Melville’s big plans for the big country

America’s rugby chief Nigel Melville is planning to launch a professional league in the United States to help attract former college gridiron players into the sport.

Melville, a former England captain, was appointed chief executive of USA Rugby last October with a remit to develop the game across the Atlantic.

The USA Rugby board estimates there are 15,000 college gridiron players who will never make it to the NFL and would consider rugby if it provided a living wage.

With the right coaching and direction, the running backs, linebackers and wide receivers of college football could be ideally suited to rugby.

And Melville believes tapping into that talent source could awaken the sleeping giant and propel the United States into the world’s top 12.

“Rugby can make a big impact in America because it’s already quite a popular game,” said Melville, the former Wasps and Gloucester coach.

“The only issue is that it’s not professional, which it needs to be if we’re going to close the gap on other countries and break into the top 12.

“Until you close the gap on other countries people aren’t going to look at it.

“The other sports on offer, particularly gridiron and basketball, take a lot of athletes out of circulation – but they’d definitely play rugby if there was money there.

“When they come out of college these guys either go into professional sports or they get a job.

“It’s not in their psyche to come out of college and play amateur sports, they just don’t do that.

“They get a job and a lot of them give up sport. We’re trying to get these guys into the game and the easiest way is by being professional.

“We’re looking at setting up a professional competition which will cross that divide between club and international rugby.

“It would be nice if we could get something set up next year.”

In the short term, Melville is helping to prepare the United States for their World Cup campaign in France later this year.

The Eagles squad, largely comprised of US-based amateur college players, will come up against defending champions England and southern hemisphere giants South Africa.

Melville believes tomorrow’s Barclays Churchill Cup clash with the England Saxons will provide the USA with ideal preparation for the World Cup.

The six-team tournament pitches the USA, Canada and guest side New Zealand Maori against the second string from established rugby nations England, Ireland and Scotland.

Tomorrow, at Edgeley Park in Stockport, the USA will face an England Saxons side featuring two capped internationals and a host of highly-rated youngsters.

Melville, the former Wasps and Gloucester coach, said: “Playing against England, and the likes of Shane Geraghty, is going to be a huge ask for our boys but we’ll be able to see what the gap is between ourselves and them.

“It’s about getting used to playing at their pace and trying to bridge that gap. “Above all, it’s an outstanding opportunity to play against some very good players and see what international rugby is all about ahead of the World Cup.”

 

365 Digital

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