This past week the guys over at Red, White and Black Eye also known as the American Rugby Podcast interviewed Steven Lewis, the Director of Operations for PRO Rugby. The information that the boys from American Rugby Pod got was really gold with regard to the plans for PRO Rugby, but also for those who at least this season are looking at PRO Rugby. We strongly suggest you all go back and listen to the podcast (its just 20mins).
The summary/take away is really this. Lewis said that that for this season PRO Rugby will only be looking to establish six teams (which we already know), and in the long run for the league to be about ten teams strong. The focus isn’t just on where there is great rugby, but a key factor is venues and also the ability for the team to be successful in those areas. Steve has been around rugby for a long time and so he and the folks who are planning the league know where the hotbeds of rugby are, where there is support and so everything is being planned in a way to make the entire professional rugby endeavor a success.
With there being six teams, the plan is to have 30 players per team, that means there are really only 180 spots in the professional game (that’s less than in any other professional league/sport in the USA at this time). Lets break that down. There are over 55,000 senior men’s players in the USA (now not all are looking to be professionals, some are college level, etc). There are 180 slots for close to 55,000 players so in reality this isn't as wide open. That can be a good thing as it means the guys on the field should be high level, quality or experienced players.
Additionally, Lewis said that they are still working on announcing of more coaches (thus far Coach Paul Keeler the current Head Coach for Santa Clara University and also one of the current NorCal Pelicans Selects Side coaches is the only named). Lewis is working with top level coaches, including folks like USA Rugby’s Alex Magleby on the player identification. Lewis said in the interview with American Rugby Pod that they have identified about 80-90% of the players they will have in the league this season. So going back to the numbers for this year that means that across the county there are really 35 or so “open” spots that have not been determined. This may seem limiting, but this is vital to put forth a great product, meaning competitive teams with players who are professional caliber (not just in athleticism, but actually rugby ability and skill). Remember that PRO Rugby is not a development option, its seeking to put forth top level rugby domestically. For those who want to get to that level but aren’t there the best thing to do is to start playing rugby and a lot of it. Its really important for players who may seek to have the opportunity in the next few years to start playing with their local clubs, college club/team now and play consistently.
PRO Rugby is going to be holding 4-5 combines total across the county which will allow for players who really think they have the ability to showcase themselves, but Lewis said these will really allow some players who just haven’t gotten the exposure, in part to where their clubs may play geographically, or limited competition, or just slipped under the radar to get the attention of coaches. PRO Rugby has contracted with Tiger Rugby to host the combine in Southern California later this month. This is to allow for players to get exposure, but again at this time PRO Rugby needs to put players on the pitch who can perform at a high level for fans.
Lewis told American Rugby Pod, that they would bring in a few overseas players but those would be a very limited number, depend on what spots where left on teams, and would likely be young players from other countries in maybe in an academy program who could get some experience, come get exposure to the USA and who make a short term commitment. The good thing is that PRO Rugby really wants to have this be a platform to grow the game, have professional rugby and possibly develop those top-level players for the Eagles domestically.
We had asked Lewis in our interview last month if players from California select sides (the SoCal Griffins and NorCal Pelicans) would be source of players for PRO Rugby. At the time Lewis had said that could be an option, but with the recent SoCal/NorCal select sides match and the coaches who were paying attention to that game, the fact that SCRFU has brought on Tiger Rugby to help with development of its players, the fact that one of the PRO Rugby coaches is also one of the select sides (Pelicans) coaches, we have to believe that those two teams will be a big feeders or means to identify players for some of the pro teams. Both those selects sides had players drawn from local clubs including PRP and as the SCRFU DI rep Nate Heiselt had told us, the selects are not for developing/teaching players the game, it’s a showcase for top club players. That would make the selects an attractive option for PRO Rugby. For those who really want to get to the pro level, again we stress the need to start playing rugby and developing your game at the local club level, that will lead to doors opening, but if you can’t commit to training, and games at a club level (2-3 times a week) you may not be ready for the pros.
We don’t want to forget the college ruggers. The American Rugby Pod interview did explore the college question as well. Lewis told the boys that there are questions with eligibility, but he did not want players to skip on their education to play rugby and that PRO Rugby would only be targeting seniors at colleges. Now colleges also provide a great option for players to be developed and identified, so across the state and country, colleges, local clubs, selects, PRP/ARP, performance camps and Eagles pools all give PRO Rugby options for players going forward.
Lewis did say that in addition to having already identified 80-90% of the players they want, he and the team working on that have a comprehensive knowledge of those players, we took that to mean that a lot of the "Johnny come lately" who are now taking up the game just to be pros, aren’t likely to have a shot until they really start to grow as players, play consistently and at a high level with in the club ranks.
We are all excited about professional rugby and really happy that the folks at PRO Rugby are really working to put out a high quality product for us. This can be great for rugby across the state as now we may have more guys coming out, or increasing their commitment with a long-term goal of getting to the next level. Remember we as ruggers and the rugby community have to support this (which means getting to games, etc) if we want it to succeed and get more mainstream support to last.
Please check out and really subscribe to the Red, White, And Black Eye podcast. Give them a great review as well. They are really doing great work. We here at the Republic have a focus on just California, but the likes of the Red, White, and Black Eye cover all things related to American rugby. You can follow them on Twitter @AmericanRugbyPod.