International rugby returns to Washington DC with South Africa and Wales set to square off at historic RFK Stadium. Organizers hope to draw more Americans to the sport, while also giving both clubs a chance to highlight what makes their teams worth following.
“The June 2 match in Washington allows us to take Springbok rugby to America and potentially expand the team’s appeal to a very large audience,” says Jurie Roux, head of the South Africa Rugby Union.
Anticipation is mounting, as Welsh Rugby Union CEO Martyn Phillips says his squad is ready for the competitive event.
“This is an exciting fixture for the WRU and for the national squad. It is a great opportunity to showcase Wales and our game in the capital of the United States,” he says.
South Africa will be led by new coach and former player Rassie Erasmus. He recently signed a five-year contract running until the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Wales has Warren Gatland at the helm. Gatland has led the Welsh side since 2007, and has taken the guys to three Six Nations titles and a semi-finals in the 2011 World Cup. He’s set to resign at the end of next year’s World Cup in Japan.
Sevens over fifteens
The clubs will play sevens, rather than a traditional game of fifteens. Seven-a-side uses seven players, instead of 15. It has grown in popularity internationally, and specifically in America. It’s a faster moving and more high scoring match, and is played in a day. Americans have shown great interest; in fact, the three-day Las Vegas leg of the Sevens World Series has amassed over 80,000 spectators.
Who will be missing
South Africa superstar Malcolm Marx will not play. The hooker suffered a high-grade hamstring tear during a top-flight match in South Africa, sidelining him for at least six weeks. He was voted South Africa’s player of the year for 2017, and many believe he’s the best hooker in the world.
The last time both clubs faced off was in Cardiff in December 2017, where Wales won 24-22. South Africa has won the world champions twice, and currently sits in sixth place globally; while Wales is ranked seventh. Marx being out may give Wales the edge they need since they struggled to handle the 23-year-old in December.
DC resident Marco Dembe is excited about the match. “I can’t wait,” he said, “the last time I saw a game this big here in the US was the Ireland/New Zealand match at Soilder Field in Chicago a couple years ago. It was like watching the match with about 60,000 of my closet friends.” The match he’s referring to is notable because it ended a New Zealand 18-match unbeaten run.
The competition also coincides with Major League Rugby (MLR) taking flight in the US. MLR is the highest level of American club rugby, having seven teams in its inaugural season with an another eighth added in 2019.
Tickets for the Wales versus South Africa match are still available.