Rugby Going Global
Way back in 2008 I was sharing a car from Marseille airport to Toulon with a number of national rugby journalists. We had all flown out on the same flight from London Gatwick for that day’s European Rugby Challenge Cup game between Toulon and the Saints, our first European game since being promoted back into the Premiership.
It was a beautiful October Thursday afternoon, bright sun, warm temperature, and the glistening Mediterranean just to the right as we hugged the south French coast. It wasn’t long before conversation turned to how, when European rugby had begun some 10 years previously, there had been some writers who had predicted it would be a fad and would not last the distance.
Well, how wrong they were! And how we had a chuckle as the muscles and fries were served in a harbourside café and the wine flowed after the Saints had comprehensively won the game, the first of a nine-match campaign that saw us eventually lift the trophy.
Far from being a fad, European rugby now provides some of the biggest highlights on the calendar, and this Saturday evening the Saints host Montpellier in the opening round of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Montpellier were also in our Challenge Cup group that year, and this is the first time that we will have played them since that season.
But this is by-the-by, because no one in that car in October 2008 could have foreseen how global rugby union has gone.
When we reached the Champions Cup final in 2011 the game was shown live in around 130 countries, a mind-blowing number at the time. But now that is de rigour and par for the course.
For example, our Aviva Premiership game at Harlequins last Saturday was broadcast live here in the UK on BT Sport. ‘So what?’, you might ask. But their coverage was also transmitted live in France, Australia, the Pacific Islands, South Africa, and in the United States on NBC Sport Network, who also show the Premier League.
Later in the day, over the road, at Twickenham Stadium, Argentina played Australia in the Rugby Championship, a southern hemisphere tournament. Last season Saracens played London Irish at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, and later this year New Zealand are taking on Ireland in Chicago. Meanwhile the rumour mill is grinding away that discussions are being had about the possibility of having two Pro 12 teams based in the USA that would play the likes of Leinster, Munster, the Ospreys and Glasgow.
Regardless of whether that happens or not, just the rumours show that rugby is at an exciting crossroads of going truly global.
The Saints play Montpellier at Franklin’s Gardens in the opening round of the European Rugby Champions Cup at 5:30pm on Saturday, October 15th. Make your voice count by getting your tickets now at www.northamptonsaints.co.uk/buytickets. Use Print@Home to save yourself the admin fees, and by using the code LOUIS at the checkout you can get yourself a nifty 20 percent discount, too!