According to legend, in 1823, a student named William Webb Ellis at a boarding school in Rugby, England, picked up a soccer ball and ran with it. Thus, he created rugby football. This style of football (called a “code” in English English) became popular throughout the world very quickly. It also grew in the United States beginning in the mid-1800s. It became so popular and widespread (it wasn’t very different from American football at the time) that the United States won rugby gold at the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. The game quickly began to drop in popularity, replaced by American football.
Now, the United States struggles on the world stage. That’s not to say the USA is bad at Rugby — the USA Eagles consistently make a good showing at international events — but they’re not the powerhouse they are in basketball, women’s soccer, and other international sports. That could all be changing, though.
March marks the beginning of several rugby seasons around the world. If you’re an American who wants to watch rugby, here’s where you can go.
Major League Rugby
Major League Rugby began in 2017. The league has twelve teams spread out throughout the country. (Full Disclosure: this writer is a New Orleans Gold fan). Thirteen games each season are broadcast on CBS Sports Network. AT&T Sports broadcasts games, and many local stations broadcast the hometown team. When I lived in New Orleans, I watched the Gold on local networks. The 2019 Championship was even broadcast on CBS.
Games begin on March 20th. Head to the Major League Rugby website to find out if you have a team near you and where you can watch games.
The USA Eagles are the national teams of the United States. There are teams for men’s rugby union, men’s rugby sevens, women’s rugby union, and women’s rugby sevens. There are some tournaments in March, and several sevens tournaments begin in April.
Premiership Rugby is the highest level of rugby union competition in England. The Premiership Rugby website has information on all the teams and the schedule. Their season began on March 5th.
The easiest way to watch is a BT Sports subscription. Certain US satellite packages will include Premiership Rugby games. You can also watch highlights on the site and on Youtube.
National Rugby League
NRL is Australia’s premier rugby league. They play Rugby League, a different code of rugby. It’s a fast-paced game that will feel familiar to American Football fans. Watching National Rugby League is easiest on the NRL website. Games begin on March 11th.
Super League is the highest-level rugby league competition in the Northern Hemisphere. Currently, the league consists of eleven English teams and one French team. The lowest-ranked teams are relegated to lower leagues; therefore, the Toronto Wolfpack were recently relegated to a lower league. Previously, they were the only North American team in the competition.
You can watch games at the Super League website. Alternately, you can often find highlights and full game replays on Youtube.
Six Nations is a rugby union competition between Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland, Italy, and France. The competition is already underway. The next match is on March 13th. You can find information about the competition on the Six Nations website. In the United States, games are often broadcast on NBC Sports.
If you have an interest in the mechanics of rugby, you can check out The Colloquial explainer here.
Next Week: Rugby and Politics Had a Baby — They Named it American Football