Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Chicago - stretch the imagination

39 comments
Rugby World Cup 2011. Photo / APN
Rugby World Cup 2011. Photo / APN

Wise rugby coaches talk about the relentless search for growth.

The All Blacks are never content to rest on their records and the New Zealand Rugby Union is also keen to develop its business from its current solid base. Those strategies will reach a confluence on November 1 when the All Blacks play USA in Chicago.

This game will have a great deal to do with AIG, the latest sponsor of the All Blacks who spread their tentacles from their New York headquarters. It has been pitched as the start of a useful dry run for the side's World Cup programme and will be marketed as a must-see for sports fans in the USA.

You can wear the optimism about getting a hefty crowd into the match at Soldier Field because any successful stride into the American sports psyche is a move into cracking that lucrative market.

You hear about rugby's rising popularity in the colleges and New York, California and Pennsylvania field the highest numbers of the 500,000 registered players in the country.

If you allow your imagination to stretch and believe rugby will catch fire with those unable to get into or stomach the NFL, the USA has enormous reservoirs of talent.

You also need to stretch your imagination to believe the end-of-year tour will replicate aspects of the All Blacks' pool and playoff hopes for the 2015 World Cup as coach Steve Hansen suggested, but it was a nice bit of marketing-speak.

Believing rugby will gain some serious momentum in the States seems a decent leap of faith even though they have competed at every World Cup except the inaugural 1987 event and are mentioned as a possible host in 2023.

There has been an explosion of sevens in the USA and the Rio Olympics are in their sights but they remain a Tier 2 nation in the full game.

The All Blacks have played and beaten the USA three times, the last at the 1991 World Cup in Gloucester, when they won 46-6. That day at Kingsholm, the rival skippers Kevin Swords and Gary Whetton opposed each other at lock. The All Blacks played without much spark in a game where Swords urged his men to believe they were the equal of their opposites.

Swords led the charge with his lineout prowess overshadowing his more illustrious opponent while he also showed out around the field.

Bookmakers offered decent odds the All Blacks would set a world record and score more than 75 points but the players' post-match expressions matched the old Castle Grim nickname for the ground.

The November test will be an occasion but it's hard to see how the USA-centric audiences will view it as anything other than a version of their Globetrotters putting on a demonstration.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 20 Sep 2014 10:49:47 Processing Time: 533ms