|Rugby union in the United States|
Air Force and Navy playing a match hosted by the Alamo City RFC (2006)
|1875, Boston-McGill v. Harvard|
(5 November 2016)
Ireland vs New Zealand
(Soldier Field, Chicago)
|Season||Major League Rugby|
Rugby union in the United States is a growing national sport. Rugby union at the youth, high school, college, club, and international levels is governed by USA Rugby. There are over 125,000 players registered with USA Rugby as of 2016. Over 2,500 rugby clubs exist around the country, with college rugby being the most popular.
There are several high-profile rugby competitions in the U.S. The USA Sevens is held every February at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, and draws over 60,000 fans and is broadcast on NBC. The U.S. national team hosts international matches every June, with attendances around 20,000. The Collegiate Rugby Championship is held every June at Talen Energy Stadium in the Philadelphia suburb of Chester, Pennsylvania, and draws around 20,000 fans and is broadcast on NBC.
Rugby union was first introduced to the United States in the mid nineteenth century and gained popularity throughout the late nineteenth century. However, it started to decline from the early 1900s. The U.S. won the gold medal in rugby at the 1920 Olympics and again at the 1924 Olympics, but rugby collapsed in the country after the 1924 Olympics (except in certain hotbeds of Rugby such as San Francisco, St. Louis and New York, which saw continuous competition). Rugby did not re-emerge in the US until its renaissance in the 1960s and 1970s. The United States of America Rugby Football Union (now known as USA Rugby) was formed in 1975.
The United States men's national team, the Eagles, has competed in all but one of the Rugby World Cup tournaments held every four years since 1987. The U.S. national team plays home matches every June, including international test matches. The United States is a Tier 2 rugby nation, which means that it is not currently competitive at the elite level of the sport, but is one of World Rugby's key development markets. The national team has competed in the six-nation Americas Rugby Championship every year since 2016.
USA Rugby fields other national teams. The men's national rugby sevens team has been a "core team" that has participated in every tournament since 2008 of the annual World Rugby Sevens Series. The women's national team has reached the quarterfinals of every Women's Rugby World Cup, and won the inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup in 1991. The women's national sevens team is one of the core teams in the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, which has included a tournament in the U.S. since its first season in 2012-13. The U.S. tournament was held in Houston in the 2012-13 season, and since then has been held in the Atlanta suburb of Kennesaw, Georgia.
The first recorded rugby match in the United States occurred on May 14, 1874, between Harvard University and McGill University. Rugby grew in the early 1900s, spurred in part by American football's crisis of 1905-06 due to the perception that American football was a violent sport. During this era, rugby was perceived as having the potential to challenge American football as the dominant football code on the west coast. At the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, a United States rugby team composed largely of players from Stanford University defeated France to win the gold medal. Rugby union was again included in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, where the United States again defeated France for the gold. Despite this success, however, rugby in the United States largely faded away.
Rugby began its revival in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, as many colleges started club rugby teams.USA Rugby, the body that governs rugby in the U.S., was founded in 1975. On 31 January 1976, the U.S. national team played Australia--in its first official match since the 1924 Olympics--before 8,000 fans at Glover Field in Anaheim, California. Australia won the match 24-12.
The United States national team participated in the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup. Rugby in the U.S. received a significant boost in 2009 when the International Olympic Committee voted to reinstate rugby into the Summer Olympics beginning in 2016.
Rugby union played anywhere is governed by World Rugby, formerly known as the International Rugby Board, which is based in Dublin, Ireland. It is the governing and law-making body for rugby globally. World Rugby has over 100 member unions.
USA Rugby is the member union of the United States within World Rugby. USA Rugby is responsible for overseeing rugby union domestically and training the various national teams that they put on the pitch.
Rugby started to grow in the United States in the 1960s. The United States of America Rugby Football Union formed in 1975, and joined World Rugby (then known as IRFB) in 1987.
Within USA Rugby, there are several Geographical Unions (GU's) that are charged with governing a specific region of the country. Within these GU's, there are also Local Area Unions (LAU's), which are responsible for governing a specific region within their respective GU's.
More than 98,000 people are registered members of USA Rugby. The numbers of registered rugby members are highest in California, New York and Pennsylvania. On a per-person basis, rugby membership is highest in New England and in the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and Utah.
