Lauren Doyle puts rugby USA on the map

As you approach Boody, Illinois, there is nothing remarkable about the place but it could soon be ‘home’ to an Olympic champion.

On the one road in and the one road out, as you pass on through to Decatur to the north or St Louis to the south, a huge water tower, with the name of the town daubed across the top of it in giant yellow letters, dominates the skyline.

But there is also one other thing to distinguish Boody from all the other drive-through places on Illinois Route 48 – a road sign dedicated to its most famous former citizen, USA pro rugby player Lauren Doyle.

It was erected in her honour after she brought home a silver medal from the Pan-AM Games in 2015, so goodness knows what the reaction will be if the Women’s Sevens Eagles do well and medal at the Olympics in Tokyo.

At the last count, Boody had a population of just 363, and every one of them, including Doyle’s parents and wider family, will no doubt be glued to the TV at home (there are no bars in the town) to watch her in action.

“I haven’t been home in quite a long time but I’ve done a few interviews and there have been a lot of good luck texts and Facebook messages. That side of things has definitely ramped up since the squad was named,” she said from the team’s training base in Mimasaka.

Doyle, aged 30, took up rugby at East Illinois University after becoming “burnt out” by track and field and is now one of the most experienced USA players on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, with 66 tries from 148 matches.

Sports fans in Boody either support the Chicago Bulls in Basketball or the Chicago Cubs or the St Louis Cardinals in Baseball, depending on family allegiances.

But if the USA can deliver in Tokyo, they will have a new team and a new sport to get behind.

“Nobody in Boody had probably ever heard of rugby before (Doyle took it up) and everybody that watches (the Olympics) will probably not have any idea what’s happening. But that’s okay because if we get on the podium or win gold, that will definitely help rugby become a sport in the US that flourishes, I think,” she said.

The USA are in Pool C in Tokyo with reigning Olympic champions Australia, hosts Japan and China.

“We are going to treat every team with the utmost respect and take it one game at a time and try our hardest,” said Doyle.

“Fifth place didn’t really reflect how well we competed against some of the top teams in Rio in 2016, and it was a tough one to take.

“It just didn’t go our way that time but, hopefully, this time around we’ll make a statement.”

If the Women’s Sevens Eagles make the right statement and medal, Boody will need a new sign, to replace Pan-Am Games with the words Olympic Games next to Doyle’s name.

“If they want to update it, I’d be happy with that. It would be pretty cool!” she said.