Rugby Union: American Pro Rugby Project Pushed to 2014

Jeff Hull@@HullatHomeContributor IIIJune 5, 2013

Gillette Stadium was to be the site of an August 10 rugby, game which would have been carried on the NFL Network.
Gillette Stadium was to be the site of an August 10 rugby, game which would have been carried on the NFL Network.

Rugby Law, the partnership which had forged a carriage agreement with the NFL Network, and has dreams of bringing a professional rugby competition to North American shores, has announced the postponement of their planned exhibition series later this summer.

The American half of the exhibition event was to have seen a group of recruited American athletes and contracted overseas players square off against the Aviva Premiership's London Irish. That barbarians-style event, if it takes place, will now occur no earlier than the summer of 2014.

Rugby Law's press release stated that:

Rugby Law will not proceed with the Independence Cup game on August 10, 2013, at Gillette Stadium, given that the time from the conclusion of the required contracts to the game date is not sufficient to meet the strategic goals of Rugby Law.

That goal has always been to provide an elite Rugby Union XV league for the United States. 

Bleacher Report was involved in the breaking of this story on May 11, when our report confirmed the involvement of Premier Rugby.  

Recently, George Robertson and Michael Clements—the men at the centre of the American pro rugby project—had announced the involvement of former English international Henry Paul, who was to have headed up an American combine to select talented U.S. athletes.

The time frame Paul was being given to locate, select and integrate such a squad of players would have been a feat of truly heroic proportions. 

Had the project gone forward, Paul would have been responsible for training a squad of unproven—and in some cases completely inexperienced—rugby players to a Premiership standard in only a few months time.

However, the delay has apparently not dampened Paul's enthusiasm for the enterprise.

That enthusiasm, which was evident in Mr. Robertson and Mr. Clements, when they met with Bleacher Report at the Global Rugby Forum in Philadelphia last week, is now something which will be replaced by a more sober analysis of their goals and challenges.

Both men responded to Bleacher Report's request for an interview, and had this to say about their new time-line.

"We may have allowed ourselves to have been driven a little too much by passion", said Robertson. "As we began to generate greater interest from investors and potential partners, we realized that there were several things that would need to be done from the standpoint of good business practices.

The game at Gillette Stadium was always one that had been designed to prove what Americans could do on the rugby pitch and to generate interest from potential investors. We feel the additional time will allow us to be more effective on all fronts; including on the field."

Mike Clements went on to defend the postponement as an effort to move forward in a responsible businesslike way.

"We were confident that we could have pulled off the game this summer. But if you are going to try and launch a rocket," Clements said, "you have to listen to your engineers and even delay the launch if they tell you conditions aren't optimal. We know that we can do a far better job of filling Gillette Stadium for a rugby match, and achieving the business results we are aiming at, if we take the time to check off all the right boxes in our business model."

Certainly, it is hard to argue that the fate of this American professional rugby dream can only benefit from more due diligence and a much longer time-line. The logistics involved in pulling off such an event on short notice would have been daunting. 

But what do the American group's existing partners think of the delay? 

We had previously reported that England's Premier Rugby, the owners of the Aviva Premiership, were to supply the opponents for the August test series. However, RugbyLaw now tells Bleacher Report that both Premier Rugby and the NFL Network—with whom the group has a carriage agreement—will have the option not to continue should they wish to withdraw from the endeavor.

"When we look for partners," said George Robertson "we look for those who want to work with us and see the potential in American professional rugby".

Whether or not Premier Rugby and the NFL continue to maintain their involvement, those behind the project are moving forward with a purpose, even if they are now doing so at a more deliberate pace and with some lessons learned.

RugbyLaw's George Robertson had these comments, as his talk with Bleacher Report drew to a close.

"We welcome the naysayers and critics. We believe that the American sports fan will fall in love with the speed and combativeness of professional rugby and we believe there is a huge market waiting. Over the next year, we will be moving forward to bring a professional XV's league to the United States; which we believe is something that will, one day, see America win the Rugby World Cup."

Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

Unless otherwise stated, all quoted material was obtained first-hand.

To follow the author on Twitter, click on the link below.



The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.