Throughout the history of American rugby select side rugby has endured many ups and downs. There have been times when regional select play was the epitome of what a club player could achieve and one of the primary selection tools for the Eagles. Then when the NASC (National All-Star Championship) went away select sides somewhat faded into the background as elite club play took over.
Even with elite club play still at the top of the rung of the ladder select side play has made a comeback in recent years. The South Panthers have been very active, making it far in the NACRA Championship. The Capitol Rugby Union has taken on the Carolina All-Stars as well as the Empire Selects. Out West, the NorCal Pelicans and the SoCal Griffins have maintained a healthy rivalry. Rugby Utah is taking an even different tact by putting together a select team that plays in the semi-formal MRC. It's clear that coaches, administrators, and players are seeing the need to get high-level competition through select side play.
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Thanks to the upcoming change in the global rugby calendar there is once again the opportunity to make select side play even more impactful. Starting in 2020 the summer internationals will be moved to July. If the current American calendar stays the same the DI finals will finish at the beginning of the June and finals of the ARP and PRP will finish a few weeks earlier. That leaves a couple of weeks gap between the end of club play at the beginning of the summer tests. There is something to be said for giving top players a rest but at the same time that gap is the perfect opportunity to resurrect the NASC.
Money is always an issue but if the selection process is begun early and the right infrastructure is in place it could mitigate some of those costs. First would be picking the location early. Second would be having semi-permanent coaches for each region that could then track and communicate with players. It's much easier to find a flight if you know you are probably going to be going to the NASC a few months ahead of the event. By the end of April it should be pretty clear who is going to be on a select team.
Still, even with advanced planning participating in the NASC will probably have to come mostly out of pocket. If you are a player wanting to get on to the Eagles or the USA Islanders paying your own way to get in front of Eagles selectors isn't the end of the world. Plus, regions can maybe land a small sponsorship to help cover some of the costs.
As PRO Rugby showed, playing against high-level competition improves the level of play of all players. It also weeds out those that can cut it and those that can't. The Eagles don't have time to do that at camp and the NASC would allow them an opportunity to sort through some of those players. That said, one week of NASC play with a couple of matches is not the same as a full PRO Rugby season but it would give players a benchmark to take back to their clubs. It would also give players that come from non-elite clubs to put their name forward. Think about Matt Hughston. He went from playing with the South Panthers to a strong PRO Rugby season and being put on the Eagles radar. Other players could be identified in a similar fashion.
If one week in the summer is not enough other tournaments throughout the year could be used to pit select sides against one another. For example, it didn't happen much this year but in years past select sides, particularly from the West Coast, have used the LVI to get matches. We'd love to see that comeback and expand. Let's say the Frontier All-Stars play the NorCal Pelicans and then the SoCal Griffins then at the NASC in the summer they can take on two different regions. It expands the amount of high-level opportunities.
Select side play is complicated. There is a reason the NASC was disbanded. Select side play can be costly and if there is elite club play the NASC isn't as necessary as before. Still, with the a gap opening up in the schedule and select side play still having merit it only makes perfect sense to take advantage of the situation.