB: I played for them for a few matches. Unfortunately two of my teeth got knocked out one match, and I decided to take some time off rugby. I was in my younger 20’s and the dentist bill was massive. 

RN: Rugby in Arizona is growing, how was the atmosphere when you played there?

CB: The same as most anywhere else in America. About 20-30 fans drinking beer around some park field. 

RN: What was the rugby culture and environment like at U of Wyoming?

CB: It was a solid culture at Wyoming. I got hooked on rugby when a group of teammates went to the Valentine’s Day massacre rugby tournament in Breckenridge Colorado during the season. It was a rugby tournament on snow with a lot of kegs. It wasn’t a sanctioned event by the club or anything, but it was fun and made me want to tour and get better at rugby. 

RN: What surprised you the most about your time playing in Arizona and Wyoming?

CB: At Wyoming I remember being surprised that I showed up to my first ever practice on a Tuesday, and was starting in a match on the Saturday. I had no idea what I was doing, and they just threw me in at flanker. At Arizona I just remember how easy the winter was compared to Colorado and Wyoming. 

RN: Are there any clear differences from club to club, state to state?

CB: Yea, I live for rugby tours, and tournaments. There are some great rugby tournaments every year in America that I believe are worth touring to. It’d be great to get some overseas touring sides to attend. If I had to rank the top three it’d be:

Maggotfest– Missoula Montana. May 18th- 20th 2017
Ruggerfest– Aspen Colorado. Sep 15th- 17th 2017
Cowpie Classic– Steamboat Springs, Colorado. July 15th 2017

If you can make any of these, you won’t be disappointed. 

RN: How did your signing with Wellington come about?

 

Wellington vs Otago
CB: It was for injury cover, and I was recommended by the Eagles coaching staff. It happened really fast right after I finished the PRO competition. Luckily it happened fast, and I got clearance from both unions right away. PRO then stopped paying me after I already completed all my obligations to them. But at least I wasn’t caught up in red tape like other PRO players whom got opportunities, and ended up not getting paid anyways.  

 

RN: Is there anything in the US that can match the level of play in the Mitre 10?

CB: Unfortunately no. We don’t have anything that is close to level of Mitre 10

RN: Australia, Japan, New Zealand; what have you been able to bring to the Eagles from those experiences?

 

With Blaine Scully and Todd Clever

CB: It’s just good to keep moving, and keep gaining experience. My goal early on was to keep trying to get into the best rugby form, so I get selected to play for the Eagles. 

RN: What does US rugby have in common with those other nations?

CB: Clubs that want to grow the game. USA rugby is its own beast. We have our own unique issues. The clubs are trying. Having a club owned field and clubhouse is a dream that I see most clubs have. Funding is the biggest issue at most clubs. Clubs can’t rely on alumni and player dues to get ahead. We need to steal our piece of the American sports market, and get broadcast deals like the other big sports. 

RN: In that regard, what are the major differences in terms of rugby?

CB: Those unions have their own professional domestic competitions. We don’t have any consistent leagues that pay well enough to not have another job. 

RN: If you could change something about rugby in the US what would it be?

CB: To have a solid, consistent, well paying pro league. Last years Pro league was a stitch up. I don’t see anything happening now for a few years, and by the time it does I will be pretty old. I’d like every club to just buy into the D1 competition and try and make it a professional well funded competition with the brands that have been around for the last 50 years. If the clubs want to have competitions around the D1 structure to get extra matches that’s great. But the D1 competition needs to be stated as the tournament to crown the best team in America every year. It should also have a badass trophy that every club fights for. 

RN: What has your eclectic experience given you that you bring to the Eagles and US Club rugby? 

CB: I try and bring a good attitude, and gratitude every time I have the opportunity to tour with the Eagles. It comes from seeing how all the clubs around America want the Eagles to win, and how hard it was personally for me to get to this point. 

 

During time with Santa Monica

 

RN: Any tips on the dark arts for aspiring young props?

CB: Buy a professional mouth guard from the dentist, and quality comfortable rugby boots with the longest sprigs possible. Then buy a backpack and hit the road and find a rugby club overseas to play for. 

RN: You’re currently preparing for the ARC, tell us a bit about your preparation. 

