I hope everyone had an awesome weekend. This was definitely one of the most active weekends of rugby that we’ve had in a while. There were strong 15s international matches happening. In South Africa, we had the South African women taking on Spain women, and South African men facing off against New Zealand for the Rugby Championships. Australia fell to Argentina on the road. Then in Sevens, the World Rugby Challenger Series was in full form. Of course, in the USA, we had the Club Rugby 7s Championships.
The Club Rugby 7s Championships took place in St. Louis, Missouri, and were produced by Next Level Rugby and broadcast on The Rugby Network. This was a hard-fought weekend where the winners were, repeat champion, Scion Rugby women out of Washington DC, who defeated Washington Athletic Club, 29-7. For the men’s side, National Athletic Village (NAV) took the championship trophy after a 17-0 win over Old Blue of New York.
The significance of this is that both of these teams are run as a rugby academy model. Scion has been around since 2012, and NAV started its development in 2015 but came into its own around 2018. Academy’s are not a new concept, there are countless high-performance academies in the USA from Rhino Academy, and Northeast Academy, to American Pro Rugby Training Center. Not to mention the Academy’s associated with the Major League Rugby organizations. But now the environment that has surrounded them has changed significantly.
Before academies were used to help players train and develop so that they could have a chance to play for USA Rugby Eagles or have some development training overseas to improve their visibility. In the last 5 years, we have realized new objectives occurring. This summer we saw the first complete model of the Premier Rugby 7s competition, where many of those same players also played at Club Rugby 7s (Tournament MVP, Corey Jones also a part of the Loggerheads). The continued development of Major League Rugby opens additional opportunities for high-level players to get a chance to play top-level rugby.
The commerce around the sport has improved. But even the visibility. While we’re still in the early phases, there have been greater efforts to develop content around these academies. We see it with the American Raptors based in Colorado, who has created a documentary around their program. The legendary Tiger Rugby and its associates have been actively working on developing The International Rugby Tens pro competition. Even USA Rugby is emerging with more content about hopefuls looking to be selected by the Eagles. For the academies, this is the opportune moment to become more than just a pay-to-play training facility. It’s the opportunity to step into the space where you see Overtime Sports and their content development, which has netted them a 100 million dollar investment and a 500 million dollar evaluation. You have seen it with IMG Academy and their development under Endeavor. Academies should be the places where the faces of the sport are developed and promoted for the rest of the country to see.
Only time will tell how these new opportunities pan out. But one thing can be said for sure, there is no doubt that the role that Academies play in the development of rugby internally is more lucrative than ever. In the meantime, you’ll continue to see them continue to win national championships more frequently and those players get spotlighted more.