Newcastle Falcons have been helping spread the rugby gospel around America’s East coast, with academy head coach James Ponton and Cumbria community development officer Keith Robinson coaching school and club players.
The Falcons squad are in Philadelphia for Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Saracens at Talen Energy Stadium, and ahead of the encounter Ponton and Robinson have been putting in the ground work along with representatives of both Saracens and Premiership Rugby
“We’ve mixed in with a load of American players and coaches, male and female, from under-16s to adults, and it has been fantastic,” said Ponton, a former Premiership player himself who has spent the past week in the States.
“They’ve been really engaged in what we’ve been doing and it has been an interesting mix. Some are totally new to rugby, some have played a very small amount and some are regular players, and overall they’ve been very receptive in learning some new skills.”
He added: “We’ve visited a few men’s senior teams to do some coaching, and the one thing I’ve really picked up on is that these guys don’t tend to have their own facilities. They rent fields, and the other day we went to watch one club, Washington Irish, play a game on a bit of reclaimed swamp land.
“It had retaining walls built around it, and because it was National Park land they weren’t allowed to cut the grass. They rocked up at 9am for a 1pm kick-off, marked the field themselves, put the goalposts up and ran the whole thing. This was a National One League game, and they’re probably the biggest club in their area. It was quite amazing the lengths they went to, and they’re really trying.”
Echoing Ponton’s enthusiasm, Robinson said: “We flew in last Tuesday and have been touring around with community coaches from Saracens and Premiership Rugby. We’ve been to Philadelphia, New York, Washington DC and now back to Philadelphia, coaching young players. It has been a lot of fun.
“We’ve been coaching them the way we coach back in England, and it has been interesting both for them and for us. A lot of it is coaching the coaches so that it will filter down the system, and what we’re picking up is that coaching here is massively structured. It’s a bit like American football where a lot of it is based on drills, whereas we are more towards game sense, learning through games and putting in more of a decision-making element to it. We’ve been very well received, and it seems to have been worthwhile.
“In terms of the Premiership match, everybody we’ve come across has been quite excited about the game coming over here. They’re not totally unaccustomed to rugby but most of them won’t have seen the kind of standard they’ll see on Saturday.”
Having already visited the match venue, home to Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, Ponton said: “The stadium is fantastic, like most of the stadia I’ve seen over here. The dressing rooms are massive, the playing surface is immaculate and it’s very much an out-of-town venue. It’s purpose built with loads of parking, grass spaces outside the stadium for things going on around the game and it should be a pretty good festival in all.
“The locals are very inquisitive about it, and that’s not a bad starting point. They want to know more about it, they are questioning us a lot and there’s a definite interest in what we’re doing. We’re aware how massive American football is over here, soccer is growing a lot too but there’s also a decent passion for rugby.”
Tickets for Saturday’s game are available by clicking here.