CB: I was just in my hometown in Colorado for two months. I needed a bit of an off season. I just worked on getting my body feeling good again. 

RN: Can you explain the day in the life of an Eagle in training?

CB: It varies day to day quite a bit. When I’m on tour everything is already planned by management. When I’m on my own, I’m just winging it, cruising around in my RV living life. 

 

With Tony Lamborn and AJ MacGinty

RN: Is there a player out there, anywhere along your winding path, that should be in the Eagles radar but isn’t?

CB: Martin Knoetze 

RN: Best player you’ve ever played with?

CB: Chris Wyles 

RN: Best US-eligible you’ve ever played with?

CB: Same as above. 

RN: What’s next, after the ARC?

CB: No solid plans. I’m thinking of a few rugby tours I could go on though. I might get my RV which is stored in Arizona at the moment and drive back to Austin Texas. I’d like to play for the Austin Blacks Rugby Club again. 

RN: Finally Chris, of all the Eagles, who do you not want to be stuck in a hot car with traveling cross country?

CB: Thretton Palamo.

Thank you very much for your time during the ARC and good luck during the tournament and beyond.

Upcoming RN USA Profiles:

Feb 14: Pat Abernathey- Boulder Rugby

Feb 21: Brian Lemme- HC WVU Women’s Rugby

Feb 28: Ted Hardy- Clayton Bootleggers 

Rugby Nation USA: ARC Week One Review


by Jason Graves

In week one of Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) the expected winners won but not without a fight. Argentina had to fight the elements as well as Canada, the Eagles fought themselves, and Brazil fought three decades of history. 

Canada v Argentina: Canada couldn’t utilize home field advantage which they had in more ways than one as they hosted the Southern Hemisphere squad in the snow. It was an early slogfest but as expected Los Pumas’ skill came through as the snow turned to rain.  


As Argentina slowly pulled away, the Canadians were never really in the match after halftime despite the low score. Segundo Tucultes’ try, however, was the knife in the heart with less than 20 minutes remaining. 


Final: 6 – 20 Argentina 

Brazil v Chile: In vastly different conditions Chile struck first in an error plagued first half. Both sides started sloppy, unable to develop phases, and control the ball.  Both squads liked to show off their soccer skills by dropping ball to boot but execution was often lacking.  Scrums dominated much of the match eating away at the clock. 


Half way through the second half, the score 0-3 Condors, when everyone expected Brazil to kick for points they went for a try and got it as Matheus Cruz stuck it over the left side. 


When Felipe Sancery scored minutes later the match was all but over.  Chile tried to mount several attacks but had phases cut short by mistakes and penalties. 

Both sides showed flashes of skill, especially Brazil’s kicking game. If Os Tupis can ever master their blend of flash and foot Brazil could become quite a formidable attacking side but there is much work to be done as Brazil beat Chile for the first time since 1981. 

Final: 17 – 3 Brazil

USA v Uruguay: Uruguay nearly pulled off the upset…again. This was a frustrating win for the Eagles who for every reason conceivable should have dominated this match but it was Uruguay who maintained a lead most of the contest. 


Uruguay held a 23 – 19 lead as time ticked down and the US continued to flounder. Then came a moment of sublime attack culminating with a brilliant Will Magie to Blain Scully kick-pass in the corner of the try zone. Was is Montana to Clark? No but it was glorious none the less. 


The match was highlighted by the emergence and powerful leg of young Ben Cima for the US as well as Uruguay’s tenacious defense but the star of the match was the kick for try. It was a beauty. 

Final: 29 – 23 United States 

Next week

USA v Brazil

Argentina v Uruguay 

Canada v Chile

Global Rugby Network’s: 6 Nations Preview


Robbie Orr of the Global Rugby Network (@globalrugbynet) examines the format of the Six Nations and how each team is shaping up for Rugby Nation USA.

Before taking a closer look at each team and their chances of victory, it’s important to review the format of the Six Nations as a whole. Tier Two nations have raised their voice unifying behind the prospect of a relegation system that would allow the likes of Georgia and Romania, as the European frontrunners, to test their metal against the best of the Northern Hemisphere. Much of the justification comes from Georgia’s domination of the European Nation Cup winning eight of the last nine tournaments – they are need of greater competition – while the past performances of Italy and Scotland shoulder most of the existing criticism.

