(Guildford, UK) Freddie Hooper's last-minute penalty goal earned Guildford a 16-14 win over Sidcup Saturday, solidifying the Surrey side's hold on second place in England's London 1 South competition.
The playing caliber of the country's sixth tier, comprising 114 teams spread over 8 regions, probably lies somewhere between the USA's better second-division and average first-division teams. But its institutional standards -- facilities, administration, and so on -- are significantly better.
Surrey, a well-to-do county located southwest of London, counts 1.1 million residents and so is broadly comparable to New York's Westchester, Virginia's Fairfax (adjacent to Washington DC), or the Bay Area's Contra Costa. One of rugby union's historical strongholds, it's home to 70-odd clubs, most with 3 or 4 senior teams plus age-grade XVs, and a smattering of smaller outfits. England's Rugby Football Union administers first-team competitions, while Surrey Country manages the reserve grades.
As such, it's not so much that the fields, clubhouse, and front-office management and Guildford and suchlike are so much better than, for example, White Plains or NOVA. Instead, the density of competitive options means players can choose which program is best for their circumstances: athletes can readily find the 'right level'.
A recreational player may ask himself, given my job and family responsibilities, do I want to start for Godalming or play in the seconds for Guildford? A more ambitious player may have his eye on Esher, Richmond, or perhaps even the Harlequins.
American rugby hasn't been comfortable with fluid movement of players. Harking to the days when clubs were few, there is latent suspicion of more competitive clubs 'stockpiling' players, supposedly at the expense for smaller teams. (In 7s, however, the tradition of summertime-only, specialist teams lives on in the so-called Olympic development academies, an acceptable end run around the grassroots.)
The strategic impetus of player movement is not efficient transfer regulations, but in-season roster management such as in Major League Baseball. The goal is fast tracking promising athletes into better training and tougher competition. A decade ago, the North American 4 raised the question, but receded with the tournament's swift collapse. With the PRO Rugby competition set to launch this spring, the matter should resurface.