The Guardian 1.22.18
The crowd at an incongruous venue to see visiting Uruguay offers hope that Texas will take Major League Rugby to its heart
Tom Dart at Constellation Field, Sugar Land, Texas
Mon 22 Jan 2018 06.49 ESTLast modified on Mon 22 Jan 2018 11.41 EST
It is arguably one of the few professional rugby venues in the world with a carousel at the 50-metre line and a splash pad behind the technical zones. It is certainly the only one with a giant video board in the shape of Texas. Yet these oddball surroundings may be the best evidence so far that high-level club rugby union has a promising future in America.
Constellation Field is the temporary base of the Houston SaberCats ahead of the debut season of Major League Rugby, the latest attempt to glue the sport to the American consciousness.
About 20 miles from downtown Houston, it is the home of the Sugar Land Skeeters, a minor-league baseball team in one of the country’s wealthiest and most ethnically diverse counties. Like many clubs of their ilk, the Skeeters have built a stadium that evinces a certain pessimism about the appeal of their product, hence the playground behind the outfield wall and many other distractions.
At Saturday night’s SaberCats exhibition against Uruguay, though, most spectators seemed to be spectating. The merry-go-round and splash pad were deserted. Even the 15ft inflatable dartboard had few takers.
The attendance – about 3,500 tickets were sold – justified the SaberCats’ gamble that demand to see a new team in an obscure sport is strong enough to warrant hiring a premium venue and charging high prices.
Photograph: Houston SaberCats
The grass changes from lush to thin and yellowish as the pitch extends from what will be the infield when the Lancaster Barnstormers and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs face the Skeeters this summer. Still, the place has smart facilities and presentation slick enough to make a strong first impression.
A cartoon explainer flickered on the video screen before kick-off, informing spectators that the ball is egg-shaped and that the sport is replete with British jargon. “Please respect the kicker” flashed up during attempts at goal.
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