So is it time for Georgia to be given their chance?

The short answer from the 6 Nations board is no, and there are a few reasons why. In the past 16 years the Six Nations has grown into one of the biggest sporting occasions on the planet with the highest average attendance rate of any sporting competition gaining an average attendance of 72,000 per game. That’s a higher than the NFL (68,000), the 2014 FIFA World Cup (53,592) and the 2015 Rugby World Cup (51,621).

That being said, would the inclusion of the likes of Georgia grow the sport? Perhaps. Their recent match against Romania drew a crowd of 50,000 people to Tbilisi, so the support base is clearly there. I recently read the proposition made underneath an article for the Telegraph advocating a playoff match between the bottom side in the 6 Nations and the top side of the ENC; an interesting idea and one that may be pursued a few years down the line.

While many have argued that there is always scope for growth, the Six Nations Committee will stand firm in the belief that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

It is also important to remember that the 6 Nations is run by the 6 Unions, so to expect these Unions to risk the loss of massive financial support, competitive edge and exposure due to one tournament of bad form is unrealistic. Whether this opens the door to discussing an overarching UEFA style administrative body is for another time, though the idea was floated a few years back. For now, the Six Nations is a competition that is booming, but which team will emerge on top?

Looking to do more with your match video? Upload your recordings to our free online platform and start utilising video analysis and team management tools that will save you time and help you create effective analysis of your team’s performance. For more information, and to get your team set up on Global Rugby Network, head to our website and sign up for free today.

England

The English are tournament favourites after an unbeaten 2016 and a return to International prominence following a torrid home World Cup in 2015. With the likes of Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell establishing their place among of the world’s best as part of a Saracens side that have become the team to beat in Europe, the Red Rose will be confident in their ability to produce a winning result. England have been hit by a bad crop of injuries, though, and are without both Vunipola brothers, James Haskell, Anthony Watson and George Kruis for their opening test in France, among others. The form of the Flyhalf/Inside Centre pairing of George Ford and Owen Farrell will be their key to success. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX8wb1mxc-I&feature=share


Ireland

The men in green will be looking to capitalise on a stunning Autumn having halted the All Blacks in Chicago with the standout performance of the year. CJ Stander and Connor Murray have been in scintillating form for club and country while the resurgence of Leinster has seen the emergence of a new centre partnership in Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose that has sparked talks of a Lions pairing in waiting. First up for Ireland is a trip to Murrayfield, no easy task but one they’ll be confident of conquering.

Scotland

Despite their fantastic form since the 2015 World Cup, Scotland’s terrible record in the Six Nations has many pundits dismissing recent optimism with a weary shake of the head that’s heard it all before. Perhaps they’re right. But with Glasgow’s recent surge in Europe including a thorough rinsing of Leicester away from home (the first Scottish team to win at Leicester in 112 years), back to back wins against Racing 92 and Edinburgh’s strong form in the Challenge Cup, many are hailing this Scottish side as one of, if not the best, squad since the beginning of the Six Nations in 2000. Johnny Gray, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg hold their key to success, though every man must play above their best if Scotland are to produce something special.

https://youtu.be/AzuqOHH_U28

Wales
A new captain to accompany a new style of play is the general gist emanating from the Wales camp amid heavy criticism of their performances in the Autumn internationals. Thumped by Australia, narrowly beating Argentina and edging past Japan before beating a Springbok side that was by no means the Southern Hemisphere giant we have come to expect, it was the style of Welsh play that frustrated most. Picking Scott Williams over Jamie Roberts certainly points towards a more fluid attacking game, though, and you’d be a fool to write off a Welsh side peppered with Lions

 France

The French are without a Six Nations title since 2010 and after a sorry start to his reign as head coach in 2016, legendary club coach Guy Noves will be looking to deliver a team capable of glory. The loss of star centre Wesley Fofana is a huge blow for Les Bleus but with the bulldozing Bastareaud lurking in good form for Toulon and a Clermont side that has been in good form of late, French supporters will be looking for a return to the conquering form of 7 years ago. Look for winger Virimi Vakatawa, number eight Louis Picamoles and hooker Guilhem Guirado to be key in the French charge.

