College Rugby in America? That Giant has awoken.
The USA might not be an automatic choice for aspiring rugby players looking for a place to study but there are a number of factors which could make it an attractive option. Here is the inside scoop from Gavin Hickie, Head Coach at Dartmouth.
I am approaching the start of my second season at Dartmouth Rugby, New Hampshire. After spending 2011 & 2012 coaching on the hard dusty pitches of California in Men’s and High School Rugby, I now coach in College Rugby on the East Coast, with all the challenges the weather can throw at us.
Rugby is a fast growing sport in the US. In the time I have been here I can see the changes that have happened across all age grades and formats of the game. There are a number of initiatives, which are helping to introduce rugby to younger players. These effects are starting to make an impact on the quality of play and depth of talent at College level.
The growing interest in the sport and investment by the colleges in developing rugby programmes is also helping the USA to make steady progress internationally.
I was part of the coaching team that won the IRB Junior World Trophy with the USA All Americans (U20s) in 2012 and I was also part of the staff in the recent Junior World Championship in France. Although the tournament did not go as well as we hoped, I believe that there are signs that we can compete consistently at this level. As a former Ireland U20 player I know the hard work required to perform and stay at this level. Although the tournament was a disappointment for us, I believe we will get back to the JWC again in the near future. I love my work with USA Rugby and helping these college players reach their rugby potential.USA Rugby - Eagles practicing with the All-Americans before they head to Salt Lake City for the main event
Although rugby is still a small sport by American standards you shouldn’t assume it’s a new sport. Rugby was first played at Dartmouth in 1877 and has been played regularly on campus since the 1950s. Dartmouth was the first college to tour overseas as a way of improving their game. It worked because the trophy room is full of the achievements and prizes won by the players and teams over the years who have worn the green of Dartmouth. There is a long heritage of success in the game at the College and the current generation of players see it as their duty to add to this.
So why would you consider the USA as your preferred option? Here are my 5 sporting reasons to pick America.
1. Vibrant College Rugby Scene
Rugby is the fastest growing team sport in the US, and collegiate players make up the biggest single group playing the game. With no professional domestic league yet, these are arguably the best players in the US with daily coaching and weekly games to hone their skills. Overseas coaches, including those from the English Premiership teams can now see the potential of players in this system and have begun attending events to assess players and build partnerships with US colleges.
2. Go Coast to Coast
Regional and national championships offer players the chance to travel this vast, beautiful country in search of titles. Dartmouth competes in the Collegiate Rugby Championships (CRCs), the Varsity Cup against the top 12 college teams as well as the Ivy League and various USA Rugby Championships held across the year. College sports attract avid passionate fans and rugby is no different.
3. Benefit from Professional Facilities
At Dartmouth, great facilities await the students, including use of the varsity gym, swimming pool, and medical facilities. ‘The Big Green’, as the team is known, train and play their games on Brophy Field which is overlooked by the impressive Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse.
As a professional player I was lucky enough to play at some of the most famous rugby grounds in the world. I can say with some certainty that the pitch which the men of
the Dartmouth play on is one of the best I have come across.
4. Challenge Yourself Athletically
Many US based athletes come to rugby for the first time at college and are playing catch up on their understanding of the game and building their key skill levels so overseas players who have played the game for longer tend to have an advantage in these areas.
However America is renowned for its athletes and their dedication to the physical challenge of the game is impressive. Training is tough, the hits are big and the skill level is ever improving!
5. Experience the Olympic Legacy
USA is one of the new rugby nations who are benefiting from 7s being named as an Olympic Sport for Rio 2016 and the funding which has followed. This is growing the audience for the sport and attracting sponsors at all levels, with many national events televised and college teams live streaming their home games.
If making a difference is one of the factors you want from your college education then think how your skills and experience of playing the game you love could be invaluable to your college team in an emerging rugby nation.
Success breeds success and your contribution could help grow the game in the land of opportunity.