Premiership Rugby Eagles to be released for All Blacks clash

BOULDER, Colo. – USA Rugby announced Friday it has come to an agreement with Premiership Rugby for the release of Eagle-eligible players for the historic match against the New Zealand All Blacks, to be played at Soldier Field Nov. 1.

Other U.S.-eligible players in France’s Top 14, Japan’s Top League, Scotland’s Guinness Pro12, and the Greene King IPA Championship will also be made available for selection.

Due to the IRB’s November window commencing the second week of November, the match in Chicago falls outside the Global Release Period as subject to the IRB’s Regulation 9. Regulation 9 guarantees the release of players for international duty during certain weeks of the year.

As stated in the Regulation 9:

“International Rugby is a major public interest and it is in the best interests of the public that the best teams and Player represent their Unions. The retention of high quality international Rugby benefits Players because it fulfils their aspirations to play at the highest level of the sport.”

While it is not scheduled during the end-of-year window, the Eagles’ test against the No. 1-ranked All Blacks represents the “highest level” at which an Eagle can play outside of the IRB Rugby World Cup. Recent tests against Tier One nations Italy, Ireland, and Scotland on U.S. soil have brought out the best in Eagles playing overseas and those who have used the matches to earn professional contracts, including Cameron Dolan and Titi Lamositele, who signed with Northampton Saints and Saracens, respectively.

At PPL Park in Philadelphia, Pa., last year, the Eagles were without Premiership stars Samu Manoa, Blaine Scully, and Chris Wyles for the match against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks, yet nearly emerged with an upset. With a full complement of domestic- and international-based players, the Eagles will have the best chance of challenging the world champion in Chicago.

North America falls under the IRB’s Northern Hemisphere release window, but the U.S. and Canada have limited competition within many of these weekends. USA Rugby has held talks with Premiership Rugby over the course of the past year to develop a long-term strategy that will allow for the Eagles to host more Tier 1 nations at home and guarantee player release for the summer window, RWC Qualification process, and the Rugby World Cup and its preparation.

“It’s a case of give and take,” USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer Nigel Melville said of the agreement with rugby clubs on player release. “The players want to play against New Zealand, which is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any Eagle, but without the clubs’ support they would not be available.

“The current Regulation 9 does not work for North America and ideally this will be changed in the future. Until that happens, we have to be creative and manage our professional players as best we can. Our goal every four years is to be increasingly competitive at the Rugby World Cup. In 2015 there is no Regulation 9 release period during the Pacific Nations Cup, when we will need our players to prepare. Having a positive working relationship with the professional clubs is therefore critical to achieving our goals.

“The November window will be a massive opportunity for those players on the cusp of World Cup selection and these are exciting times for our players and coaches.”

Some of the players who could wear an Eagles jersey against Romania, Tonga, and Fiji next month – like John Cullen, Adam Siddall, and Matt Trouville – are currently in assembly in Langford, British Columbia, at the 2014 IRB Americas Rugby Championship with the Eagles Select XV.

The ARC and Pacific Nations Cup are vital competitions for the Eagles, who only get so many opportunities each year to assemble.

“I am pleased to see the Premiership players released to play the All Blacks, an opponent that every rugby player wants to play during his career,” Tolkin said.

“The Eagles will field the best team of players we have available to us, and that still consists of many strong and talented internationals. In some areas, there will be players who will be getting more of an opportunity than they would have otherwise had, and they have an opportunity to make the most of that chance. If they prove themselves, it will be a positive for that player and for the Eagles moving into 2015.”