USA Rugby are “very interested” in holding discussions over adding an East Coast-based team to the Guinness PRO12.
Philip Browne, the Irish Rugby Football Union CEO, said last week that the PRO12 are considering a plan to expand the league into the U.S., as they seek to increase its revenue to keep up with the Aviva Premiership and Top 14.
Bob Latham, USA Rugby’s chairman, says various obstacles will have to be overcome if the dream ever comes to fruition, but is keen to look into the possibility of an American franchise joining the PRO12.
“We’re certainly very interested but we need to take a realistic look at the feasibility of it and we haven’t crossed that fundamental step yet,” Latham told ESPN. “Those discussions are at a very early stage but we would certainly look at that and see if it makes sense.
“When we receive interest of that kind it is somewhat flattering that people want to enter the market here and we are interested in taking a look at anything that grows and encourages interest in the sport.”
The Premiership have already staged a match in the U.S. when London Irish hosted Saracens last season in New York while the All Blacks played the Eagles in Chicago back in 2014. Latham believes the East Coast would be the natural fit for a potential franchise but there are a variety of factors to take into consideration.
“I’m not sure if we have any preconceived notions over how best to make it happen,” Latham said. “There will be travel issues so the East Coast makes sense but if you look at the timing of the PRO12 competition, it can be difficult to play in the North East part of the USA at that time of year.
“We have to balance the factor of where fans will turn out, where the weather will be conducive, where there’s a likely fan base as well as the travel issues.”
Away from the PRO12 discussions, one issue which is high up on the list of priorities for World Rugby is how the sport’s calendar works after 2019. At present there are no international fixtures scheduled after the next World Cup and discussions are underway to determine how best the north and southern hemisphere seasons can work with some governing bodies favouring a greater harmonisation between the calendars.
Latham, who sits on the World Rugby council, hopes a truly global season will be established where both north and south calendars are aligned.
“From where I sit with World Rugby, it’s a priority and something we are spending a lot of time trying to see if it can be achieved,” Latham said. “It’s really important for USA Rugby and other tier-two unions.
“In some ways we’re cut out of parts of the calendar and from a player welfare standpoint it’s vitally important. You don’t want people playing 48 or 49 weekends a year.
“There will be competing interests in the global game but it would solve a lot of issues that we deal with: competitive matches for tier two nations, the balance between club and international rugby and player welfare issues.
“That can all be addressed by a global calendar that works for everybody.”