It's springtime in New York, unusually warm for this time of year.

Stephen Lewis, a fleet-footed, fast-talking, blue-eyed Scotsman, is walking to his office on the 36th floor of One Penn Plaza, from where he can look down on Madison Square Garden and dare to picture a time when American rugby can produce the kinds of timeless moments that, like the smell of crushed popcorn and the salt tang of a beaten boxer's teardrops, still linger in that most famous of American sporting arenas.

For now, though, Lewis is focused on arenas of a much smaller scale, both in size and importance to the American sporting psyche. He is focused on Bonney Field in Sacramento, and Torero Stadium in San Diego and Infinity Park in Denver.

He is thinking of Boxer Stadium (capacity 3500) in the San Francisco Bay area and Memorial Park in the village of Obetz, Ohio, which - you may not have known - is also the home of the annual Zucchinifest.


He is thinking of these places, their wooden bleachers and quaint concessions a far cry from the comforts of that coliseum he looks down on every weekday in midtown Manhattan, because these are the fields on which PRO Rugby USA, America's first fully sanctioned professional rugby competition, will host its first season of competition.

These are the proving grounds, the street corners on which rugby must stand up for itself in a neighbourhood dominated by the all-powerful gangs of baseball, basketball, hockey and that big-swinging bully, football.

This is where rugby's new American Story begins. Or perhaps it is where that story continues.

Back in November 2014, the All Blacks' return to American soil and their sellout test against the Eagles at Soldier Field was derided in many corners.

It was, to the critics and myopics alike, a marketing stunt, a cash grab; a scrape and bow before a big insurance brand.

For those of us there, however, it was something else.

Mainstream acceptance is a long way down the road for rugby.

It was an awakening or, more accurately, a coalescence of America's rugby community which, by the sheer centrifugal force of that outsized country, had long been separated into its many constituent parts.

The Chicago test brought those parts back together, and when they were once again scattered back across the states, they carried with them an appetite for growth and a desire for mainstream acceptance.


Mainstream acceptance is a long way down the road for rugby.

It is a long way from the Village of Obetz and Boxer Stadium. But for Lewis, a man who boasts a long and fruitful association with the Big Apple's original renegade rugby club, Old Blue of New York, building rugby from the ground up is nothing new.

Creating a programme that connects the proudly underground and unrepentantly rebellious grassroots game with the singular vision of professionalism is a challenge he is revelling in.

On Monday, 80 of the 120 players signed to PRO Rugby assembled with their teams.

They assembled in Denver under a coaching staff that includes former Canterbury and Crusaders' prop Peter Borlase. In Ohio, they will soon be joined by 95-cap Super Rugby veteran Jamie Mackintosh, who says the four-month season gives him a chance to help American rugby develop while offering him the flexibility to play another season in Europe afterwards.

They assembled in Sacramento, and in San Diego, and in San Francisco, where former New Zealand sevens player Orene Ai'i will continue his association with Life West University. With any luck, according to Bay Area sources, he will be joined by 100-cap All Black Mils Muliaina. Already, 38 current USA internationals have signed on and up to 10 Canadian test players are expected to join teams as well.

There will be critics, of course. There will be teething issues, too. There is an obvious absence of an East Coast team in the inaugural year, a fact conveniently exploited last week by England's Aviva Premiership which hosted two matches in New York.

Then again, that suggests there is an appetite, does it not? It certainly gives Lewis something to think about as he looks out the window across Madison Square Garden and the waters of the Hudson River that once carried with them another American Revolution.