Last week Lou Stanfill signed a contract to play with Italian club Vicenza. This is great news for Stanfill and for the Eagles as one of their key players will get more experience and more playing time overseas. It's Stanfill's second stint in Italy after a previous run with Mogliano in the Italian Super 10. Stanfill made the move to lock this last summer with the Eagles and this move should allow him to gain more experience in the position. He should also be in top shape for the Eagles autumn tour in Europe.
Even though the move will give Stanfill more playing time and experience in a place notorious for forward play, you have to worry that we as a country can't create a domestic competition that would give Stanfill and others in his same situation the same type of opportunity at home. Vicenza gained promotion to the Serie A after finishing second in the Serie 2B. Serie A is only the second division in Italy after the Super 10. Think about that. In order to get more games (Vicenza plays a 22 match season), Stanfill had to go play in a league below the Super 10. Vicenza seems to be a very strong club with some strong financial backing and they could even gain promotion to the Super 10 next year, but the Serie A can't be much better than the best teams in the U.S. can it? The top U.S. teams are stocked with Eagles and former pros after all.
You can't blame Stanfill for wanting to move to a place that offers him a chance to play more rugby (plus, Italy isn't a bad place to live!). Still, there are more players like him. Derek Asbun is one of those players. Asbun, who earned a blue playing for Oxford, as well as a cap for the Eagles on their summer tour, is a young player with strong skills. The former Cal All-American has really stepped up is game over the last year and is looking for an opportunity to play. His development is critical for the Eagles as they look to bolster their options at Hooker. Asbun has traditionally been a back row player but can make the switch to hooker if he has experience. Asbun has been getting some experience on his own. Besides taking the initiative and moving to Oxford, Asbun recently played in the Rosslyn Park 7's and the J.P. Morgan Premiership 7's with London Wasps. He definitely has the tools to succeed overseas but landing a spot on a team in the UK is difficult.
Visa restrictions keep many U.S. players from playing overseas. That was reason Andrew Suniula and Shawn Pittman were let go at the end of last season. But without a better domestic option, these players have no choice but to wait for another opportunity. The same goes for Mike MacDonald, who has spent the last 10 years in England. Any RFU Championship side would love to have a player of MacDonald's quality but it's hard to open up a foreign roster spot. Chris Biller is another player who has benefited from his time overseas (stints with Bath and Northampton this last season). His play was noticeably better this summer. The Eagles benefit from players gaining experience overseas, but as long as restrictions are in place, they need a domestic option.
So what can be done? There are good club competitions here in America. The Rugby Super League is full of very tough teams. Stanfill won a championship with NYAC this last season in what was a terrific final against a tough Old Puget Sound Beach team. Stanfill was joined by fellow Eagles Mike Petri (who might be the best domestic based player in the U.S.) and Brian Doyle. Teammate Toby L'Estrange was called into camp and the team also has several former pros. San Francisco Golden Gate is another loaded team that has produced many pros over the years. However, for how high the quality can be on many teams in the Super League, a eight game regular season is not enough. The teams themselves will argue that as well but with travel costs what they are, it is too prohibitive to have more.
There are a couple of teams in the country that seem to be able to spend more money. The Glendale Raptors are one such team. They bolster a professional set-up with many amenities for players. They have their own stadium and were able to lure in Eagles James Paterson and Nic Johnson. Still, the play in the DI West is not exactly competitive. Week after week Glendale runs up big scores against opponents. They do play several tough teams throughout the year like SFGG but one or two matches like that a year is not enough.
The problem is that there is no apparent solution. There isn't enough money to expand the Super League or to establish a pro league at the moment. Getting an American team into a European cup competition is a great idea but more likely too expensive and looked down upon by European federations. Making all teams DI and regionalized would only further dilute the talent pool. Additionally, players have jobs and families. Adding more games to the schedule will only place more strain on players. Some many be able to take it but many more will crack.
Until professionalization comes to the U.S. there isn't a quick fix. The biggest question is who will take the lead in solving the problem. Will clubs join together to independently work out a solution? Will U.S.A. Rugby step in a become more strict on club standards? Will it be an outside entity that comes in and changes things around? These are certainly important questions to ask. One thing that is apparent and needs to be fixed is the tribalism among some rugby clubs. Rugby can definitely be a social thing, but the line between semi-pro and social needs to be adequately drawn.
The overall goal is creating the best atmosphere possible for young players to learn the game and for our national teams to succeed. We need to be able to organize rugby in this country enough to allow players like Lou Stanfill, Derek Asbun, and Shawn Pittman a place to play 20 high quality matches a year. I think we can do it. It is certainly going to take a lot of work but that hasn't stopped us in the past.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.