When Dan Lyle first went into a US Eagles training camp for the first time in 1993, the athletically-gifted back-rower could only dream that the Rugby World Cup would come to America.
But on Thursday that dream finally became a reality as USA Rugby’s bid to stage the men’s and women’s tournaments in 2031 and 2033, respectively, was approved by the World Rugby Council.
“Without wanting to sound too clichéed, it’s a game-changer for us in America. Also, equally, it opens up a massive flank for the sport in general,” said the 45-times capped international.
“It is something that will only come once in a generation or certainly only once in my lifetime, I’d imagine.
“It is wonderful because I think it will finally mean rugby (in America) can be a sport that has a competitive landscape, meaning it has a season that everyone knows and can acknowledge because that’s what will be required to build a lasting legacy that’s not just about putting competitive teams on the field but a market that continues to drive itself.”
Soccer World Cups showed what is possible
Lyle believes that Rugby World Cups 2031 and 2033 can do for America what hosting the men’s 1994 and women’s 1999 World Cups did for football.
“1994 was a record soccer World Cup by way of attendance and stadia despite heavy levels of scepticism as to who would attend all these games of different nationalities, and also, ‘it’s so big, so how do you make a World Cup work in America’?
“Brazil played in three or four different cities and ultimately won it and the US, having never played to a certain level before, qualified for the quarter-finals.
“It has all the markings that it can be something similar. It brought upon a sustainable professional structure and it brought on sustainable generational participation levels.”
As the son of a two-star general and having gone through military college himself, Lyle has always been fiercely proud of his country and was honoured to wear the stars and stripes at the highest level.
Hailing from Louisville, Lyle competed on the game’s biggest stage in 1999 and 2003 and also in sevens, and now the 41-year-old is looking forward to welcoming the world’s best teams to the States.
“Because of the diversity of America and all the nationalities here, not just one or two, every match here has the capacity to be a home match for the teams that are playing. I feel it will be a very welcoming environment,” he said.
“The company I work for manage a lot of the venues in the bid and we’re super-excited about what in essence will be a decade of sport that we’ve got coming up with the 2028 LA Games and then the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups.”
USA can be challengers
At Rugby World Cup 2019, Japan made a mockery of fears that an uncompetitive host nation would make the tournament a dead duck by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in history.
USA are currently further down the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini than the Brave Blossoms were going into that tournament. But with eight years to make headway, Lyle is more than confident the Eagles will make a positive impression on the pitch as well as off it.
“If you’re looking at fertile ground or land of natural resources you would say ‘yes’ we can, in spades,” he said, answering the question of whether the USA could do a Japan.
“In my early years of playing test match rugby against Japan, I remember one game where we beat them by 70 points.
“A sustainable structure, a reliable calendar, a professional approach … it’s been proven that it can happen, not just through the analogy of soccer in a hosting perspective in America but the capabilities in building teams.
“But it doesn’t come without rolling up the sleeves and a lot of hard work.”
Historically, America have enjoyed much greater on-field success at women's Rugby World Cups, winning the inaugural tournament in 1991 and reaching the final of the next two events before another long-awaited semi-final in 2017
And Lyle feels the 2033 tournament will send the women’s game into another stratosphere.
“If the potential is significantly high for men’s rugby, it’s astronomically high for women’s rugby in America,” he said.
“It’s almost a dream that we have such an aspirational target for the women’s game because we are so attuned to women’s sport here. It could eclipse the men’s by way of growth and value in the long run.”
Meanwhile, Lyle was wholesome in his praise for the new approach taken by World Rugby around the bidding process and the partnership arrangement that enables the governing body to work collaboratively with national unions and governments in delivering successful tournaments.
“I think the structure and approach of World Rugby to put this in place rather than people spending millions of dollars trying to bid against one another is going to bring people together quicker and more effectively and change the landscape of the sport.”