Posts Tagged ‘USA Rugby’

During last night’s BCS National Championship game, Gatorade aired a commercial called “Hard Work,” featuring a clip of rugby players hitting a scrum machine. As a former Hooker, Gatorade’s choice made me very happy on a personal level – scrummaging is certainly hard work! But more broadly, as someone who loves rugby and wants to see the game grow here in the United States, it was awesome to see such high-profile recognition from a major corporation. I tweeted about the commercial – curious to see how many other rugby fans had seen it – and was so encouraged to see Twitter light up with retweets and favorites.  In response to this reaction, Gatorade tweeted: “The rugby community has definitely shown their support & excitement with our new spot. Great to see.” I’m looking forward to seeing what Gatorade and USA Rugby have planned next.

Below, the commercial – blink and you’ll miss it!


Samu Manoa is a name Americans should know. He is the best American rugby player, and is among the best players of any nationality in one of the world’s top domestic leagues, the English Premiership. He plays mainly at lock (or second row), and is also capable of playing blindside flanker or number 8. He is a mountain of a man at 6’6″ and 271 pounds, and is well known for his ferocious tackling, but is also extremely agile and skillful. American media coverage of players like Manoa is going to be crucial for the growth of the game in the United States. We need increased grassroots investment and TV coverage, but also the development of a true rugby culture. Soccer is the blueprint: a kid growing up today in the Bay Area needs to be able to dream of being the next Samu Manoa, the same way a kid growing up in Nacogdoches, Texas can now dream of being the next Clint Dempsey.

Of Tongan heritage, (his grandfather and namesake captained Tonga in the 1960s), Manoa was born in Concord, CA in 1985. He played amateur club rugby for San Francisco Golden Gate and the quality of his play there earned him an opportunity at one of the top English clubs, Northampton. It has been a meteoric rise for Manoa considering he played his first game of professional rugby in September 2011. Northampton gave him a three-year contract extension just six months later, and he was named in ESPN’s Dream Team for the 2011/12 season. Manoa’s second season for the club was even more successful, earning the respect of teammates and fans alike as he was named Players’ Player of the Year as well as Supporters’ Player of the Year. He has continued his excellent form this season, recently being named Player of the Month for October.

Manoa will be a vitally important player for both Northampton and the USA Eagles for years to come. In the first video below, you will see many of his trademark hits – textbook technique, great timing, and thudding power. But also look out for his skill in the air – both at restarts and lineouts – as well as some deft passes in open play. The second video is a brutal hit he made while playing for the Eagles that has proved to be very popular on the great

Saturday November 23, 1 PM Eastern – Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Rugby Union is the fastest growing sport in the United States, with an estimated 1.13 million Americans already involved in the game. This number is only going to increase in the years to come. USA Rugby has done a great job investing in the grassroots of the game with Rookie Rugby, and just staged a very successful Test match – they managed to sell out 18,500-capacity PPL Park in Philadelphia with a few weeks to spare, and the Eagles produced a great performance (albeit in an ultimately losing effort) against a very strong Maori All Blacks side.  The full All Blacks are considering playing a Test here in 2014. The Eagles squad features a number of players currently plying their trade at top European clubs – Samu Manoa (Northampton), Chris Wyles (Saracens), and Blaine Scully (Leicester) all play in England, while Scott LaValla plays for Stade Français in Paris. All this without mentioning the inclusion of Rugby Sevens at the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics, and the exposure that will hopefully generate for both Sevens and Union here. So these are exciting times for rugby in America.

But there’s something else the game needs in order to grow here: star players (of any nationality) who are fun to watch not only for their strength, skill, and athleticism, but also for their style, the way they express themselves on and off the field. Look no further than Australia and Western Force winger Nick Cummins. Like Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, he is nicknamed “Honey Badger” for his tenacity, although unlike the diminutive Mathieu, Cummins is a big fella at 6’2″ and 219 pounds. He has become something of a cult figure in Australia for his post-match interviews, in which he dispenses with standard sporting clichés in favor of some delightful Australianisms. In the interview below, which was conducted after the Italy-Australia match two weeks ago, Cummins speaks fondly about how it’s “good to bag a bit of meat – tasted like a bit off the bone, actually.” (“Meat,” in this context, refers to “meat pie” which is rhyming slang for “try.”)


But alas, the Honey Badger is not in the Australian team to face Scotland – he was one of six players to be dropped by coach Ewen McKenzie on Monday for engaging in a bit of mid-week boozing before the 32-15 victory over Ireland last weekend. Although there was no alcohol ban or curfew in place, and although there were no reports of inappropriate conduct, McKenzie felt that the players in question had had a few too many and stayed out too late, and decided he needed to send a message that he is serious about establishing a professional team culture. Rugby went professional in 1995, but it still retains some of its amateur roots, especially with regard to teams getting into a bit of mischief while on tour. So I empathize with the players, but I can understand McKenzie’s perspective as well.

This long-winded introduction brings us to the game itself. In addition to the alcohol-related suspensions of Cummins and Adam Ashley-Cooper, inside center Matt Toomua is injured, and outside center Tevita Kuridrani is serving a five-week ban for an illegal tackle he made against Ireland. The result is four enforced changes in the backline – Mike Harris and Christian Leali’ifano come in at 12 and 13, respectively, while Chris Feauai-Sautia and Joe Tomane start on the wings. As Leali’ifano has never played senior rugby at 13 (usually considered the most difficult position defensively), when defending against Scotland, Australia may drop flyhalf Quade Cooper out of the line, with the backs outside him moving in one position. That would leave Harris and Leali’ifano at 10 and 12, where they have considerable experience, and Feauai-Sautia at 13, where he started five games for the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby this year. It will be interesting to see if this makeshift backline can be effective on Saturday.

The Australian pack is unchanged – they have been deservedly criticized this season, but produced a much better performance against Ireland. They will have to conjure up another huge effort against the Scottish pack. For the Scots, lock Jim Hamilton is a guy who, as the Aussies would say, provides real mongrel – exactly what Australia has frequently lacked of late. He is a hulking figure at 6’8″ and 275 pounds, and plays a very aggressive and confrontational style. In the back row, blindside Johnnie Beattie and openside Kelly Brown, who captains the side, are good, honest grafters, while number 8 David Denton is a major ball-carrying threat.

The Scots defended bravely for long periods against South Africa last week, but were completely outclassed by a very good Springbok team. I expect to see an improved performance this weekend. If the Scots are to beat Australia, their pack will need to provide a rock-solid platform for their unsteady backline. Murrayfield is one of world rugby’s great stadiums, and the crowd will lift the Scottish players. Finally, it remains to be seen what effect the distraction of the six players being suspended may have on the Australians. I see Scotland keeping this one close for 60 minutes before Australia pulls away. It may require a moment of magic from Cooper or Israel Folau to break the Scottish resolve. Australia by 10