Italy

Despite beating the Springboks for the first time in their history in November, the Azzurri have been under mounting pressure as Georgia continue to improve, so much so that they have overtaken Italy in the world rankings. The perplexing choice of placing arguably their most talented back on the bench in Exeter’s Michele Campagnaro, who has scored 7 tries in his 4 games for his club, has done little to calm Italian nerves. It remains to be seen if O’Shea’s men can silence their critics

 

Rugby Nation USA: American Rugby Championship Preview 

Originally published by Global Rugby Network (@globalrugbynet) on 1/31/17

By Jason Graves of Rugby Nation USA

What is the Americas Rugby Championship or simply ARC? Excuse me if I call it America’s 6 Nations, I’m from the U.S. where history is a thing of the past.  Created way back in 2009 the ARC was organizationally designed to challenge national developmental squads, in 2015 the focus changed. Following the 2015 World Cup Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the United States, and Uraguay matched their best (well, best available) in our very own regional tournament. The developmental squads, or select sides, still compete but that’s the America’s Pacific Challenge (APC) and I won’t confuse you by describing that. 

Seriously though, the ARC is a huge step forward for rugby in the Western Hemisphere. As I mentioned, many tend to forget our history in the U.S., things like back-to-back Olympic medals, inventing what is now the standard line-out pass (his name was Pete Dawkins), or that the game has been played here since 1874. So when people see rugby and say, “Hey, what’s that?” I cringe. The ARC is one more step toward making our nation and our hemisphere better, increasing visibility, and eventually paving the way toward stable professionalism and legitimately competing on the world stage. Ok, I know…slow down. I know it will take time, we all know it’s a test of patience but the ARC gives our Tier 2 nations a way to improve. 

Argentina: 

Last year’s champion still uses the ARC to develop players, they remain the benchmark all other North and South American countries aspire to reach. Participating in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship with Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa provides Los Pumas all the competition they need to improve their Test squad, but it’s not like they field a bunch of kids as their second team is formidable enough for any Tier 2 nation. The player I’m keeping my eye on is their uncapped 22 year old captain Lautaro Bavaro. 

The 6’2″ 97kg Flanker is known for his leadership and decision-making as well as his powerful runs and solid tackle technique, something often missing from  the often carded Los Pumas. 

Prediction: 4-1

Brazil:

Brazil stunned the U.S. last year and finished 1 point ahead of last place Chile. Look for fullback Daniel Sancery (SC Albi- Pro D2) to continue racking up tries after scoring 4 in last years tourney. 


Brazil, known for the soccer team, will demonstrate on a regular basis their foot to ball skills. It can make for some exciting kick and chase rugby. 

Prediction: 0-5

Canada:

The Candians are at a crossroads. The program seems to be trending downward but there is still a heartbeat. Player to watch, besides the obvious Connor Trainor, will be 19 year old and versatile loose forward George Barton (Clermont Auvergne – developmental). He’s a powerful runner and agile for a big man (6’0″ 104kg). 


Canada has size and experience. I expect they’ll start figuring it out again soon as their youth developments along side the veterans. 

Prediction: 3-2

Chile:

Los Condores have a lot of growing to do and with  no single name for me to highlight I’m going to focus on their forwards, power will be their game until the skill develops. 

Prediction: 1-4

United States:

  Here in the States we get rather frustrated at the fact our internationals aren’t afforded the same choice to join their country during the international window…well, they can but it just might affect their contracts. The squads will be a mix and match the entire tournament but opportunities will be plentiful for young players looking to make a name in time for Japan 2019.  I’m hoping to see Ben Cima emerge at fullback and am looking forward to seeing young veteran Chris Baumann (pictured below) lead the front row. 


Prediction: 4-1

Uruguay:

Despite Brazil’s hosting the Olympics its Uruguay’s rugby program that’s growing quickly. Uruguayan Nicolás Freitas has signed on to play for the Jaguares the Argentina-based Super Rugby club, a first for the upstart nation. 


Other than Frietas there is plenty of developing skill but no one that stands out…yet. Keep your eyes on Uruguay, they’re coming on fast. 

Prediction: 2-3