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Maybe Yanks Should Give Up on Rugby World Cup

September 26th, 2019 · No Comments · Rugby

Just watched the United States national rugby team play in the ninth edition of the Rugby World Cup. On my television, here in France. Live. With French-speaking announcers. Who knew?

It went badly for the Yanks — as it nearly always does.

Final score: England 45, United States 7.

The highlight for the Eagles may have been the national anthem. The lads sang it with great enthusiasm. “And the home of the brave … who are about to get crushed.”

Actually, it ended with “brave” but you could include the other bit with some certainty. The Yanks have been getting steamrolled by “real” rugby countries since they started appearing at the quadrennial tournament in 1999.

What does USA Rugby have to show for all its efforts?

Two pool-play victories in six tournaments.

Among the defeats? There was 53-8 to Ireland in 1999 … 51-9 to France in 2003 … 64-15 to South Africa in 2007 … 67-5 to Australia in 2011 … 64-0 to South Africa in 2015 … and England 45-7 in 2019.

These are blowouts of such severity that the question has to be asked: Is this worth doing?

The Yanks began appearing at the quadrennial World Cup mostly because organizers wanted 20 teams in the tournament, up from 16. They needed four stiffs. Uh, volunteers.

The U.S. was invited to “make up the numbers” as the Brits would say, and those numbers have been pretty ugly.

The two victories? Those came against other non-serious rugby “powers” — 13-6 over the Russians in 2011 and 39-26 over Japan in 2003.

Thing is, it’s not as if the U.S. is a rugby country.

Yes, the Rutgers-Princeton game of 1869 often is considered the first college football game in U.S. history, but it probably looked a lot more like rugby than it did what we now call “American football.”

But then some Yank had the bright idea of throwing the ball, which rugby does not allow, and American football went down a separate path, bidding adieu to this rugby thing and its scrums and rucks and tries.

What rugby and football continue to share is, mostly, truly enormous men wearing little or no protective gear, slamming into each other at high speeds. (Injuries, that is.)

Which is fine. More power to them. American football, we must admit, is unique to the United States. No one is calling for an American Football World Cup.

More countries play rugby because the game can be traced back to the British Empire, which carried the game to many parts of the world and upon which the sun never set.

When the U.S. got enthused about that “colonies” thing, which did not happen until the 1898 Spanish-American War, they brought an exotic game with them to former Spanish territories. Like Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rica.

But it was baseball — not football/rugby.

Rugby had its shot. Going all the way back to Rutgers 6, Princeton 4 in 1869. It didn’t catch on.

What most authorities believe was really a forward pass was introduced by Notre Dame in a game against Army in 1913. American football never looked back.

Perhaps American rugby should not bother looking forward. It has had 20 years of Rugby World Cups to show us how it is done, and it never sticks.

The Yanks inevitably send out slow, smallish and unsophisticated teams that can’t stand up to countries where kids play rugby in the street. Or on the schoolyard, anyway.

If, at the end of this tournament, USA Rugby announced it was going out of business, at least when it comes to the 15-man game (as opposed to the seven-man version) … no one would notice. At first. Then someone would pipe up with, “With the Yanks gone, we need another stiff to round out the 20-country field.”

If it has to be a North American team … maybe Mexico is available.


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