There are 32,754 men and 11,790 women playing senior-level rugby. Over 34,000 high school athletes (26,212 boys and 8,706 girls) play rugby for their schools or U19 clubs. Over 2,200 pre-teens (1,988 boys and 228 girls) play organized rugby. With over 20,000 registered females in USA Rugby, the U.S. has more female rugby players than any other country in the world. There are 1,582 referees within USA Rugby.
A 2010 survey by the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association ranked rugby as the fastest growing sport in the U.S. In 2014 the Sports and Fitness Industry Association reported rugby as the fastest growing team sport in the U.S. during the previous five years. Rugby participation in the U.S. has grown significantly since 2000, growing by 350% between 2004 and 2011. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of high-school rugby players in the U.S. increased by 84%, with 28,000 players in 650 high school programs. By 2010, the number of registered players in the U.S. had grown to over 81,000, moving the U.S. ahead of traditional rugby powers Wales and Scotland in terms of playing numbers, although the percentage of the U.S. population playing is obviously much lower.
|80,691||International tournament (7s)||2017 USA Sevens||2017-03-04|||
|61,500||International match (15s)||USA v. New Zealand||2014-11-01|||
|27,224||College tournament (7s)||2016 CRC Sevens||2016-06-04|||
|14,811||Professional club match (15s)||2016-17 English Premiership||2016-03-12|||
|11,000||College match (15s)||2011 College Premier Division||2011-06-01|||
Rugby's profile in the U.S. has increased as a result of the International Olympic Committee's announcement in 2009 that rugby would return to the Olympics in 2016. USA Rugby has formally become a member of the US Olympic Committee, allowing rugby players and programs access to Olympic resources.
Attendance at rugby matches and tournaments has grown significantly in recent years. Attendance for the USA Sevens tournament has grown steadily from 15,800 in 2004, to 52,000 fans at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas in 2011. The 2011 College Premier Division national championship match between Cal and BYU drew a crowd of 11,000 at Rio Tinto Stadium. A friendly match between the US and Ireland in 2009 drew 10,000 fans to Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, and a friendly match between the US and Italy in 2012 drew over 17,000 fans to BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. This was followed by 20,000-strong crowds at BBVA Compass Stadium vs. Ireland in June 2013 and Scotland in June 2014; these records were smashed in November 2014 however when an historic sell-out crowd of 61,500 watched the match against New Zealand at Soldier Field; the match also drew an average TV audience of 927,000 on NBC.
Another significant development in the history of U.S. rugby came at the 2015 London Sevens, the final tournament of the 2014-15 Sevens Series, when the US won its first-ever championship of a Sevens Series event.
|CRC Sevens||NBC & NBCSN||2010|
|USA Sevens||NBC & NBCSN||2011|
|Rugby World Cup||NBC & NBCSN||2011|
|Americas Rugby Championship||ESPN2||2016|
|Premiership Rugby||NBC Sports Group||2016|
|Six Nations Rugby||NBC & NBCSN||2018|
The announcement in 2009 that rugby in its rugby sevens format would by admitted into the 2016 Summer Olympics has meant increased TV exposure. Rugby came onto NBC's radar following the 2009 announcement. NBC has begun broadcasting several rugby tournaments on network TV, particularly rugby sevens tournaments, considered a television friendly format. NBC has shown the Collegiate Rugby Championship each year since 2010. NBC has also broadcast the USA Sevens tournament each year since 2011. Roughly 5.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2011 USA Sevens, helping increase awareness of the sport of rugby. Viewership for the 2012 USA Sevens on NBC earned successful ratings (0.7), beating the ratings for an NHL match (0.4) and five college basketball games (0.1-0.3) played that same weekend. The TV ratings on NBC for the USA Sevens and Collegiate Rugby Championships grew 14% from 2013 to 2014, with the 2014 USA Sevens drawing ratings of 0.7 on Saturday and 1.0 on Sunday.
NBC, along with its Universal Sports affiliate network, broadcast ten matches of the 2011 Rugby World Cup -- three on NBC and seven on Universal -- marking the first time the Rugby World Cup was broadcast live on TV in the U.S. NBC broadcast a November 1, 2014 match between the United States and New Zealand, earning a 0.7 rating. NBC and Universal Sports Network broadcast nine matches (two on NBC, seven on Universal) from the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. NBC Sports Group has broadcast matches from Premiership Rugby since spring 2016, and began broadcasting the European Six Nations Championship in 2018. The 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens held in San Francisco set U.S. rugby viewership records -- the finals day coverage averaged 1.4 million viewers.
