Rugby’s Quest Tackle the World

Ted Orbach, Contributing Writer

Despite what lacrosse fans would have you believe, rugby is in fact the fastest growing sport in the USA. There are around million players currently playing in the United States, a number increasing by 14% every year, compared to just 3% to 5% for lacrosse. A recent international friendly match between the United States and new Zealand was played in front of a sold out crowd of 62,000, a number that would have seemed impossible to achieve only five to ten years ago. Outside of the US, rugby has been a staple of athletics for a long time. In fact, the Rugby World Cup consistently ranks in the top five sporting events in terms of viewership. This is no surprise, considering the passionate fanbases in many countries around the globe, such as Great Britain, South Africa, and New Zealand, and many small Polynesian nations such as Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and others. With the continued growth in other nations such as the USA, Canada, and Russia, the size of the sport is bound to increase in the coming years.

Initially, rugby was a rebellion of sorts from traditional games like soccer. It was said to be invented in the town of Rugby in England when William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the ball during a game of soccer. As the new game of Rugby Football gained popularity in Britain and Ireland, other European countries picked it up as well and standardized rules were established in 1871. It wasn’t until 1995, however, that rugby changed from a semi-pro club-based sport to a professional league with paid players.

The Rugby World Cup, however, actually began in 1987, before the sport actually became professional. Ever since those days of amateur players representing each country, the quality and competitiveness of the tournament have increased, and fans seem to be noticing. Since 1999, the Rugby World Cup has been held between 20 nations over a period of about a month. For the longest time, the group stage of the World Cup was extremely one-sided, but in recent years more teams have started fielding increasingly better sides. There were several major upsets during the pool stage of this 2015 World Cup. The tiny nation of Georgia was able to defeat perennial powerhouse Tonga 17-10 just a match into the tournament. Not only that, but on the same day Japan managed to defeat the two time champion South Africa with a last second score, marking possibly the biggest upset in international rugby history. The win marks a shift in the tides of international rugby, as more former second tier nations are improving. Following these upsets, there is great media anticipation for the 2019 Cup, which Japan will be hosting.

Although the U.S. did not perform very well in the 2015 Cup (losing all four of their pool matches), the forecast for United States rugby is very bright. The massive growth of the sport sees the U.S. aiming for a possible 2027 World Cup hosting, and hopefully a much better side. By then, we may see rugby becoming the juggernaut of a sport it has the potential to be in this country.