It was an exciting month for rugby here in Denver, as long as you weren't rooting for the home team.
Denver played host to North America's marquee rugby event, the Churchill Cup, this year. The six competing teams -- Ireland, England, Argentina, Canada, the US and Georgia -- played two pool games each at Infinity Park in Glendale. Each team then played a championship-day game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids. Ireland beat England in the final, Argentina beat Canada for third place, and the U.S. beat Georgia in the who-cares match. Canada won exactly one game this year, against Georgia in pool play, and it was good enough for their highest finish ever. The U.S. lost both pool games, 35-14 to Argentina and an embarrassing 56-17 to the eventual runners-up England.
But that's not the sad part.
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Rugby isn't exactly our sport, and part of the idea of the Churchill Cup, now in its seventh year, was to promote the growth of North American rugby. But there hasn't been much growth in terms of becoming competitive. At this point, the big boys -- England, Ireland and Argentina -- send developmental squads. So the Churchill Cup is really just a chance for the U.S. and Canada to get pounded by the world's Junior Varsity.
Denver got the honor of hosting the cup partly because we have the only rugby-specific pitch in the country, Infinity Park. But probably the biggest factor involved the backing out of a major sponsor, making it impossible to employ the usual system, in which the cup travels to other locales. Attendance looks pretty good -- 8,500 for pool play and about 4,000 for the championship games -- until you look at the numbers from 2006, when the Cup drew 28,000 fans.
Still, Infinity Park was at capacity for Team USA's 17-56 thriller against England. They were turning people away at the gate. "People were intrigued," says Infinity Park Director of Marketing Dianne Anderson. And while she notes that "we did get a lot of accents in the stadium," the Cup attracted some new fans as well. According to Anderson, "A big share of the audience was people new to the sport."
Let's hope they weren't too patriotic.