Go back 100 years, and the US was a rugby giant. The country dominated the 1920 games and pretty much destroyed every other team out there.
However, as the years went by, things began to change. Researchers still aren’t quite clear why the US fell from the top echelons of rugby. They point to multiple factors. One could have been the absence of Olympic rugby competitions after the 1920s. There were just no high-level events to get people interested in the sports. Then there was the lack of a professional league in the US. Top sports colleges had nowhere to send their best and brightest talent. Plus, there was the rise of American Football – a modification of rugby that seemed to enthrall American audiences from the start.
Now, though, in 2021, it’s like we are coming full circle. With rugby a part of the Olympic competition, there are more incentives for teams and players to get involved. The US is currently fielding its best talent and unbelievably doing well in both male and female competitions.
In fact, most pundits now believe that the US has a 50 percent chance of reaching the podium in either of the main competitions. And it is making people wonder what’s changed.
If you read the best rugby articles on the matter, you’ll notice that people have many theories. Some see the recent Olympic success as a sign that Americans just suddenly, collectively, became much better at rugby.
But changes like this rarely happen overnight. To generate real talent in a sport, you need to work with a large number of young people from an early age. Ideally, you want kids running up and down the touch line from about the age of five so that they can build the muscle memory that they need to excel in the sport.
The real difference appears to be the introduction of rugby sevens. In a traditional game of rugby, 30 men – fifteen on each team – crowd onto the pitch and bludgeon the life out of each other. Getting punched in the face is par for the course for these professionals, many of them having broken faces that literally look lopsided.
That sort of sport doesn’t sit well with the Olympic committee who prefer to make events as tame as possible. And so during the 2016 Rio games, they made the decision to introduce rugby sevens. That’s essentially what has allowed the US to get its foot in the door.
American is traditionally terrible at the fifteen-person “rugby union” conventional version of the game. But it is substantially better at the seven-man version. And that could explain why it is doing so well in 2021.
For some, the IOC’s decision to move to a seven-man format was a cynical move to help American TV networks boost advertising revenue. People don’t tend to watch sports in which America loses. But they are much more likely to be glued to their screens if there is a good chance that they will win. So, as you might expect, things are getting a little controversial out there.