World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper believes this year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco could ignite interest in the sport across America, raising the possibility of a US bid for the 15-a-side World Cup in 2027.
Wednesday marks the 100-day countdown to the seventh edition of rugby’s four-yearly sevens spectacular, which will be staged at San Francisco’s iconic AT&T Park baseball stadium from July 20-22.
Gosper told AFP in an interview that ticket sales for the three-day event had already reached the 60,000 level, and World Rugby is anticipating a sell-out for the opening day.
The tournament is being staged as rugby enjoys a surge in popularity in the United States, buoyed by the success of the men’s sevens team and greater exposure of the sport than ever before.
NBC television will broadcast the World Cup Sevens, and in recent years has begun live broadcasts of English Premiership rugby and the Six Nations.
Recent research commissioned by World Rugby found there were an estimated 33 million rugby fans in the US who described themselves as either very interested or interested in the sport.
Gosper believes July’s tournament in California can be a “game-changer” for rugby in the country.
“It’s something that can ignite the sport in the US,” he said. “We know there is latent support for rugby in the United States.
“So seeing rugby almost normalised in an American context, in an iconic American stadium, with free-to-air coverage on NBC television, promoted by NBC, I think will be quite a game-changer for the sport.
“We’re realistic. It’s only three days. And you can’t change the world in three days. But you can light something and create a detonator for greater things later. It will give people more confidence to host more events in America.”
That something could conceivably be a bid for rugby’s greatest tournament, the World Cup.
The next edition of the tournament will take place in Japan in 2019, with France hosting the 2023 event.
Gosper believes that an American bid for 2027 is not outside the realms of possibility.
“There is a general belief across the people running the sport that America’s time will come, probably sooner rather than later,” Gosper said.
“We know that we’ve got a World Cup in Japan in 2019, we’re going to France in 2023. Is 2027 a possibility? I don’t think that’s out of the question.
“They’ll have to go some to get there. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be candidates in 2027.”
A successful World Cup in Japan next year – the first time the tournament has been staged outside of its traditional markets – could give a powerful jolt of momentum for an American bid, Gosper said.
“A big success in a country like Japan would be noticed by other non-traditional markets,” Gosper said. “It would be hugely inspiring for other tier-two markets, like the United States, to attempt a similar undertaking.”
Meanwhile, Gosper said the format used at this year’s World Cup Sevens – a straight knockout competition featuring 24 teams which was designed with an American audience in mind – could eventually be introduced across World Rugby’s HSBC Sevens circuit.
“Each game counts, which we know is something more interesting for the Americans,” Gosper said. “I wouldn’t call it a trial but it’s likely that this format moves into the general HSBC Sevens Series in the next cycle.
“We think it’s a really attractive format which was kind of designed for the American public. The more we look at it we think it could have merit in our general series.”
London club Quins said Kingston, promoted from head coach to director of rugby in April 2016, would leave the Twickenham Stoop by “mutual agreement”.
Quins are currently ninth in the 12-team Premiership and suffered an embarrassing 35-5 loss at home to bottom club London Irish last weekend.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I will be leaving Harlequins at the end of this season,” said Kingston in a club statement.
“I have been at Harlequins for 17 years in differing roles and have grown to love the club almost as if it were part of my family.
“The obstacles this season have been well-documented, and no one has been more disappointed by our results than me.
Media statement: John Kingston to leave Harlequins at end of season https://t.co/eGz0tjH6Zf
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) April 9, 2018
“In my opinion, this is the strongest squad ever assembled in all my time at Harlequins, and this leaves the club in a sound position to go forward.
“Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see the squad achieve in the near future what I deeply believe it can – winning trophies.”
Quins have won just seven of their 19 league games so far this season and they made a pool-stage exit from the European Champions Cup, finishing last in a group that also included Wasps, Ulster and La Rochelle.
“This season has been hugely frustrating and disappointing for everyone at Harlequins, and for none more so than John,” said Harlequins’ chief executive, Dave Ellis.
“With considerable regret, we have agreed that John should step down as director of rugby.
“John has much to be proud of during his time at The Stoop, most notably when, while head coach, the team won the Aviva Premiership, the Amlin (European) Challenge Cup and the LV= (Anglo-Welsh) Cup, as well as reaching two Heineken (European) Cup quarter-finals.
“The club will not make any comment about the appointment of a new director of rugby until we are ready to do so. The process to recruit someone new who can take Harlequins to the very top of English and European rugby is in hand.”
Some ropy decision-making at the top of Harlequins. Recent extension means Kingston pay-off will cost them a small fortune. And what/who now? Options limited, & next appointment couldn’t be more critical for player retention.— Alastair Eykyn (@alastaireykyn) April 9, 2018
The Chiefs host Gloucester on Sunday and victory could be enough to secure a top-four finish and a place in next month’s knockout phase.
“We’ve been working towards this for a long time now,” said Exeter head coach Hepher.
“Things are getting more exciting by the week, but we know we have a tough challenge at the weekend against a Gloucester side flying high and going strong at the moment.
“We are expecting Gloucester to be full bore, but they will also get us full bore. It’s a great challenge for us to have, but these are the challenges you need to make sure you peak at the end of the season.
“We know Gloucester have threats across the board. They play with an open style, bring lots of line-speed and come at you from all angles.”
England internationals Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell return from injury – hooker Cowan-Dickie starts and wing Nowell is on the bench – with only fly-half Joe Simmonds and flanker Dave Dennis remaining on starting duty following last week’s Anglo-Welsh Cup final triumph against Bath.
“We’ve got a large majority of the squad available to us,” Hepher added.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) April 6, 2018
“The medical team have done a great job in getting a few of the guys back from injury, so now we are looking to put the hammer down and really hit our straps in terms of performance over these last few weeks.”
Gloucester are outsiders to make the play-offs, with a top-six finish and automatic European Champions Cup qualification for next season looking a more realistic goal.
Head coach Johan Ackermann has made four changes from the side that gained a thrilling European Challenge Cup victory over Connacht last weekend, with Tom Hudson, Josh Hohneck, Tom Savage and Ruan Ackermann all gaining starts.
“Personally, I am proud of the character shown by the players against Connacht,” Ackermann said. “Hopefully, collectively as a team, the players will take confidence from that.
“But we will have to be a lot better on Sunday at Exeter. We are not happy with our inconsistency at the moment. It cost us against Newcastle, it cost us in the draw against Wasps.
“It’s water under the bridge and we don’t want to look back on it. But, then again, you look at how badly we started at London Irish (two weeks ago), and we were up and down as well at Connacht. We made it quite hard for ourselves.
“Exeter won’t let you get away with that. You give them a 17-0 start like we did at London Irish, and you are going to have a long day coming back from that.
“Our whole performance, for the whole 80 minutes, against the defending champions will have to be a much improved one.”