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    Rules In America’s Fastest-Growing Sport Are Similar To Football

    November 2, 2019
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    Image by Michael Boyer

    This year to much fanfare the U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France. Though it has received little attention, U.S. Rugby has been on an almost equally historic run without any of accompanying political histrionics. Rugby, the sport that gave us American football, is the fastest growing sport in the United States in terms of popularity (if we ignore eSports).

    The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team involved itself in a social media dispute with President Trump almost as soon as it hoisted the FIFA trophy. However, politics were kept away from the pitch at the inaugural Rugby X event in London.

    The United States came within a single win of a defacto world title at Rugby X. The U.S. and the United Kingdom tied in regulation at 30-30.

    The match was decided in a “shootout” of sorts with players taking on each other 1x1. The United States succumbed 3-2 to the Brits in this shootout.

    Against Ireland, in the semi-final, the Eagles battled back after an early try by Ireland to win 30-15. A "try" is the equivalent of a touchdown in American football save for the key difference that the ball cannot be thrown forward, and the ball must actually “touch down” past the goal line. A try is worth five points.

    Last year the Eagles made history becoming only the 5th national team to have won a World Series tournament making Rugby history alongside New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and England. It was their highest date to finish and also ensured their appearance in the 2020 Tokyo World Cup.

    International rugby is already being played in Tokyo -- as part of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The U.S. men’s team played well in their matches but failed to win a single one before exiting the tournament. There are several version of rugby football (as the sport is known correctly) and the ongoing Rugby World Cup is played under the Rugby Union format whose rules least resemble those found in American football.

    Conversely, the United States is the reigning champion in the Olympic version of that sport. The United States won gold in 1920 and again in 1924 in Rugby – at a time when American football’s rules diverged. However, in 1924 it was dropped from by the Olympic Committee as an Olympic sport. Rugby reappeared at the Olympics in 2016 though only in a 7 x 7 format known as Rugby 7s.

    The new Rugby X format that launched this week in London with the approval of the global Rugby Union governing body is different still and closer to American football. Though American football may move further away from its Rugby roots following a decision this year to ban the dropkick after a daring play from the Baltimore Ravens.

    Offering the open-field tackles of American Football, the up-and-down court pace of basketball, the bells and whistles of an indoor event, and a 21st century friendly 10 minutes per half, the new sport of Rugby X is something to behold. Another globally accessible version of Rugby League is also a bit more similar to American football given that after six defensive tackles there is a turnover ( a sort of turnover on downs). The USA team at Rugby X failed to win a match but, active play from Perry Baker who won the 2017 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award suggests that that both versions of the USA Eagles are ready for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.



    Joseph Hammond

    Joseph Hammond is a journalist and former Cairo correspondent for Radio Free Europe. He has written on issues ranging from boxing to international relations on four continents. He has also worked as a consultant on development issues and received a Fulbright fellowship to work with the government of Malawi.
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