You may not know this, but the Rugby World Cup is the third-largest global sporting event in terms of spectators/viewers, trailing only the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. Yet, somehow, many in the States don’t know a damn thing about the sport.
The hope, though, is that this fall’s tournament will change that, as Team USA heads to England to try and advance beyond the group stage and compete for something much, much bigger, as the tournament stretches from September 18th – October 31st.
When it comes to action, big hits and pace, rugby is unmatched, combining football-like play without the pads, a cult-following that rivals soccer in some countries and tradition that you’d have to dust a book off to dive into.
So, how can this sport begin to take form and grow into something sports fans become more familiar with? By taking in the sport, catching some of the matches from the Rugby World Cup on Universal Sports and NBC Sports, with the entire tournament available through a robust digital service that Universal Sports is offering on a pay-per-view basis.
However, like everything that’s new, education is necessary to understand how rugby will continue to become popular in the U.S., which is why Mike Petri—a Scrum-half on Team USA’s Rugby World Cup squad—sat down to tell us more about what to expect when watching a match.
BB: What Attracted You To the Sport of Rugby? Did You Play Football And Convert Or Just Pick It Up?
MP: I started as a freshman in high school at Xavier High School in New York City. I actually never played football, but played ice hockey and soccer while growing up. My dad played college football and played rugby in high school, as well, so I thought about playing rugby from that.
I talked to him about how I wanted to try out for the rugby team in high school and he told me about how he actually liked it better than football, so when I got to tryouts, I loved everything about it, since it blended all the sports I loved growing up playing into one place.
BB: Can You Talk About The Anticipation For The Rugby World Cup?
MP: I’m really excited, man, especially with this specific group that we have. I think we’ve got a really unique group and have a lot of athleticism on the squad that can make us really successful.
The Rugby World Cup is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and, I mean, as soon as you get on that plane to travel there, it hits you that this is something big and is something you’ve never experienced in your entire life, so the energy and the excitement around the entire event is really spectacular and something that I’m really looking forward to.
BB: How Do You Think People Will Start To Embrace The Rugby World Cup Here In The States Like They Do In FIFA’s World Cup?
MP: I think it’s just going to come down to exposure. I mean, it’s the type of sport that has such details and nuances that you always have to pay attention to what’s happening.
From a pure entertainment value, anyone who sits down to watch it is immediately entranced and amazed at what’s happening because it’s really a spectacular display of athleticism and fast-paced game that Americans can really latch onto.
On top of it all, having to play offense, defense, run and tackle, in terms of a multifaceted sport, rugby has it all.
But, it all comes down to exposure and people being able to turn on the TV and watch it.
BB: What Can We Expect To See From The U.S. In The Rugby World Cup?
MP: Some really exciting play, we’ve got some really phenomenal athletes on this squad. Across the board, we just have some real talent that people will really enjoy the brand of rugby that we’ll be trying to play.
BB: As Someone Who Has Never Played Rugby In His Life, What’s The Most Difficult Thing About The Sport? Whether It Be Training, The Collisions, Or Something Else?
MP: I’d have to say the conditioning element for what we do is very unique, and, probably, unlike anything you’ve ever done, physically.
Like I said, there are so many different elements to what we do, that there are training sessions where, sometimes, we don’t even pick up a ball. The entire practice is spent doing up-downs, weightlifting or running, and for someone just coming out, they really have to be able to push themselves in training.
BB: If I’ve Never Watched A Rugby Match, What Are Three Things I Should Know Before Tuning In?
MP: First and foremost, be patient if you’re new to it, because there are so many intricacies to the game that can be quite difficult to grasp. But, the more you watch it, the better you understand it, so you just have to give that some time and not be frustrated by a lot of what’s happening.
The second thing would just be the different sizes of players on each team. You’ve got big players and smaller players, and I think you’ll notice that. There really is a spot for everyone on a rugby team.
The last one is to just be ready to be amazed, because the sport really is shocking. Don’t blink, because you might miss something.
BB: You Recently Released Your First Children’s Book, “R Is For Rugby: An Alphabet Book,” Do You Think The Book Will Help Popularize The Sport of Rugby in America?
MP: It was a tumultuous process because my wife and I self-published it, but its been worth it seeing the emails from parents talking about the reactions from their kids when reading it, or when you see a kid enjoying it.
I held my first reading session awhile back and I invited a lot of kids to come, and seeing those kids walk out with a newfound love for rugby and being interested in rugby makes it all worth it.
BB: Any Bold Predictions For The Rugby World Cup?
MP: Not really any bold predictions, but, as for team goals, we’re going in hoping to get out of our pool, and I think that’s an achievable goal, not just for ourselves, but for the American fanbase.
I know that’s not really a prediction, but it’s a definite goal of ours.
BB: Rapid Fire, Ready?
BB: Favorite Pregame Snack?
MP: (laughs) A banana, man. Definitely.
BB: Coolest Place Rugby Has Taken You?
MP: New Zealand.
BB: What’s One Piece Of Advice For Someone Who Wants To Play Rugby?
MP: Work hard and be persistent.
BB: Is It True That Rugby Guys Know How To Party Harder Than Most Dudes?
MP: (laughs) To be politically correct, I think I have to say no.