Players grow up dreaming about how amazing it would be to play the game at the next level. They often give up on these dreams because they don’t know about the huge number of options available to them the world over.
The game has expanded massively over the past few years and it keeps growing in terms of global reach. This is great news for anyone who enjoys watching the great game and even better news if you want to take a step up and play at a next level.
Although there is no shortage of options available to the very top players, we would like to give you a bit more insight into other opportunities globally.
Playing rugby at the next level internationally
The opportunities are huge for players who come from the traditional powerhouses of the game and the islands. Not all of the options that we will be mentioning are the traditional options you would think of first. They do however all offer an exciting option to play the game either professionally or semi-professionally.
To get into contention for these options the clubs would need to know that you are worth the effort. In order for you to come into consideration, you need to put together a rugby resume as well as make a 3-5 minute video clip of game footage. Without these, it will be difficult to open the doors.
The reason why the traditional rugby powers (South Africa, New Zealand, UK, Australia) have an advantage is that the players play competitively from a very young age. So the players have good skills overall and a decent rugby IQ. The islanders (Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Mauris) are the most sought after players as they are by far the most physically gifted athletes and often have high skill levels.
Opportunities in well-known rugby markets
There are a couple of opportunities that are fairly well known to players and coaches around the world. These opportunities you will find in Australia, France, the UK and New Zeeland.
As these are well-established rugby communities, they know what they want, but they are open to looking at players with potential.
There are large player numbers in many of these countries, but also loads of opportunities for younger players. We will not be providing you with links to every single club out there but rather give you an idea of the opportunities in each market.
Australia has a long and proud rugby history. They do however have a unique challenge that there are three codes of the game fighting for the top athletes in the country.
As it stands rugby union is not enjoying the upper hand. Aussie rules football (the AFL or “footie”) is the most popular and they regularly have sellout crowds at huge cricket venues. Often up to 80 000 or 100 000 fans! Rugby league also has a huge following both from players and fans.
Rugby union is, however, part of a well-oiled Australian sport machine. They have top facilities, coaches and programs in place for all of their sporting codes. As a result there are many opportunities available for promising athletes.
There are a large number of clubs that offer small salaries or help with work, accommodation, gym membership and the opportunity to go on a great rugby adventure! The academies at the respective Super Rugby franchises are also good options. A number of universities are also open to looking at international players.
You might think that there would be no problems in a country that delivers the mighty All Blacks and teams that win Super Rugby almost every year.
The development of players from a young age in New Zeeland is just amazing. The whole rugby fraternity is invested in getting players to the next level. Everyone wants to make sure collaboratively that the Super Rugby teams and in turn the All Blacks are the strongest in the world.
The player numbers are however relatively low overall in New Zeeland. Many of their players are also being lured by huge contracts in France, the UK and Japan. It makes financial sense for them, but it is a real challenge for rugby in New Zeeland to keep delivering top players.
They need players and they are keen to make similar arrangements to their Australian counterparts at club, Super Rugby and universities. The one difference is that they will also gladly take in high school athletes that show promise.
French rugby might not be the strongest at the international level every year, but their professional teams are something else. They are the richest clubs on the planet and attract the top talent from around the world. If players want to play at a top-level and ensure their financial futures, they go to play professionally in France.
French rugby has two tiers of professional rugby teams and this creates a lot of opportunities for international players. Many of the clubs are also not coached by French coaches, but rather coaches from South Africa, Australia and New Zeeland. The language barrier is therefore not as big as you might think.
Almost every club in these two tiers has rugby academies for young players just out of high school. There are variations of options that they offer to players depending on the talent and promise a player shows. The door is, however, a little wider open if you want to explore your options at these clubs.
Some of the clubs work on the basis of taking in young promising players into their academies at their cost. If the player starts to shape up in that year, they are offered a junior contract and then become a professional player. It might be a relatively low paying contract, but then the player’s fate is in their own hands.
I am lumping together all 4 unions here as there are limited opportunities in 3 of the markets. Only in England will you find a wide range of opportunities. It is not to say that you can’t take your rugby to the next level in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Let’s have a quick look at these three unions first.
Scotland used to be one of the smallest rugby markets out there. There were only really two teams you could consider, namely Glasgow and Edinburgh. Things have changed a bit in recent times as they started a new semi-professional league called the Super 6. The Super 6 is in its infancy still, but the goal is to develop players for the full professional teams and eventually for the Scottish national team
In Wales, there are a couple of options for players, but it is also limited overall. The teams playing professionally in Wales are Cardiff Blues, Scarlets and the Ospreys. These teams are all very professional setups but mainly cater for Welsh players and top international talent. There are however options with a lot of their semi-professional clubs. Most of these clubs have been in existence for well over a hundred years.
As with Wales and Scotland, there aren’t a huge number of teams to play for. The 4 provinces have Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht as their professional teams. They favor Irish players but do cater to top international talent as well
Your best chances lie in England. Like France, they have two tiers of professional teams. Almost all of these teams have been established for well over a hundred years. They have academies that develop young talent both from within the UK and international promising players.
Opportunities in non-traditional rugby nations
Japan immediately jumps to mind and I know that they have 2 tiers of professional teams with funding from large Japanese companies. Finding information on the Japanese rugby teams and how to get involved with them has been more difficult. I will keep looking into it.
New markets that are emerging that are really exciting is lead by the US and Canadian market. They have the MLR which is steadily growing and starting to attract some top global talent. These two countries know how to run professional teams and they will be managed well. The challenge they face between the two countries is a relatively small pool of players. As a result, there are MANY opportunities at the academies of these teams and a few dozen universities.
The ones that might shock you are the opportunities in many of the European countries. There are many of these countries that offer accommodation, help with a job or a small salary and other benefits. You can look to clubs in Italy (which makes sense) as well as Germany, Portugal, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium