While some call it an all-American game, rugby has never really taken off in the United States and the nation hasn’t done well in international competition.
“We need to be at the World Cup, getting out of our pool stages, and we haven’t been able to do that,” said Mark Bullock, director of rugby for the City of Glendale, Co.
Now, the Colorado XOs are looking to change that by training top-notch athletes from other sports and developing the strength and skills needed to be powerhouses, both individually and as a team on pitches worldwide.
This group of crossover athletes has recruited players like Gelen Robinson, a defensive tackle from Purdue University football team turned hooker who also played in the Canadian Football League.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he said. “We’re here to work.”
Also on the roster are Casey McDermott Vai, a tight end from Texas Christian University who had a short stint in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and is now playing 8-man, and former NFL and University of Washington player Taniela Tupou, who is leading the pack at prop.
They’re all part of the XOs, a player development program being held in Glendale, Colorado, and led by Bullock.
“What we’re doing presently is the only program that is specifically ear-marked to get crossover athletes as an organization,” he said.
The goal of teaching these athletes the sport of rugby is to increase the talent pool in the U.S. and hopefully win a Rugby World Cup.
“To be able to compete for a U.S. national team, I mean, that would be a dream,” Tupou said.
For many of these athletes, this a new chance to learn a new sport, perhaps a pathway back to professional athletics, and the opportunity to one day represent their country in international play.
“Next couple of years, the United States is going to shock a lot of teams on the international stage,” McDermott Vai said.
For now, these athletes are learning the fundamentals of rugby and building a foundation for the future of this game in America
“There’s something about that type of competition that makes you want to be great and it makes you want to push everyone around you,” Robinson said.
The XO’s crossover program is part of a six-year plan to improve America’s play against international competition.
“We’re the top sports nation in the world,” Bullock said. “Our belief is that we need to be a tier one nation (for rugby).”
They’re attempting that advancement in play with this diverse group of athletes, training to make rugby an all-American game respected across the world.
“In order to do that,” Bullock said, “we have to have the best athletes that we can get in the United States.”