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Sunday, September 9, 2007

So? Do we have a team?

I asked an avid sports fan if she was aware of the fact that the USA would kick-off their 2007 Rugby World cup schedule at high noon on Saturday.

"So? Do we have a team," she asked?

Now, this sports fan can recite the starting lineup and batting order for the Boston Red Sox. She knows the last 10 Olympic skating, gymnastics and diving champs. She can delve into any subject of pro or national team sports. She had no idea the USA had a rugby team and that they were good enough to qualify for the world cup.

I was curious.

Does anyone know?

I thought I would give the rugby fans the benefit of the doubt and I ventured off to Fiona's, an Eastside restaurant and lounge in New York City. The sign outside advertised that you can watch "All Rugby World Cup Games" right there.

The barkeeper, Sean O'Neill, was a friendly face and a knowledgeable sort who welcomed me and my novice status as a rugby fan. I asked him a few questions about the crowd of some 25 fans, wondering if there was a particular group or nationality that brought out the best fans. He didn't seem to have a definitive answer nor did he care to speculate or elaborate.

I had the following observations:

1. I had ventured into the only bar in New York that did not have baseball or a college football game on during a September afternoon.

2. The nice, big screen TVs were divided. USA vs England world cup rugby on two screens; Israel vs. England Group E Euro 2008 qualifying on two screens and US Open tennis on one screen, a smaller set over to one side without a single soul watching.

3, Upon completion of the one-sided USA loss to England (28-10 didn't seem to do it justice), the sets were quickly readied for the highlight of the day - the Ireland vs Slovakia Euro 2008 qualifier which brought out a boisterous crowd of flag-waving group of about 12 Irish lads in their mid-20s or 30s.

Fiona's was a haven for Irish nationals transplanted in New York. They were a friendly bunch but very serious about their football. Rory, exhausted from working a double shift the night before, was disgusted with the fact that he entered Fiona's about 45 seconds after Ireland's first goal. He perked up when we explained it was a beauty.

4. Sean was proud to tell me about the Gaelic football cup adorning a very visable place on the bar - right next to the Black Bush and Maccallan 12 and 18 year old single malts. Sean sponsored the team in a tournament held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida last March.

5. The whole experience was courtesy of a little-known TV programming venture, called Setana Sports. Setanta ( seemed to have some pretty restrictive rules for its broadcasts. They offer pay per view, they have deals with Direct TV and the Dish Network, but if you want to order the 2007 Rugby World cup on your broadband, you need to pony up for an annual subscription for $149.00. That will get you additional programming like Ireland's football league and all the 2008 Euro qualifying you can imagine.

6. There were no, zero, none, nada USA rugby fans in the building.

I plan to venture back to Fiona's during the next few weeks to check up on my new friends and brush up on my rugby knowledge. I hope to find at least one USA rugby fan, along with some Aussies or New Zealanders.

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