As the Chicago Cubs win cheers to the echo after claiming the World Series, another sport looks to claim a little Windy City adulation.
International rugby, the 15-man game of blood, thunder, and physical fury, returns to Chicago this weekend. And for the second time in two years, Soldier Field sells out for the occasion.
New Zealand’s famous All Blacks and Ireland compete on Saturday. But first up, the USA Rugby Eagles meet the Maori All Blacks on Friday at Toyota Field.
This marks the fourth time the USA Eagles face the Maori All Blacks, the last time being in Philadelphia in September of 2013 before a sold-out crowd of 18,500 rugby fans.
Now it’s Chicago’s turn.
“We are looking forward to another fabulous weekend for rugby in the United States with our return to Chicago,” said USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville after the announcement of the original schedule. “The city and its fans have shown the world how passionate they are about the sport, and we think this weekend will again take the game’s popularity to another level.”
Rugby is a marginal sport in the U.S. but that doesn’t mean it lacks ambition. The sport was first played in the U.S. in 1874, when Harvard took on Montreal’s McGill University. The U.S. won back-to-back rugby gold medals at the Olympics in 1920 and 1924 before it fell by the wayside.
A weekend of international rugby like the one ahead figures to do wonders for the sport and help promote it after the exposure of the seven-a-side variety at the Rio Olympic Games.
The big match Saturday featuring the world champion All Blacks is a public bookmark of the sport’s ambitions. The Kiwis are doing their best to beat Ireland and make friends at the same time — if that is possible in such a brutal game as rugby. Social media helps get the message out, especially when it comes to the traditional Haka war dance the All Blacks — and for that matter the Maori All Blacks — do before every match:
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 30, 2016
Soldier Field hosted its first international rugby match between the United States Eagles and New Zealand All Blacks on November 1, 2014. More than half of the 61,500 tickets sold within two days. The stadium hosted its second international rugby union match on September 5, 2015, with the United States hosting Australia shortly before both teams moved to England for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Rugby USA hopes to build on that momentum this weekend.