In addition, specialty cable channels have begun broadcasting an increasing amount of rugby. Select international matches and European club matches are shown on WatchESPN.
The United States is considered a likely candidate to host a Rugby World Cup, due to the recent growth and future growth potential of rugby in the U.S., which has been recognized by World Rugby. In 2010, Mike Miller, at the time the CEO of what was then known as the IRB, stated that the U.S. would host a Rugby World Cup, stating that "it's a question of when, not if."USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville revealed in November 2011 that the U.S. had been asked by the IRB to consider preparing a bid to host the Rugby World Cup, and that USA Rugby was considering bidding for the rights to host the 2023 or the 2027 Rugby World Cup. When the U.S. was then awarded the right to host the 2012 IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy (a tournament now known as the World Rugby Under 20 Trophy), it was seen as the U.S. moving a step closer to hosting a Rugby World Cup. Nigel Melville stated that hosting the 2012 IRB JWRT was "the first step to ... hosting a Rugby World Cup." IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset has acknowledged that "the USA is a very important and exciting market for Rugby."
The United States has several features that would make it a successful host of the Rugby World Cup:
The popularity of rugby was given a minor boost when it was featured in the fourth season of Friends in the episode The One with all the rugby, broadcast February 26, 1998. Rugby was also featured prominently in the 2008 movie Forever Strong. Rugby was also prominent in the film The Departed, by virtue of being set in Boston's Irish community.
Two recent U.S. presidents have played the sport:
The United States national rugby union team is nicknamed the Eagles. They played their first international in 1912, but did not begin playing regularly until 1976. The Eagles have qualified for six of the seven Rugby World Cups, including the most recent 2015 Rugby World Cup. The U.S. national team also hosts international matches every June, and generally tours against European teams each November.
The U.S. national team has played in six of the seven Rugby World Cup tournaments held every four years since the inaugural 1987 tournament. In the 1987 Rugby World Cup, the United States won one match, beating Japan 21-18 in the pool stage.
At the 1991 Rugby World Cup the United States went 0-3 with losses to New Zealand, England and Italy. The U.S. failed to qualify for the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. At the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales, the U.S. failed to win a match, losing 25-27 to Romania.
The U.S. had one of its better performances at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, winning one game 39-26 against Japan, and narrowly losing to Fiji 18-19. U.S. fly-half Mike Hercus scored 51 points in the tournament, ranked seventh highest in the tournament, even though the U.S. diss not advance to the knockout rounds.
The U.S. came away from the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France without a win. One of the team's high points, though, was the winger Takudzwa Ngwenya, who scored against South Africa by out-pacing Bryan Habana for a try, earning "Try of the Year".
The USA played in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. The team's highlights included a 13-6 win against Russia, and a narrow 22-10 loss against tier-one opponent Ireland. The U.S. had a disappointing 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, losing all four matches, including losses to Tier 2 countries Samoa 16-25 and Japan 18-28.
The North America 4 was an elite-level IRB-financed tournament that ran from 2006 until 2008. The tournament was contested between four teams, two from the United States and two from Canada.
The United States national team participated in the Pacific Nations Cup from 2013 to 2015. The tournament was intended to strengthen the Tier 2 rugby nations by providing competitive test matches in a tournament format. However, the United States and Canada ended their participation after the 2015 competition.
In 2009, World Rugby launched a new competition, the Americas Rugby Championship, with four teams. The teams included a "USA Selects", effectively the United States "A" (second-level) side; a Canadian team; the Argentina Jaguars, an Argentine developmental side; and an Uruguayan team. These matches between A-sides were not considered official international test matches. The competition was held annually from 2009 through 2014, except in the World Cup year of 2011.
The Americas Rugby Championship was relaunched in 2016 as a Western Hemisphere equivalent to Europe's Six Nations Championship. The new format involves the Argentina Jaguars and the full national teams of the USA, Brazil, Canada, Chile, and Uruguay. All matches in the tournament, including those against Argentina Jaguars, are full international tests, and all count in the World Rugby Rankings except those involving Argentina Jaguars.
The governing body for World Rugby lifted rugby union's ban on professional rugby following the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Since that time, as other nations have professionalized rugby within their countries, USA Rugby has struggled to transition to a sustainable professional rugby club competition.
