Rugby has been played in the USA since the 19th century. There are currently over 120 thousand members registered with the governing body, USA Rugby. They include about 30,000 college rugby players and 31,000 players at senior level outside the colleges.
Aside from adult and college players, there are similar numbers playing in High School. Rugby clubs across the U.S. also have youth teams playing the full-contact version of the sport.
There are also non-contact and minimal contact versions of rugby that are regulated by the USA Rugby. Rookie Rugby is a version played with flags instead of tackling.
Touch Rugby replaces full-on tackling with a minimal contact touch by the defending player. Check out our articles on Touch Rugby to learn more about this version of the sport.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the rugby playing numbers in the USA:
Rugby officials In the USA
The figure of 120 thousand members includes people involved with rugby in the USA, but may not be active players. The officials are vital to the running of the game.
This is the membership breakdown of coaches, referees, and administrative staff:
Does The USA Have A National Rugby Team?
The US has several national rugby teams across different versions of the sport. There are men’s and women’s national teams that compete in international competitions.
- USA men and women’s fifteens rugby union teams
- USA men and women’s rugby sevens teams
- National teams competing in international Touch Rugby competitions
- USA men’s national rugby league team
- Plans for a women’s national rugby league team
USA Men’s National Rugby Union Team
The men’s fifteens team is nicknamed the Eagles.
Historically, the men’s team was most successful in the early 1920s. The USA won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1920 and 1924 by beating France both times.
With the rise of American Football, the men’s team has been less competitive internationally since then. The USA is ranked in the second tier of national rugby teams by World Rugby.
Argentina is the only team in the Americas that is ranked in the first tier.
USA and the Men’s Rugby World Cup
The USA men have qualified for every Rugby World Cup apart from 1995. Their fortunes have been mixed.
The USA beat Canada to qualify for the 2019 rugby World Cup. But they drew an incredibly tough group: England, France, Argentina, and Tonga. England and France are two of the best teams in the world, and Argentina has a tradition of beating top-level opponents.
The USA had hopes of beating Tonga but exited the competition without a win.
USA Women’s National Rugby Union Team
The USA women’s team is known as the Eagles, similarly to the men’s team.
The women’s team won the first Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991. The official national team had only been formed four years before that. The USA Women went on to reach the finals of 94 and 98, although they lost both times.
The teams didn’t quite reach those dizzy heights in the four cups between 2002 and 2014. However, they placed fifth three times and came sixth in 2014.
However, the form ticked upward in 2017. The USA women reached the semi-finals in Belfast, where they lost to New Zealand. The Kiwis would go on to with the tournament outright.
The USA placed fourth in the 2017 tournament, as they lost the third-place playoff against France.
USA Men’s National Rugby Sevens Team
Sevens rugby became an Olympics sport in 2016. This gave many countries a new focus on the sevens game. USA Rugby put a lot of effort into strengthening the men and women’s teams.
The USA men’s sevens team has been very competitive since 2014. They’ve reached quarter and semi-finals, with the occasional tournament win. Speedsters like Perry Baker and Carlin Isles left opponents tackling dust.
USA Women’s National Rugby Sevens Team
The international sevens circuit for women is relatively recent. The inaugural series started in 2012. Of course, there were individual tournaments before that which included a women’s competition.
The USA hosts one of the series tournaments in Denver. The USA women have yet to win an entire series, but they placed second in 2018/19. They’ve pinged between fifth and sixth in most other seasons.
Does The USA Have Professional Rugby Teams?
There are over a dozen professional rugby teams in the USA. The professional competition, known as Major League Rugby, kicked off in 2017. It includes one Canadian team, but the rest are spread across nine states. Texas and California have two professional rugby teams.
Historically, rugby clubs in the USA have been run on an amateur basis. Prior to the Major League Rugby tournament, there was another short-lived attempt to establish a professional league. PRO Rugby ran for one season from 2016 with five teams. It ended in acrimony, with some players left unpaid.
Major League Rugby was founded shortly afterwards with seven competing teams. It has grown through adding a small number of teams over time.
The 2019 final was contested by San Diego Legion and the Seattle Seawolves. Six thousand spectators attended the game, which was also televised.
Renowned international players in MLR
Rene Ranger, an All Black winger, had the record for most assists for tries in the 2019/20 season.
Mathieu Bastareaud, the massive French center, played a season with Rugby United New York.
Ben Foden, the versatile England player, also signed for the New York team.
What Is Rugby Called In America?
Rugby is called “Rugby” in the USA. There is no confusion in terminology – unlike with soccer, which is commonly called football in the rest of the world.