WATCH - Jamie Heaslip outlines why rugby must crack America to go to the next level
Rugby star Jamie Heaslip has spoken of the American odyssey that the game must face if it is to flourish and grow into the future.
The Leinster and Ireland back-row told a packed crowd at the Irish Independent tent that the game must continue to expand its horizons.
Many of his Leinster colleagues are currently in South Africa where they are playing two games in the expanded Pro14, although the crowd turnout there has been low.
"I know there has been a lot of talk of going to the U.S. and teams over there getting involved (in the competition) -that would be really exciting.
"I don't think it's going to happen while I'm playing but it would be nice to see that, to open up the game, have more people watching it. In American it's the fastest growing team sport.
"As a guy who loves the game, I think the more we can expand the game, the more markets we hit... If we can expand the league and bring more stakeholders and markets then that's fantastic. It will eventually bring more money into the game and that will trickle down."
On the new format of the Pro14, Heaslip said he is in favour of the new conference system to get s greater variety of teams involved.
"Actually getting down there (to South Africa) is fairly easy, it's an over it flight" said Heaslip before being reminded that two Leinster stars had been refused entry due to visa complications. "Well not for some of the lads," he added, "but at least they got extra air miles or something!"
He was joined on the panel by former international and Irish Independent rugby columnist Tony Ward. The pair reminisced about Ireland's stunning victory over New Zealand in a showpiece game in Chicago less than a year ago.
Ward described Leinster star Joe Carbery's contribution to the win on debut as "Roy of the Rovers stuff" while Heaslip, who had lost to New Zealand 10 times beforehand, said it was "amazing" and "insane".
Heaslip is currently nursing an injury which he said he is taking "week by week". He said he was talking to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt last week "about the seriousness of the situation and he is up to date on it".