The Rugby Super League was the national premier Division 1 rugby amateur club competition that ran from 1997 to 2012. The Super League was created in 1996 by the major territorial unions within USA Rugby with the intention of creating a competitive national competition. The inaugural season of the competition saw 14 teams divided into two seven-team divisions: the Western-Pacific Conference and the Midwestern-East Conference.
Aspen won the first championship. Belmont Shore was the most successful club, appearing in the finals every year from 2002 to 2008, until the club left the competition. San Francisco Golden Gate then led the league, appearing in the finals every year from 2009 to 2011.
The size of the league fluctuated over the years. The inclusion of some sub-par clubs and the exclusion of top-performing clubs was controversial issue since the inception of the Super League, called into question whether it was really USA's "premier" competition.
Following the demise of the Super League, USA Rugby formed the Elite Cup in 2013 among the top eight clubs from the previous season's National Division I Club Championship. The competition was divided into two pools of four teams: East, consisting of Boston, Life Running Eagles, New York Athletic Club, and Old Blue of New York; and West, consisting of Denver Barbarians, Glendale Raptors, San Francisco Golden Gate, and Seattle OPSB. However, the competition lasted only one year, as three of the four western members affiliated with the Pacific Rugby Premiership.
In 2013, seven western clubs announced the formation of the Pacific Rugby Premiership, consisting of three teams from southern California, two from northern California, and two from Colorado. The PRP is a Division 1 competition that began play in spring 2014. The season runs from February to May, with a 12-game regular-season schedule in which teams play each other team twice, culminating in a one-game championship match in May. The teams competing are:
|Olympic Club RFC||San Francisco, CA||1908|
|Old Mission Beach A.C.||San Diego, CA||1966|
|Denver Barbarians R.F.C.||Denver, CO||1967|
|Santa Monica R.C.||Los Angeles, CA||1972|
|Belmont Shore R.F.C.||Los Angeles, CA||1974|
|San Francisco Golden Gate R.F.C.||San Francisco, CA||2001|
|Glendale Raptors||Denver, CO||2006|
In July 2014, five eastern clubs announced the formation of the American Rugby Premiership, consisting of two teams from New York, two from Boston, and one from Atlanta. The competition schedule involves eight matches played in a split season, with the first half of the season during September-October, a winter break, and the remaining half of the season in April-May, culminating in a challenge match between the champions of the Pacific and the Atlantic competitions. In 2016, Mystic River Rugby Club became a full member of the ARP, replacing Life RFC in a reformatted competition. The teams competing are:
|Boston RFC||Boston, MA||1960|
|Boston Irish Wolfhounds||Boston, MA||1989|
|Life RFC||Atlanta, GA||1980|
|Mystic River||Boston, MA||1974|
|NYAC RFC||New York, NY||1973|
|Old Blue RFC||New York, NY||1963|
In 2015 eight Midwestern clubs announced the formation of the Midwest Rugby Premiership, consisting of two teams from Chicago, two from Ohio (Cincinnati and Columbus), and one each from Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Davenport, IA. The MRP is a Division 1 competition that began play in fall of 2015. The season runs from September to May, with a 14-game regular-season schedule in which teams play each other twice, a playoff semi final, culminating in a one-game championship match in May. In November 2015, in conjunction with the Red River Premiership the Metropolis RFC, Kansas City RFC, Austin Blacks RFC and Dallas Reds RFC took part in the inaugural USA Rugby sanctioned first round of the Gold Cup. The teams competing are:
|Chicago Lions RFC||Chicago, IL||1964|
|Metropolis RFC||Minneapolis, MN||1960|
|Kansas City Blues RFC||Kansas City, MO||1966|
|Milwaukee Barbarians RFC||Milwaukee, WIS||2012|
|Cincinnati Wolfhounds RFC||Cincinnati, OH||1974|
|Chicago Griffins RFC||Chicago, IL||1973|
|Palmer Chiropractic College RFC||Davenport, IA||1960|
|Columbus RFC||Columbus, OH||1975|
The development of a domestic professional rugby competition is seen as a key step in the growth of rugby in the United States. USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville predicted in 2012 that professional rugby would come to the United States by 2015. Melville was quoted in 2014 as saying "We can do it in two years, it will be city-driven and we will start with six [teams] and we will go from there." U.S. national team assistant coach Justin Fitzpatrick said in 2015 that by 2016 the U.S. will have resolved to create a professional domestic rugby competition.
