by Nigel Melville
Nigel Melville Direct
Now is the hour…
As the teams collected their World Cup medals and slowly made their way around the field thanking the fans for their support, the band struck up ‘Now is the hour’ and the USA exited the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Reflecting on the event from the perspective of a Tier 2 Nation, it has been a tremendously valuable experience in terms of the continued development of the game in America. At this year’s World Cup, the Tier 2 Nations have demonstrated that the performance gap between themselves and the Tier 1’s has started to close. They also made their case that a World Cup without them would be a soulless experience and the pool rounds of the competition would be no more than a 6 Nations meets Tri Nations grind, followed by more of the same in the knock-out rounds.
Yes, there has been plenty of talk about us having tough schedules, quick turnarounds between matches and that we are generally treated like second class citizens – I don’t agree.
Yes, we have had two four day turnarounds when our Tier 1 opponents have had a full weeks recovery, our competition was all played over 16 days, we have played 4 games and are on our way home, New Zealand have yet to play their third game. Off the field, we have been to Wanganui, New Plymouth, Wellington and Nelson. Russia have moved seven times since they arrived in New Zealand! We have stayed in excellent hotels, had access to quality training facilities and support services.
There has been plenty of debate about these issues, we get lip service from the Tier 1’s claiming its not fair for the teams with the weaker squads to have such pressure while secretly they are thankful they don’t have such challenges – but please don’t pity us, we are all delighted to be here and have had a wonderful rugby experience.
And that’s my point, the Rugby World Cup needs us, we bring color and interest, we visit any school that will have us, sign autographs for anyone who asks, meet the locals, celebrate with them the fact that the World Cup is in their town, their Country. Strutting prima donna's we are not. We play as hard as we can, we learn and we get better, we are proud to represent our Countries and enjoy the opportunity to play against the Tier 1 teams. At home the profile of the game is raised, rugby is seen on TV in hundreds of millions of homes, and the media are fascinated that we belt out our anthems and put our bodies on the line for a daily allowance and the opportunity to represent our respective countries.
Is that it?
I remember reading former ‘Boomtown Rat’, Bob Geldoff’s account of his incredible global fundraising effort ‘Live Aid’. After the event at Wembley Stadium he was walking through an empty car park towards his car when young girl stopped him and asked ‘is that it?’.
For the USA, it most certainly isn’t it, we have created a momentum for the game that will continue to build in the next 4 years. We are building a strong foundation for the game through our Youth, High School and College programs. We will develop further our new Olympic Sevens opportunity, build on our World Cup experience to make sure we are developing our player development pathways to create competitive squads of men and women for future Rugby World Cups
Alongside this we will build our media and communications platforms, generate more content with our broadcast partners and sponsors – we have only just begun!
Next up, our first appearance at the Pan Am Games, a medal opportunity and another interesting journey for our game begins. The squad (minus a few of our Rugby World Cup players) camped at the Olympic Training Centre last weekend, and reports from the coaching team suggest we have an exciting group of young players identified over the summer.
Today, the squad fly back home to their families, the pros head back to their Clubs in Europe and we all reflect on a tournament that has undoubtedly been good for American Rugby. Back in Auckland and Wellington, the Rugby World Cup will continue to the knock-out stages. The top teams will focus on beating each other, the pressure will build on the All Blacks, and the tournament takes on a different persona.
I have a huge respect for the Eagles players, they gave their all, they stood up to be counted and they had a wonderful rugby experience. They don’t want pity, they want more time together, more opportunities to play at this level of rugby and with over 50% of the team available for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 we can start building our squad now.
To those fans who followed the Eagles, tell your friends and lets start planning your trips to England in 2015. You have been an inspiration to the team, brought color to the event and global respect for American Rugby.
Thanks to everyone who has been following the World Cup in America, your messages of support have been passed to the players and pinned to their team room wall, they are all truly appreciated.
With an impressive resume as player, coach and administrator, Nigel David Melville took over as CEO and President of Rugby Operations of USA Rugby, the National Governing Body of the sport in America, in 2006. In addition to his full time job promoting the sport in the U.S., Melville has launched his own blog, Nigel Melville Direct, to further the discussion and his passion for what it will take to make the U.S. a great rugby playing nation.
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