Rugby World Cup will come to United States in 8 years, but work starts now (in Utah, too)

Christian Dyer competes for the U.S. Eagles national team in a match against Chile, July 16, 2022. (Travis Prior via USA Rugby)


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SANDY — Back in May, the World Rugby Council unanimously approved a historic doubleheader when it granted the rights to host the 2031 Men's Rugby World Cup and 2033 Women's Rugby World Cup to the United States, the first time a men's World Cup would be held in North or South America.

But for players, coaches, fans and administrators of the worldwide game growing in the country, the preparation for the tournament starts now — including Utah.

The USA Eagles will host French power Stade Toulousain in a historic test match Saturday night at America First Field in Sandy, and five athletes from the Utah Warriors will make the U.S. roster for the first-of-its-kind international match made possible by the Rugby Alliance partnership between Toulouse and the Utah Warriors.

Five athletes from the Utah Warriors have been called into the U.S. camp for Saturday's game, including captain Bailey Wilson, Paul Mullen, Takaji Young Yen, Thomas Tu'avao and leading trying scorer Joe Mano. Both the Eagles and Stade Toulousain agreed to an extended bench for Saturday, with 26 players available on the gameday squad for the match that will kick off at 7 p.m. MDT on FS2 and stream internationally on The Rugby Network.

The match was moved to Saturday from its originally scheduled Sunday date due to public demand, the Warriors announced in August.

"It's been rapid growth (for rugby in the United States)," Warriors coach Greg Cooper told KSL.com during a wide-ranging end-of-year interview this summer following Major League Rugby's 2023 season. "In 2021, I saw the game and it was at a good level. But it went up a level in 2022, and it went up a significant level in 2023. ... And I expect it to get up again next year, as well. So from a playing point of view, it's getting better and better."

Much like the 1994 World Cup provided the impetus for American soccer to grow into what it is today — with Major League Soccer expanding to 30 teams when San Diego enters the league in 2025 — Cooper sees the same potential for U.S. rugby through the 2030s.

"I can only speak from this organization (the Warriors), and this organization is a really solid organization. They're going to get better and better," said Cooper, whose career spanned his native New Zealand to Japan to his current stop in Utah this past year that finished with a franchise-record tying 10 wins. "But with the carrot of the Rugby World Cup in 2031 for the men and 2033 for the women, I think if there's a sustainable 5% or 10% growth per year — whatever is sustainable — it's going to get a big kick come the World Cup. To me, that's the key thing. Yes, it's growing; but it has to keep growing. We don't want to level off before we get to that Rugby World Cup, with incremental growth every year."

"A little bit like the soccer World Cup, where there wasn't much in America prior to it, it took off like a bang," he added. "I think the Rugby World Cup will be that. Once the players see rugby as an opportunity for a career, and that it comes with increased revenues, there will be talents and athleticism like there is all over America. Right now, there are't many 5 year olds who grow up wanting to play rugby like New Zealand has. But when that level starts becoming a more reliable career option and MLR keeps moving up, then I am pretty sure we're going to see it explode."

The Warriors set a standard for the six-year-old league when it joined MLR as one of seven franchises, filling a crowd of 9,186 fans for the club's inaugural match on March 30, 2018. The club continued to be among the league leaders in attendance while it moved to a permanent home at the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, and Utahns will try to set a Guinness World Record for the world's largest rugby scrum — currently held by a group organized in Japan that linked up 2,586 people Sept. 23, 2018.

Revenue grew in 2023, setting a new standard for attendance and ticket sales for five consecutive weeks in Herriman, as appetite for the global game new to American soil grew across the Wasatch Front, in similar ways that it has across the country.

Major League Rugby expanded to 12 teams in 2023 by adding Chicago, splitting into an Eastern and a Western Conference. Another expansion team — the Miami Sharks — will join the league in 2024, while Atlanta-based Rugby ATL plans to move to Los Angeles in the same year, according to a league news release.

"To me, I'd be hoping we're challenging it every home game next year," Cooper said. "I think that's where it is headed. I really believe it ... They are huge to us. I listen to every head coach in MLR say, 'we've got the greatest fans.' But we actually have the greatest fans; that's a genuine comment. No one competes with us. I've been to Seattle, which has an incredible fanbase —but it's not the Utah Warriors' fanbase. I think it's tremendous."

Tickets for USA-Toulouse are available at TheRugbyAlliance.com and here via Seat Geek.

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