Thom Loverro: Scrumming soon to the U.S., an NFL-backed rugby group

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Sports,NFL,Thom Loverro

Rugby used to be a thing here in the United States. America's national team won the gold medal in Olympic rugby in 1920 and 1924. Then it disappeared from view, while at the same time, George Halas was kicking off the National Football League.

The rough-and-tumble sport grew throughout the world but continued to be a novelty here in America. It began a small resurgence in the 1970s, but America was a football-crazed nation by then, and the NFL ruled the land.

I never quite understood why rugby was not more popular here in the United States. It's every bit as exciting as football, and without the armor, the players are visible flesh and blood for spectators.

Well, rugby may be about to take a big step forward in America -- and it is the NFL that may help pave the way.

The Guardian newspaper has reported that the NFL is forming a partnership with Premier Rugby Limited, the organization in the United Kingdom that represents the English Aviva Premiership clubs, to start a rugby union organization in the United States.

According to The Guardian, London Irish will play an exhibition game this summer against a United States team consisting of international players and young talent, with the hopes that it will lead to an American high-profile rugby organization.

The game is scheduled to be played Aug. 10 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., and will be called the Independence Cup. From there, the partnership between the NFL and Premier Rugby Limited hopes to start a six-team league on the East Coast that could start play in 2014, The Guardian reported.

There have been failed attempts in the past to create professional rugby in America, and there are several rugby leagues that currently operate -- the American National Rugby League, which has been around since 1998, and the USA Rugby League, formed in 2011. The latter includes a team in Washington known as the Washington DC Slayers, who play their games at Duke Ellington Field near Georgetown Hospital. Their season kicks off May 19 on the road and runs through at least late July.

But none of the previous efforts had the power of the NFL behind it -- specifically the NFL Network, which, according to The Guardian, will broadcast the Independence Cup contest.

The hope is to develop American players from the college football ranks who may not make it to the NFL or opt for the Canadian Football League. Organizers are planning NFL-like combines to find talent for the rosters.

Rugby, though, faces the same issue that has become a crisis for American football: concussions. The International Rugby Board has undertaken a study to determine the long-term damage of rugby injuries, particularly head injuries.

Rugby, football -- no one has quite figured out what the end-game will be for concussions and contact sports. That doesn't appear to be stopping the NFL from opening up a new head-banging business.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner