The USA Men’s National Team is not happy with how they, and by extension Tonga, Russia, and Canada are being pushed into a corner during the November tour this fall.
The Eagles were originally expected to play once in Wales, a mid-tour game against Cambridge University, and then another game at The Stoop, the home of the Harlequins Club.
Playing at The Stoop would have worked out nicely for the Eagles, as USA Rugby was planning a fundraising dinner wrapped around the game, attracting the large and vibrant American ex-pat community in London to support their team. It would have been a perfect marriage for those London-based Americans, who could stand to have some common sporting ground with their British colleagues.
But that’s all gone now, as the USA has been informed that they will be spending their entire time in Colwyn Bay in northern Wales. This is because the IRB and Welsh Rugby Union are trying to promote the new provincial pro team in north Wales, RGC 1404.
(RGC 1404 stands for Rugby Gogledd Cymru, with the 1404 the year Owain Glyndwr became Prince of Wales.)
Despite the historic aspect of the team, RFC 1404 is in soccer country (not that far from Chester or Liverpool), so the WRU is trying to use some international doubleheaders to bolster interest in rugby.
The WRU spent £6.5 million to build the new Parc Eirias rugby and events center, which opened last November, so they need events there.
Colwyn Bay is a seaside resort town just east of Anglesey (the big island just off the Welsh coast best known for being where Prince William works). It has a really nice zoo, and a population of 30,000.
“We’re disappointed,” said USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville. “We don’t get a lot of home matches as it is. We have to travel in the November window. But that’s OK if we’re playing at The Stoop and we get to do some fundraising and help build our brand. But what they’ve done is put all four teams into two double-headers out in northern Wales."
USA Rugby isn't event complaining about Colwyn Bay and Parc Eirias as a venue for one game. But this is supposed to be a tour, and a chance to not only play games, but train at more than one facility, and reach out to fans. All four teams will spend over two weeks in one small town in a remote part of the British Isles.
“If we play in London and can have a fundraiser with the American business community, we get that; that makes sense. But to put us in Colwyn Bay for two weeks, that’s the type of thing that gets frustrating for us.”
The teams are all slated to play November 9 and November 17 – no game in between. The Eagles will then travel to Bucharest to play Romania.
USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin told RUGBYMag.com that the change in plans has changed his plans. He will not be taking many development players, and won’t be playing a fourth game to give those players exposure.
“We will be there to win rankings tests, and that’s it,” said Tolkin. “If we didn’t have the ARC, maybe things would be different, but we have the ARC to give players on the fringe a chance to play. I don’t have a problem with taking players who might not play much or at all – Todd Clever did that for years.”
Melville will be lobbying to move one of these games, but it doesn’t look good – the people paying the bills get to decide where the games are. However, Melville is also going to be lobbying for some home games during the November tour window. Technically, the test match weekends set aside in November are for tours to the Northern Hemisphere, and yet the USA is never considered to be a destination – only Europe. The USA hasn’t hosted a non-World Cup test in the fall since 2001. Touring Europe is nice, but the Eagles (and the other teams involved) being shunted off to (to quote an old TV show) the top left-hand corner of Wales, smacks of disrespect.