Eagles bid to make passion a profession

(Rugby News Service) Tuesday 6 September 2011
Eagles bid to make passion a profession
Takudzwa Ngwenya's performance in 2007 landed him a contract with Biarritz

WHANGANUI, 6 Sept. – Even the most experienced players feel the pressure of performing at Rugby World Cup 2011, but when it can make or break your career it’s even tougher.

When USA wing Takudzwa Ngwenya famously scorched past South Africa’s Bryan Habana at RWC 2007 in France to score a lucrative contract with Biarritz, it convinced many US Eagles that their dream of a professional rugby career could become reality.

Like many of their teammates, flanker Pat Danahy and full back Blaine Scully are hoping to land a prized club contract in one of the big rugby nations after the tournament.

“The dream of all the guys who are not fully professional over here is to try to pull off what Taku did at the last World Cup and make a big scene and pull a big contract,” Danahy said.

“This tournament carries with it a pretty large burden, but there might be a little bit more (pressure) on some of the guys who are trying to pull something out of the hat to make a livelihood happen.”

There are no professional rugby clubs in the US, and many players have to look abroad to make ends meet.

Danahy works for an engineering firm in Atlanta, Georgia, and says many players struggle to find time for rugby.

Bosses' support

“My bosses have been great. They’re big rugby fans, so they give me lots of time off to do all this kind of stuff. But that’s the lifestyle of a not-fully-professional rugby athlete in America - you need to find time for work and training.”

The best US players, such as Ngwenya and Scott LaValla, who will join Paris side Stade Français after this tournament, go on to secure contracts in Europe or in the Tri Nations countries.

Full back Scully, who recently graduated from the University of California with a degree in history, is playing at his first Rugby World Cup and dreams of being able to turn his passion for rugby into a full-time career.

The fleet-footed 23-year-old has dazzled crowds in the Sevens format, and is chasing a professional deal.

“I have been working towards this (Rugby World Cup 2011) for the last few years of my life,” he said.

“I want to play to my potential and put forward my best performances and help my team. I’ll worry about contracts and the professional stuff after the World Cup, but I’d play anywhere. I love to play the sport and I’d take any opportunity that came my way.”

“You go out there to play your best, with your countrymen and your teammates and live the dream. That’s all I want to do,” he said.

Danahy is less romantic. “I’ll play wherever gives me the best financial deal,” he said.

RNS tf/ts/ig/rg