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English rugby Premiership match to be played in New York

October 27, 2015

LONDON (AP) — With the NFL growing rapidly in the British market, English rugby is going to give it a go in New York.

London Irish, a club formed in the British capital by Irishmen in 1898, will travel across the pond to face league rival Saracens in a regular-season game on March 12 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

“We have wanted to do this for a long time,” London Irish CEO Bob Casey said Tuesday in a conference call. “New York is the biggest sports market in the world and rugby one of the fastest-growing sports in America. We feel it is a big opportunity.”

The New York area was chosen for the game because of its large Irish community. The game will be played five days before St. Patrick’s Day.

Saracens, the defending English Premiership champions, also has something to offer American fans. The team’s fullback is United States captain Chris Wyles, while international teammate Hayden Smith is the Saracens lock.

The U.S. national team competed at the Rugby World Cup in Britain this year but finished last in Pool B, losing all four of its games.

USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville said the match at Red Bull Arena will help boost the popularity of the sport, which reportedly saw participation increase 81 percent from 2008 to 2013 in the United States.

“Our sport continues to grow in the United States, and we believe this event will be another big step forward in the growth of the game,” Melville said in a statement.

The English Premier League explored the concept of playing a 39th game of its soccer season abroad, but opposition from supporters and FIFA stifled plans.

Meanwhile, the NFL’s popularity continues to grow in Britain.

On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 34-31 victory over the Buffalo Bills was watched by 84,021 spectators, the second-highest attendance in the 13 games played at Wembley Stadium since 2007. This Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will face the Detroit Lions in another expected sellout.

Transferring the success of the NFL in Britain to rugby in America may not be as easy, but Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty is hoping.

“There are ambitious plans to grow the game in the States and this is the latest stage in that strategy,” McCafferty said. “We firmly believe this will be a great success and will showcase live Premiership Rugby to a new audience.”

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