Genuine alternative to college football a plus for US, coach says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am

With sevens rugby now a genuine alternative for college graduates, US coach Al Caravelli could well have more American football converts in his ranks in Hong Kong next year and more importantly at the 2016 Olympic Games.

With the fast-paced action suiting the American audience, last month's US Sevens was broadcast live on NBC to become the first rugby event to feature on network television in the US. That milestone lifted the game's profile further by attracting higher ratings than ice hockey after being recognised as a legitimate sport following its inclusion in the Olympic Games programme.

And with US squad member Zach Test, who featured in yesterday's 36-14 victory over China and 37-12 defeat by England which earned a Bowl quarter-final meeting with Tonga today, a former American football player with Pac-10 side the Oregon Ducks, Caravelli expects the game to continue to grow.

'I am not sure how the game is being taken back home, but being live on NBC has given us a tremendous amount of exposure and improved how people see the game,' he said.

'Being part of the Olympic family has legitimised the sport in the United States so that means it gives it credibility as most people associate beer and things like that to rugby. They really didn't view it as a real sport, but showing it on NBC has opened their eyes to show it is on par with any other professional sport we have in the United States.

'We will see more players like Zach Test come through in the future. Players might disappear for three or four years in the university system but then we will get them after they graduate if they do not go to the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball.'

After edging out Japan 24-19 on Friday, Paul Emerick scored a hat-trick as the US maintained their perfect start with victory over China, but England ultimately proved too big a task with the joint World Sevens Series leaders running in five unanswered tries either side of half-time to record a convincing win.

'It is a little better than average as we are continuing to build our performances. England are by far the better team right now,' Caravelli said. 'The development stage we are at right now is we need to find new athletes to get better each time. The inclusion in the Olympics has not yet brought more players through, but has brought more awareness.'

In front of the television cameras, the US claimed the Shield in Las Vegas with victory over Japan, who are potential Bowl semi-finals opponents this afternoon should the US find a way past Tonga, who finished third in their pool after losing to Scotland and Samoa before beating tournament newcomers Mexico 41-0.

'More than looking to pick up more silverware, what we want to do is continue our performances to get a little better each time,' said Caravelli. 'We need to keep improving in keeping possession of the ball, tighten up our defence a bit more and play to our strengths and let the ball move a little.'