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USA rugby
Another dreams dies as USA ambitions falter
ESPN Staff
June 7, 2013
USA's Taku Ngwenya attempts to break away, USA Eagles v Russia, Rugby World Cup, Stadium Taranaki, New Plymouth, New Zealand, September 15, 2011
© Getty Images

Fools Gold

  • Without saying we told you so ... we told you so. When the announcement of the London Irish match came last month with accompanying talk of professional leagues and mutli-million dollar franchises, we sounded a note of caution, flagging that this kind of thing had been seen many times over in a number of sports.

    The rhetoric, the ambition, the huge promises were almost the same as ones which heralded an almost identical venture in cricket last year. As time passed the doubts grew until finally it was quietly shelved with talk of it happening in 2014. Now rugby has gone down the same path, albeit fast-tracking things so there was barely a month between the announcement and the cancellation.

    Rugby and cricket will continue to harbour dreams, if only because of the pot of gold those who come up with such ventures believe lies at the end of the rainbow. But mainstream US sport is every bit as resistant to imports as UK sport is to baseball and NFL. They will always have a place on the periphery but not in the hearts and minds of enough people to make them really matter. That won't stop people dreaming though. Martin Williamson

Plans for the London Irish to meet a USA side in Boston in early August have been shelved, dealing a blow to an ambitious scheme to unveil a professional franchise-based competition in the States.

The match between London Irish and a US Barbarians side in Boston was to have been televised by the NFL Network television channel with a return match in London a week later.

Organisers said that it was hoped that a successful event would be used as a springboard to attract sponsors and investors to support an East Coast league of up to six franchises. But the venture has fallen not so much at the first hurdle but shortly after the starting line.

"It is regrettable that we were unable to stage the game this year to help with the development of professional rugby in the USA," said Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty. "Ultimately satisfactory negotiations were not able to be completed in time for an August game. We shall continue to look at the US for future development as the potential is clear."

While the organisers insisted they had the financial agreements in place they were not optimistic they had enough time to sell tickets and it was clear that the predictions of a 30,000 crowd were increasingly unrealistic, even in Boston with its large ex-pat Irish community. Nor, it seems, were the investors in place for anything other than a one-off game.

Another test of the appeal of rugby in the USA will happen this weekend when the Eagles take on the Irish side in Houston with an expectation that a crowd of around 20,000 will attend.

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