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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Rugby reborn in the USA
By Sarah Holt

Nigel Melville
Melville will oversee rugby in the US at elite and grassroots level
Nigel Melville has been charged with turning the USA into a world force after his appointment as chief executive and president of USA Rugby.

The former Wasps boss will test his mettle at the 2007 World Cup, but USA Rugby chairman Kevin Roberts is setting Melville more long-term targets.

"I'd like to think that the USA will be in the quarter-finals at the 2011 World Cup," Roberts told BBC Sport.

"That is what Nigel has been signed up to deliver."

The Eagles have qualified for five of the six World Cups since the tournament's inception in 1987.

However, once there, they have not won more than one match in the competition itself.

Melville is unlikely to get the better of old friend and former England team-mate Rob Andrew when England and the USA open their 2007 World Cup campaigns against each other in Pool A on 8 September.

Whatever happens in France, Melville, who heads to Colorado to take up his first international post, is considered crucial to kick-starting the sport in the US.

"Nigel is a guy who brings everything to the party for us," said Roberts. "He is an England captain, a British Lion, a tremendous coach with lots of business experience too.

For us to make the game professional we need between $3-4m a year

USA Rugby chairman
Kevin Roberts

"It all starts with Nigel because it is his job to make us successful on the field.

"We are aiming to realistically show improvement on the world stage at the Rugby World Cup Sevens. We have made a bid to host, for the first time, both the men and women's Sevens in 2009.

"If that happened it would really set the game alight in the US."

For Melville and the new nine-man USA Rugby board that will mean getting some real heat under a sport that has smouldered on the edges of the US sporting consciousness for the best part of a century.

Rugby union was at one time so popular that the US were crowned Olympic champions in 1920 and 1924. However, once the sport was dropped from the Olympic schedule, interest in rugby union dwindled until the formation of USA Rugby in 1975.

There are now 80,000 registered players in the US and 18 teams are entered in the premier domestic competition, the Rugby Super League, for 2007.

With Melville in place to oversee the sport's development at elite and grassroots level, Roberts is now focused on attracting talent and funds to drag US rugby union out of the amateur era.

"For us to make the game professional we need between $3-4m a year," said Roberts, who masterminded the Adidas sponsorship of New Zealand Rugby, then the largest endorsement deal in rugby history

"We have to generate a brand so we can interest current International Rugby Board (IRB) sponsors.

"The IRB are extremely interested in a resurgent USA because it brings a whole new dimension to commercial rights and sponsorship.

USA skipper Mike Hercus
USA skipper Hercus is a professional at Newport Gwent Dragons

"We also plan to develop competitions at the same level of the English Premiership and the Heineken Cup. We could even base a team in the UK and play there."

USA Rugby is also considering formulating a Tri-Nations tournament involving Canada and Argentina and a cross-border competition similar to the Super 12s.

Roberts has also hit on a plan to plunder American football's surplus talent.

Many top college players fail to make it into the NFL, and some may be tempted to switch sports, Roberts believes.

"We've got natural athletes who like physical contact and collisions," he said. "If we can fund these kids have no doubt we have surplus athletic talent."

The combined expertise of Melville and Roberts is vital if USA Rugby is to make a global success story of a sport which still only attracts crowds of up to 3,000, very little media attention and only limited funding.

Roberts remains optimistic: "Our challenge is to create a brand, a competition and a dream - I'm confident we can do that."

Melville secures USA Rugby role
12 Oct 06 |  Rugby Union
England to face USA in Cup opener
09 Oct 06 |  Rugby Union
Rugby World Cup 2007 draw
08 Oct 06 |  Rugby Union
Melville leaves Gloucester post
18 May 05 |  English


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