Griffins Rugby, based in Dallas, announced its goal of becoming a professional rugby club. Jake Abbott became the first professional player to join Griffins from English club Worcester Warriors, and by 2015 the club had signed four professional players.
In November 2015, the Professional Rugby Organization (PRO Rugby) announced that it was launching a USA Rugby-sanctioned professional competition in 2016. Teams played at medium-size venues, with a 12-match schedule from April to July 2016. The five teams were Denver, Ohio, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco. On December 21, 2016, the league announced that its investors has pulled funding and that league operations would be suspended indefinitely.
Major League Rugby is an American professional rugby union competition that launched its inaugural season in April 2018. MLR is an initiative driven by existing USA Rugby-member teams, in partnership with private investors, who believe that American rugby can thrive at the highest levels: as a commercial enterprise; as an influential player on the international scene; and as a participation sport at the youth and senior level.
The USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship is the top annual American rugby sevens competition organized by USA Rugby. The best sixteen clubs in the country participate each year. The most successful club in the competition is San Diego based OMBAC, which has won six titles.
Rugby union is played in universities throughout the United States. More than 1,000 colleges have rugby teams. College rugby is the largest section of USA Rugby's membership. For the 2010-11 season, there were over 32,000 college members and 854 college clubs registered with USA Rugby, roughly a 14% increase from 28,000 college members in August 2008. College rugby continues to grow in popularity, and rugby is one of the fastest growing sports across college campuses.
Women's college rugby is also experiencing significant growth. Rugby was designated as an "emerging varsity sport" by the NCAA in 2002. Initial growth was slow, with only four women's varsity programs in place as of 2008. The sport received a huge boost with the 2009 decision by the International Olympic Committeeee that rugby would return to the Olympics beginning in 2016. Since 2013, 2-4 colleges each year have added a women's varsity program, bringing the total number of programs up to 21 as of 2017.
College rugby includes the National Collegiate Championship competition in fifteens rugby (since 1980). USA Rugby created a smaller Division 1-A competition in 2011 of roughly 30 schools with the intention of refining topflight collegiate rugby. In 2013 a number of top rugby schools formed the Varsity Cup postseason tournament, leading to the perceived existence of two national championships. The Varsity Cup final has been broadcast live on NBC Sports every spring since 2014.
The 2009 announcement that rugby sevens would return to the Olympics in 2016 has led to an increased emphasis in the collegiate ranks on the sevens game, and increasing interest from TV and other media. The highest profile collegiate 7s competition is the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC), which is held in June of every year at Talen Energy Stadium in suburban Philadelphia and is televised live by NBC. USA Rugby also operates a college sevens national championship, the USA Rugby Sevens Collegiate National Championships.
Outstanding college rugby players are recognized as All-Americans by USA Rugby. Qualified All-Americans can represent the United States in international tournaments by playing on the United States national under-20 rugby union team.
Rugby union has been growing in the United States at the high school level, both through high school athletic departments and school-sponsored activity clubs and through independent rugby clubs with no school affiliation:
Rugby became the 35th sport of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) in 2016, following a 2015 MIAA vote that passed by a wide majority. As of 2015, there were 19 boys' teams and 5 girls' teams in Massachusetts, with the majority of the Catholic Conference schools fielding rugby teams.
In 2017, 668 boys single-school and multi-school teams were active during the 15s season.
A list of the Geographical Unions (GU's) and their respective Local Area Unions are as follows:
|Geographical Unions||Local area unions|
|Capital Geographical Union|
|Carolinas Geographical Union|
|North Carolina RFU|
|Empire Geographical Union|
|Northern New Jersey|
|Eastern Penn Geographical Union|
|Eastern and Central Pennsylvania|
|Southern New Jersey|
|Florida Rugby Union|
|Mid-America Geographical Union|
|New England Rugby Football Union|
|Northern California Rugby Football Union|
|North and Central Nevada|
|Pacific Northwest Geographical Union|
|Southern California Rugby Football Union|
|Arizona Rugby Union|
|Texas Geographical Union|
|Central and Northwest Arkansas|
|North and Central Louisiana|
|True South Geographical Union|
|Deep South RFU|
|Independent||Allegheny Rugby Union|
|Chicago Area RFU|
|Georgia Rugby Union|
|Hawaii Rugby Football Union|
|Michigan Rugby Football Union|
|Minnesota Rugby Football Union|
|Wisconsin Rugby Football Union|