In the land of baseball, American football and basketball, rugby has never been a noticeable part of the American sporting experience. However, that could change quite soon.
In this year’s edition of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the US Rugby 7s team, known as the US Eagles, sit equal first with Fiji in the current rankings. It has been an incredible rise to prominence for the American side, since they were almost relegated from the competition five years ago.
The US has placed second in all three finals this year; however, they will be looking to go one better in Sydney this weekend. Having said this, the US is wary of joint-leaders, Fiji, who have overpowered the Eagles in the two most recent finals. The Fijians smashed the Eagles 38-0 in Hamilton last weekend, bettering their victory (29-15) in Durban in late December.
Where is Australia?
Australia currently sits in 6th position on 35 points, trailing 5th placed England on 35 points and 4th placed South Africa on 44 points. The Australians will be trying to crash the US party, hoping their home town advantage will get them over the line in Sydney, as it did last year.
The Australian side will be concerned about the rise of USA Rugby, given only the top four sides in this year’s tournament will gain automatic selection for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. If Australia wants to secure a position in Japan, they’ll have to win an Oceania tournament if they can’t place in the top four this year. While the squad has been struggling in recent tournaments, their performances haven’t yet matched the inconsistencies of the Wallabies.
Where to for USA Rugby?
The success of the US Eagles has largely been off the back of players without rugby backgrounds. Carlin Isles is an Olympic transfer athlete, whereas Perry Baker, the speedster sensation, has experience in the NFL. Baker was set to play for the Philadelphia Eagles after he was signed in 2011, however, a serious knee injury cut short his career. US skipper, Madison Hughes, has a more conventional rugby background, having honed his skills at Wellington College.
While the US Eagles will be eyeing their first World Series title, there is no doubt the possibility of automatic qualification for the 2020 Olympics will be at the back of their minds. The prospect of Olympic gold has motivated the US Rugby body, as they have now offered 24 players national contracts. It’s clear the US Eagles could well be a serious rugby threat in years to come.