The Big Interview: Alex Corbisiero on Rugby Stateside

Geographically speaking, Alex Corbisiero could barely be further away from the Guinness Six Nations, but that certainly hasn’t dampened the former England man’s appetite for Rugby’s Greatest Championship.

Geographically speaking, Alex Corbisiero could barely be further away from the Guinness Six Nations, but that certainly hasn’t dampened the former England man’s appetite for Rugby’s Greatest Championship.

After a decorated career that encompassed a Championship in 2011, and a winning British & Irish Lions Tour two years later,  the former loosehead made the move back to the country of his birth, across the Atlantic to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

There, he became the face of NBC’s rugby coverage, translating his on-pitch bravado to the small screen with ease.

Now into his second year covering the Guinness Six Nations, the 30-year-old has seen more than most of this year’s Championship, with NBC Sports Network covering every second of every match, and it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by the American public.

“Our audience is growing, the buzz is much bigger, and the awareness of the Guinness Six Nations is at an all-time high in America,” he said.

“It’s an exciting one, with three teams in with a shot going into the last weekend, it really sets up an exciting finish.

“The games have been great – that England v Wales game, you were really on the edge of your seat for that, England v Ireland as well.

“There’s some of the best rugby being played in the world and it’s amazing to be able to show it to an American audience, both to an ex-pat community that has an affiliation with a team and two, andto our rugby-playing community over here, which will hopefully inspire kids to go out and pick up a ball.”

Born in New York in 1988 to an English mother and American father, Corbisiero spent his nascent years in the Big Apple before the family uprooted and crossed the pond.

After picking up the game while at school, it quickly became clear that the youngster had a preternatural gift, one that he rode all the way to the very highest level.

But now he feels it’s time to give back to the game that gave him so much, to make the most of his unique position as an internationally recognised rugby star in the States.

In fact, it goes further than that; for Corbisiero it is his responsibility, his obligation to do all that he can to further spread the word.

“I have my company Team Corbs, we do scrum coaching at university; we have a kids rugby summer camp in Boston,” he continued.

“We’re really trying, from grassroots up, to give kids access to knowledge of the higher levels, because that’s one of the biggest factors in rugby in America: the information share with what’s going on at the top level of the game.

“I also have a partnership with a company called ASM Scholarships where we help recruit kids from outside the United States to American universities to play rugby.

“There are a lot of opportunities over here, so if you are an academy player here, or you don’t quite make it you could still get a very good degree.

“American sport’s been built on that collegiate foundation and it’s great that American rugby’s being embraced in that tradition.

“There are opportunities for players all over the world to come and play here, improve the pool and the quality of rugby, and the opportunities that playing for America might bring as well one day.”

While he never got the chance to play in the States himself, Corbisiero’s status has helped raise the profile of the game in America such that several stars are starting to sit up and take notice of what is on offer.

Most notable to date is the arrival of his former teammate with England and Northampton Saints, Ben Foden, who opted to sign for Rugby United New York ahead of the 2019 Major League Rugby season, which kicked off in January.

Corbisiero unsurprisingly played no small part in facilitating the move, providing a friendly sounding board for Foden before he decided to make the leap.

And while his arrival certainly paved the way, Corbisiero admits that the game needs stars on the pitch to truly catapult the sport into the public eye.

“I spoke to Ben a lot before he came out. He’s come over arms-opened and embraced it,” he added.

“He’s played some really good rugby for Rugby United New York. He’s really enjoying himself, a new lease of life on the game.

“It’s a fun place as well and he gets to give back, pass his knowledge on to a very keen, hungry group of players and at the same time try and build something from the ground up. It’s very special.

“You’ve got to find the right players, but if there’s a mutually beneficial agreement where they’re going to enjoy themselves, be a part of something special but at the same time realise they have to give back and help grow this game at a grassroots level, grow the knowledge and the culture and put American rugby first. It really is a great opportunity.”

Although the arrival of the big names will no doubt help to draw attention to the MLR, Corbisiero knows that the effort has to be panoptic.

With three clearly dominant sports in America, it is a tough market to crack, and one that will require some ingenious solutions.

But as the profile of the game continues to rise Stateside, what with the success of their sevens teams as well as the continued growth of the new league, Corbisiero is confident that this is only just the beginning.

“I think it’s going to continue its upward trajectory. The exposure of the game on TV and different platforms is getting bigger and bigger, as well as the participation,” he summarised.

“There are a lot of opportunities, so it’s about trying to reach kids for the next generation. I think the crowds are only going to get bigger; the tv audiences are only going to grow.

“It’s about planting the seed for the next generation and hopefully moving the ball forward.

“It’s just about growing the exposure and giving kids a chance to see what rugby at the highest level is and how exciting it can be, hopefully convincing them to pick up a ball.”