London Irish could pave way to US for Irish provinces

London Irish CEO Bob Casey admits his side could be opening the door to America for the Irish provinces after it was confirmed their Aviva Premiership game with Saracens in March will take place in New Jersey.

The March 12 game, to tie in with St Patrick’s Day celebrations, takes place in the 25,000 capacity Red Bull Arena – the home of New York Red Bulls – and Casey admits a number of sides could follow suit if the experiment is a success.

Both Munster and Leinster have been linked with taking games abroad, and Casey admits the enormous ex-pat community in New York made the decision a simple one.

And the former Ireland international admits his dream is to stage a Champions Cup game against either of the Irish giants in the United States as rugby goes global.

“They will be watching it, certainly,” said Casey of whether Munster and Leinster could follow suit.

“It is a brave move from us and Premiership Rugby and our owners, but it is one we are very excited about.

“We hope it could open that market up. Rugby is the fastest growing team sport in America.

“USA Rugby and Nigel Melville are working very hard to grow the game, so it will help London Irish and it will help the game of rugby.

“That would be the dream – to play a Champions Cup fixture against one of the Irish provinces there. We have to make sure we improve on the pitch, which we are doing. But that would be the dream.” And Casey has called on the Irish ex-pat community to come out in force. London Irish had an average attendance of just under 7,000 last season but it is thought they are expecting a crowd of at least 15,000 in New Jersey.

Initial enquiries have also been made about hosting games in either Boston or Chicago, with other sides set to follow their lead if the game with Saracens is a success.

“There is a huge Irish community in New York, and a huge community of rugby fans in general in America,” said Casey.

“I have been in touch with them and there is a lot of excitement. It’s helped by the fact this isn’t a pre-season friendly, it is a proper Premiership fixture with points riding on it.

“The timing is perfect with the fact it’s in St Patrick’s week – and the Irish community celebrate it for a week, not a day. Maybe a fortnight perhaps!

“We feel the timing is right to do this. It is the biggest sporting city in the world, and Saracens have four USA Eagles on their team including the national team captain in Chris Wyles.

“It is ground-breaking and that is what we want to do. We want to change the way we have been doing things and this is a real statement of intent.”

Meanwhile Newport Gwent Dragons have been refused permission to proceed with a possible transfer of their Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau to Aviva Premiership club Bath.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland and the Welsh Rugby Union need to approve international players moving outside Wales.

The WRU confirmed on Tuesday it had refused to sanction the Dragons’ request to agree Faletau’s Bath transfer, with Gatland having written to the Gwent region.

The letter explains the decision is based on the commitment in the Rugby Services Agreement to limit the number of players being selected from outside Wales in future.

Under terms of the RSA signed between the WRU and Wales’ four professional regions, including the Dragons, Gatland can only select two so-called “wild card” players not based in Wales for the remainder of this season.

Those places, which are covered by the WRU senior player selection policy, would currently be filled by Harlequins centre Jamie Roberts and Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland.


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