Harlequins coach Nick Evans believes introducing teams from the United States would reinvigorate the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Newcastle face Saracens in a league fixture in Philadelphia on Saturday, and on the eve of that match Premiership Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty revealed he could envisage expanding the cross-border competition across the Atlantic within five years.
Ahead of another busy few days of club action our experts predict which teams are set for a big weekend, which players will shine and where your attention should be across all three leagues.
Saracens and England star Billy Vunipola has warned that players could go on strike unless there is a reduction in the number of games top rugby teams are forced to play during the season.
Ireland and Ulster utility back Tommy Bowe would support an American team joining the PRO14, as long as it didn’t diminish the quality of rugby.
Evans, a member of the Harlequins squad that travelled to Abu Dhabi to face Wasps in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2011, has also spent the last two summers in the U.S. as part of the club’s preseason.
And he believes that if Premiership Rugby is serious about growing the game in America then its secondary competition could provide the perfect platform.
“You’ve got to mix it up. Taking the game global is what we want, if we want this to develop,” Evans told ESPN.
“It’s going to take a lot of different things to crack America, it’s not just going to be one thing, but the more we get those games over there I think it’s a great idea [for] the awareness, people watching it.
“I know Quins have got a big following in America, the games do get shown over there, a lot people watch it, social media’s a big outlet for that now. I think it’s a fantastic initiative that they’re doing, we just need to do more of it.
“I think it’s a great idea for the Anglo-Welsh to get American teams in. The Anglo-Welsh needs to be shaken up. You need a quadratic equation to work out how people get through groups sometimes and who plays who.
Evans brought an end to his playing career last May and is currently Harlequins’ backs coach. Steve Bardens/Getty Images for Harlequins
“I’d like to see it really revamped and if it’s the initiative to say bring some different teams in here then I think that’s a great idea.”
McCafferty is not the only administrator in rugby to throw furtive glances at the U.S. The PRO14 have explored the possibility of adding an American team to its league, but any move would have to wait until the current agreement between Doug Schoninger and USA Rugby runs out next year.
Critics of expansion would point to player welfare and the travel involved in playing matches. However, Evans suggests that the Anglo-Welsh Cup would be a perfect vehicle as internationals are rarely played and teams use the competition to give other established stars rest.
“It would be a great experience for these young guys who probably wouldn’t be playing 25-30 games a season,” he said.
“It was brilliant, the boys loved it,” Evans added of his own experience in the U.S. and UAE. “We love our spot down here [in Guilford] but spending 48 weeks down here, the boys need a bit of a shake-up.
“If you had a game over there it’s something to look forward to in the calendar, the boys would look forward to it, there would be a real big buzz about the club as you got closer to it and the fans would love it too.
Harlequins travelled to Abu Dhabi to play Wasps in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in January, 2011. Jack Dabaghian/Getty Images
“I know you’re probably taking a game away from them but some would travel and get over there, it’s not too far away. I think it would be fantastic.”
Meanwhile, Evans and Harlequins director of rugby John Kingston were able to give a positive update on Demetri Catrakilis, who had been in hospital following a throat injury last weekend.
Catrakilis has suffered a small fracture of a bone in his throat but has now been discharged and Evans is hopeful he will be well enough to attend training in a coaching capacity next week.
“I feel really sorry for him, there’s a bit of a curse at the moment on our 10s,” Evans said, referring to injuries picked up by fellow fly-halves Marcus Smith and Tim Swiel in the early weeks of the season.
“That kind of stuff it’s like ‘all bets are off’, make sure he’s alright and get back. The boys have been around him which has been good.”
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