Rugby is the world’s third-most popular sport (behind soccer and cricket), but it has yet to find a significant foothold in the United States. That may soon change, though, as the sport now reportedly has the backing of the largest powerhouse in American athletics.
According to The Guardian, the NFL has partnered with Premier Rugby Limited — which operates England’s preeminent pro rugby association, the Aviva Premiership — to organize an elite-level rugby match this summer at Gillette Stadium, with the ultimate plan being to launch a six-team professional league along the East Coast as early as next year.
The match — dubbed the “Independence Cup” — is scheduled for August 10 and will feature the London Irish of the Premiership against a select U.S. side that will combine international veterans with young American players recruited through combines.
Drawing a substantial crowd to watch a sport that most Americans know next to nothing about is quite the undertaking, but the event’s organizers are confident that the influence of the NFL (the match will reportedly be broadcast on NFL Network) combined with the growing participation at the club and collegiate level (USA Rugby had 115,000 active members in 2012, according to its website) will allow them to reach their goal of 30,000 spectators.
Exposure for rugby has grown exponentially over the past few years, particularly in the “sevens” variety. The quicker, more wide-open version of the sport will make its debut at the Olympics in 2016, and NBC has promoted its product by broadcasting a number of sevens tournaments, including the collegiate national championships.
This summer’s match will be of the traditional 15’s variety, which most closely resembles the football fans are accustomed to seeing in Foxboro.
Photo via Facebook/USA Rugby