The USA will play host to the All Blacks next year in their first game in North America in many years. Their opponent, though, has not yet been determined. The Springboks have been mentioned, as has a Barbarians team or a North American XV.
But the most logical option would surely be to play the USA Eagles. Not to do so would somewhat defeat the purpose of the initial venture and would be an insult to USA rugby.
While the USA can hardly claim to be amongst the game’s traditional powers, they are undoubtedly improving and showed how far they have come when they came within ten points of a handy New Zealand Maori team two weeks ago.
The All Blacks, of course, will offer far tougher competition, but there was enough in that performance to suggest that they deserve a shot at playing the world’s best team.
In the forwards, they were competitive for the majority of the game, retaining possession well and even gaining dominance at various stages over what was a reasonably physical opposition.
Their backs lacked some spark but, for the most part, held up on defence, holding a dangerous NZ Maori back line to four tries. On attack, they could do with some work, but this will come as they continue to play the game and their instincts and skill levels improve.
If they were to play the All Blacks, they would, undoubtedly, find the speed and physicality of the game a step up from anything they have come up against before. The only way for them to adjust to this, though, is for them to play against top-level opposition. If the All Blacks are going to go to the USA, why not give them the chance to do this?
It is things such as this that have potential to help grow the game in the long term. Given that this is one of the reasons for going there in the first place, it would be somewhat contradictory to then proceed to play another team and not give USA rugby the full benefit of having the world’s best team in their nation.
And, of course, there is the fact that USA citizens are far more likely to want to see their own team play, rather than a team from another nation or an invitational team of random superstars. The crowd at the USA’s game against the NZ Maori was fantastic when one considers this is a country where rugby is far from a major sport.
With the added attraction of getting to see their team take on the world’s best, you would have to think that this would only increase the appeal to the locals.
It seems to be the obvious option. Of course, a clash between the All Blacks and Springboks is always epic, but this seems a far riskier line to take, as there is no longer nationalism involved for the local crowd, meaning there is one less attraction for potential spectators.
A Barbarians-style team would no doubt put on a good show, but again, there is no nationalistic pride to use as a draw card, and for all intents and purposes, the game holds little to no meaning.
So, why not play the USA? They are a growing rugby nation and would benefit extraordinarily from the chance to play the All Blacks. This season saw the All Blacks play a test Japan in Tokyo for the first time in their history; this could be a similar venture. After what we saw from them against the NZ Maori, you would have to think they would be at least at a similar level to Japan.
So, give them a shot; they might just surprise a few people.