USA Rugby eyes future in Pacific Rim, and wants NZ Rugby's help

The USA Eagles will face the All Blacks “with one hands tied behind their backs” in Washington DC in October and are crying out for more tests as part of a common-sense vision that would see them shift hemispheres into a Pacific Rim competition that would

In an interview with Stuff, USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young has echoed the frustrations of many so-called Tier 2 nations at the lack of a meaningful test programme, and while welcoming the upcoming test against the All Blacks he says New Zealand Rugby's greatest contribution would be using its influence at World Rugby level to push for change.

“We as a union struggle getting connectivity with the American psyche, because we are not playing in a meaningful league competition,” Young said.

“Sevens has achieved a bit of that because we’ve been successful, and we're part of a regular competition.

“We’re getting there with the women playing alongside New Zealand, Australia and Canada in that Pack Four competition - it almost becomes the women's version of the Rugby Championship.

“But if we're brutally honest the money is in the men's XV game. From a men's XV perspective we’ve been struggling year-on-year locked into a fixture list.

“When you don't have that it's very hard to get a level of engagement with investors, sponsors and consumers, and rugby fans in the US.”

At present, USA Rugby is in the awkward situation of being designated as a northern hemisphere test nation, when Young sees them as a more natural fit alongside the likes of Japan, Asian countries, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

American players in Europe are currently released for the Six Nations test window in February/March, but this clashes with the US Major League Rugby competition.

In short, World Rugby’s current test calendar doesn't actually work for the great untapped North American market. Even when they play the All Blacks in October, they will likely do so without many of their best players in Europe, because the test falls outside the World Rugby window for player release.

Young will take all the tests he can get, but long-term term he is looking to the southern hemisphere, and a return of the Pacific Nations Cup format that also included the USA and Canada.

“We've started those discussions with World Rugby, almost trying to redesignate ourselves, so we get the opportunity to play international games in and around the Rugby Championship, which makes much more sense to have continuity in a season.

“There was the Pacific Rim Trophy [about] 10 years ago, which involved Japan, the Pacific Islands, US and Canada.

“To me, that's what makes sense.

“The lack of regular games for the likes of Fiji and Japan, Samoa, Canada etc, that sort of Pacific Rim type championship is the thing to me that makes the most logical sense for our involvement.”

Young acknowledges that the impact of Covid-19 has been enormous, and understands why forward-thinking projects such as redesigning the global test calendar and competition have taken a back seat at World Rugby level.