‘Can I touch it?’ Will the U.S. learn to love rugby?

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(CNN)It’s the fastest growing team sport in the country, pulling in players from American Football, and the U.S. national side aims to be ranked within the top five in the world in five years.

So is a sleeping giant of world sport finally awakening?

    Rugby, the oval-ball game involving scrummages, rucks, mauls and passing backwards, is on fast-forward in America again after almost a century in the doldrums.

    The sport was first played in the U.S. in 1874, when Harvard took on Montreal’s McGill University — but it was already being pushed to the margins before the U.S. won back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics in 1920 and 1924.

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    According to figures from U.S.A. Rugby, there are more than 115,000 registered rugby players in America. Of those, 32,000 are in colleges, with the rest in high schools and clubs across 48 of the 50 states. Twenty-five percent are women.

    A separate report from the Sports Fitness Industry Association in the U.S. puts the number of participants in rugby at 1.2 million.

    A match between the U.S.A. Eagles, the men’s 15-a-side national team, and New Zealand’s All Blacks at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2014 demonstrated the potential audiences in America, drawing a record crowd of 61,000.

    This weekend’s Las Vegas round of the World Sevens Series, the global seven-a-side competition, offers another chance to grab the attention of a football, basketball and baseball-loving public.

    “Sevens is quick, it’s end-to-end, there’s lots of scoring and lots of breaks — but it’s simplified, so once you understand sevens you can understand 15s,” says Melville.

    And perhaps rugby is also benefiting from fears that American Football is becoming more dangerous.

    “Rugby fits the needs of many sports fans,” says Melville. “It’s a team sport, and Americans love team sports. They love sports played with hands rather than feet — that’s just traditional — and they love contact sports because football has become a mainstay.

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    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/04/sport/usa-rugby-nigel-melville/index.html