Former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick, ex-Argentina skipper Agustin Pichot and former France back Thomas Castaignede spoke to reporters on the opening day of the International Rugby Board’s World Rugby conference and the All Blacks’ recent match in Chicago proved a contentious issue.
The world champions thrashed the host nation 74-6 in only their third meeting in 101 years but, arguably the more important statistic, was the capacity crowd of nearly 62,000, three times more than the previous best for a home U.S. rugby match when they played Ireland in Houston last year.
The U.S. have taken part in six of the seven rugby World Cups but their still largely amateur team have never managed to win more than one pool game.
“To grow the game we have to go to parts of the world that aren’t traditional areas of the game,” said Fitzpatrick, who won 92 caps in a career that spanned the amateur and professional eras.
“There are 100,000 people playing rugby in the United States but as well as aspirations there need to be revenues.”
Castaignede was in favour of the game’s superpowers including the U.S. in their itineraries but said there needed to be local development to capture the imagination of the next generation.
“We need big teams going to America but we also need to have big players coming out of America,” he said.
“They have the potential to have two or three guys like (former All Black wing) Jonah Lomu; the sort of players who made rugby well known in a wider area.
“It needs two or three guys who can really create imitation behind them. For America they need to focus on who will be the next heroes.”
Pichot, however, coming from a country that has been fighting for help and recognition for many years, was dismissive of the Chicago match.
“I actually think that was more about the All Blacks’ brand. If you ask me about the grass roots and how to make a better team in the World Cup, it’s not the way,” he said.
“It’s not magic, If you take the All Blacks to countries like Mexico or to Brazil it’s not going to happen.
“You need a pathway from grassroots to the professional game and if you don’t have that you will never have a competitive team in the World Cup.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)