More than 10,000 people are expected to descend on Canton this summer for a night match between the U.S. Men’s National Rugby Team and Ireland’s Munster Rugby, the 2006 Heineken Cup champs and the top-ranked European team.
The Irish Cultural Centre of New England is hosting the Aug. 22 exhibition game, which will be broadcast live on ESPN Classic.
“New England has the largest concentration of college students playing rugby in the United States, and it is the first time in recent memory - and maybe ever - that an international rugby tourney will be held in Massachusetts,” said Sean Grant, executive director of the center, whose facilities include the home field of the top-ranked Boston Irish Wolfhounds amateur rugby team. “We’re potentially looking at 12,000 people coming to the event.”
Rugby in Ireland dates to the mid-1800s, and the International Rugby Board is based in Dublin. And while Harvard University played the first recorded rugby match on American soil against Montreal’s McGill University in 1874, rugby is still very much a developing sport stateside, with growing popularity among youth, high school and college players.
USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville sees the match as an opportunity for U.S. player development and to raise the sport’s profile in the United States. The USA Eagles is an amateur team, and its players have other full-time jobs.
“Our goal is to create a full-time professional team representing America,” Melville said. “We need to play against these teams to get our players to the right level to compete against the best in the world.”
The two teams played last year in Chicago, where some 9,000 fans watched Munster win 10-6.
Tickets to the USA-Munster match will be available through Ticketmaster starting May 30.