Now that 2012 is almost in the books, it’s time to take a look at the top five moments from the past year in American rugby.
5. Large crowds turn out for DI-A final and Eagles vs. Italy. 17,000 turned out to watch the Eagles play Italy in Houston and 7,000 turned out to watch BYU defeat Arkansas State in the DI-A final this year marking a milestone for attendance in this country. The Eagles attendance alone is better than the several years of home matches combined. While the DI-A final was slightly down from the 10,000 that turned out in 2011, it’s still a great number and is one of the highest numbers ever for a college match. Factors such as holding the DI-A final in the heart of BYU territory at Rio Tinto Stadium and putting the Eagles vs. Italy match in a brand new stadium in Houston certainly helped attendance, but the simple fact is that rugby is growing in the United States and more people want to attend matches. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a repeat of these numbers in 2013.
4. Elite Cup, Varsity Cup, Sevens Academy Program, and the IRB Women’s Sevens Series are all announced. Each of these competitions were launched in response to the need to get better playing time for top players and to market the game. So far the only one of these competitions to play a match is the IRB Women’s Sevens Series and they have only had one event. That means that the jury is still out on all these competitions, but there is no doubt they will change the future of rugby in this country. Either they will improve the level of competition for elite players and increase the marketability of rugby in this country, or they will set back that process for years to come.
3. Alex Magleby replaces Al Caravelli as U.S.A. 7’s coach. Whether or not you thought Caravelli’s encouraged resignation was the right call or that Magleby was the right choice for the job, there is no question that it was a big moment for rugby in America in 2012. Caravelli had been the coach of the Eagle 7’s since 2006 and had successfully guided them to core status on the series. He had also been instrumental in working with the USOC to integrate the team into the Olympic program. Because of his deep involvement in this process, his encouraged resignation came as a great surprise. The decision to make Magleby the head coach was less of a surprise but at times has been as controversial. Magleby has made many structural changes to the program, with the recent announcement of the Sevens Academy System at the top of that list. Results have improved as well with the team making the Cup quarterfinals for the first time in two years.
2. The Eagles finished the year with a .500 record for the first time in almost a decade. The last time the Eagles finished with a winning record was all the way back in 2003. It was also the last time a U.S. team had a winning record on a foreign tour. In 2011 the team won only two matches (both against Russia), and lost seven. So to turn it around a finish this year with an even record says something about the collective attitude of the players and the belief they have in their new coach, Mike Tolkin. The players really seemed to respond well to the changes made by Tolkin, especially on the offensive end. Even when the team lost, such as the matches against Italy and Tonga, the team looked good on attack. For once the team looked to be having fun while playing. Never was this more evident than in the team’s 34-3 defeat over Romania to end the year. If the Eagles can continue to keep their core together and improve, next year they may even finish with a winning record.
1. Junior All-Americans defeat Japan for the Junior World Rugby Trophy title. How important was the Junior All-Americans triumph in the JWRT? Think about this, it is the first official major trophy ever won by a U.S. team at any level. (The women’s senior team won a world championship back in the 90’s, but it was not yet sanctioned by the IRB.) That is quite an accomplishment and it’s a great sign that the U.S. could have a bright future in the years ahead.
The team certainly had its fair share of pressure: playing in front of a home crowd, the tournament finally took place at a reasonable time for college players, they had preparation time, and they had a number of touted players. Despite all of this pressure, the team responded in a big way. It all began with a pair of friendly match wins against Canada in May and then continued in the tournament with pool wins over pre-tournament favorites Tonga, Chile, and Russia. It ended with a tense 37-33 win over Japan in the final.
Some of the players on the team include Madison Hughes, who is tipped to be the next U.S. star, Will Magie, Cameron Falcon, Kingsley McGown, and Mike Te’o. Other players on the team excelled as well and if they develop over the next few years, this could be the core of the next group of Eagles. Additionally, the win means that the team will now compete in the Junior World Championship next year in France against the best teams in the world. It’s a major step forward for American rugby.
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