PRO Rugby has started trickling out information about their search for players and to be completely frank, it has left many of us scratching our heads. That may not be the universal experience, but it seems to be common enough.
It’s the middle of a game. Two close rivals, neither giving an inch. Hard hits. Messy breakdowns.
A player goes into contact carrying the ball, goes to ground and presents the ball to their team’s side. In the melee of the ruck, an errant boot, unclear whether it belongs to one side or the other, strikes the player in the head. Fade to black.
The coach on the sidelines knows. He always knows.
“Get ______ off the ______ field.”
The athlete is confused and can’t remember what happened. They were even wearing a scrum cap, but honeycombed pieces of fabric do nothing to stop the scrambling of the brain underneath. It’s a concussion. No doubt about it. This player is done for the day.
Some time off, then back on the field. Rugby is rugby, and the seasons are shorter than anyone ever wants them to be, but long enough that things happen. Another half of rugby is played on another day, but the player feels a headache and leaves the field on their own accord. They do not return to play.
PRO Rugby has me really excited about the way they’re structuring their league and the stated approach to development and club inclusion. I am excited about the future of professional rugby in the U.S. and the comments that really stand out to me are from their Vision statement: “Our mission is to grow the game and provide opportunities for players to train and compete in a full-time high performance environment.” and Player page:
“Our primary goal is to grow and elevate the quality of rugby played in the USA and Canada. We are committed to working with the current clubs to supplement, rather than replace their activities. Current club players will be the foundation of PRO Rugby. Throughout the club season, players based on their individual performance, can move between the PRO Rugby league and the club league —similar to the minor leagues systems within Major League Baseball (MLB)…PRO Rugby will look to help grow the profile of local club programs by hosting 7s games during halftime and providing club sponsorships.”
I hope that they do consider structuring the “minor league” exactly the way MLB has done for nearly the past century as it has been a model of proven success.
I’ve been excited in the past couple of years to have been watching the growing use of analytics in sports. In particular, as a fan, I’ve been following what’s been going on in hockey as well as soccer. My goal as a rugby fan, player and coach, is to start digging into what the oval ball game has to uncover.
So, with that in mind, time to start work on some of the basics. Inspired by what’s been done in examining the value of goal differential, I thought I’d begin by examining point differential in rugby union.
Quick primer for the uninitiated; rugby has four ways of scoring points:
- Scoring a try (5 points)
- Converting a try (2 points)
- Kicking a penalty goal (3 points)
- Kicking a drop goal (3 points)
The team that is able to score more points in 80 minutes wins the game. Simple.
Ed Fletcher is a gawd.
According to his amazing Twitter (@NewsFletch) bio, “Ed Fletcher is a Sacramento Bee reporter, who happens to dabble in film, comedy and changing the world.”
And man, oh man, did he ever. His recap of the PRO Rugby announcement of Sacramento, California as the first venue for the nascent league contains some of the best things we’ve ever seen. Thanks to the intrepid reporting of Fletch, those of us who were unable to attend (or watch) now have it as a matter of public record.
We would recommend reading the whole article for the full effect, but it starts out by recapping the basics of what PRO Rugby is, and the selection of Bonney Field as the location of the first team. He then provides some context about the strength of the local rugby scene:
Within the rugby community, Sacramento is considered a hotbed of interest. The Northern California Youth Rugby Association is one of the largest in the United States, with 200 teams and 5,300 players from under-8 through high school. Adult clubs have 2,000 players, according to league officials. Jesuit High School’s team is considered one of the best in the nation and regularly produces some of the nation’s best prospects.
On the same day that PRO Rugby was officially announced, another piece of news came from USA Rugby, that they were seeking applicants for head coach for the Eagles.
While Mike Tolkin has not been fired, his contract has expired, and he is referred to in the posting as the “former” coach. While they are explicit that all applications will be considered, including that of Tolkin’s, should he choose to re-apply, I doubt that he’ll return to the helm.