Awaking the Sleeping Giant: Major League Rugby in the USA
In April 2018 we will see the launch of a new rugby union league in the United States of America, Major League Rugby.
USA Rugby has a long history and is famous for winning the Olympic gold medal at the 1920 and 1924 games of Antwerp and Paris. With the MLR they will be looking to wake the sleeping giant of world rugby and ignite the massive grassroots talent in the USA.
The structure of the league sees each club as a member of league and owned by the league itself, while the operators of the clubs also own a share of the league. Therefore, it remains in everyone’s best interests for the league to become a success.
The league consists of seven registered teams which will compete over a regular season spanning ten weeks. The top four teams will progress to the semi-final and the winners of those two games will compete in the final to crown the champion of the MLR.
Location: Austin, Texas
Pitch: Stadium ATX
Head Coach: Alain Hyardet
Location: Glendale, Colorado
Pitch: Infinity Park
Head Coach: David Williams
Location: Houston, Texas
Pitch: Dyer Stadium
Head Coach: Justin Fitzpatrick
New Orleans Gold
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Pitch: Eagle Athletic Facility
Head Coach: Nate Osborne
San Diego Legion
Location: San Diego, California
Pitch: Torero Stadium
Head Coach: Rob Hoadley
Location: Tukwila, Washington
Pitch: Starfire Stadium
Head Coach: Tony Healy
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Pitch: Zions Bank Stadium
Head Coach: Alf Daniels
If the league does well and attracts crowds both inside the stadium and on television, there are other cities waiting in the wings to add teams next season including New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Vancouver and Toronto.
There is a strong belief in the USA and around the world that the talent is there and that rugby success is bubbling just below the surface. The squads will be largely made up of American players, supporting the growth of players and clubs from the ground up.
A sprinkling of international talent always helps when trying to develop a sport and attract new fans, and Major League Rugby will welcome top players from around the world.
Players to Watch
Utah Warriors will call upon Tonga international back Paki Sonasi Afu, while Glendale Raptors have 25 cap USA Eagle John Quill set to take to the MLR stage. Both are imposing players and will be looking to stamp their authority on the competition early.
One of the most thrilling signings is Osea Kolinisau who will represent Houston SaberCats. Kolinisau is an exciting outside back and the current captain of the Fiji 7’s team having played over 250 times for his country, scoring more than 100 tries and winning gold at the Rio Olympics. His silky skills and attacking style of play will create plenty of excitement for SaberCats fans.
Fly-half JP Eloff is another player to keep an eye on. Eloff, who played his college rugby at Davenport University in Michigan, will be stepping up for New Orleans Gold. He has represented the United States at international level having made his debut at the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship and will be looking to display his huge talent at pro level.
Olive Kilifi and Shalom Suniula (Seattle Seawolves) are further examples of top players who have represented the United States many times at international level and will be looking to prove a point in the MLR.
It’s not only USA Eagles stars set to shine, however, with Canadian captain Phil Mack also lining up for the Seawolves.
TV and Sponsors
CBS has committed to showing 13 Major League Rugby matches live, including the semi-finals and the final.
XBlades, the Australian sports apparel and boot company, have been announced as an official apparel partner of Major League Rugby, while Ram Rugby have been named the official ball sponsor for the competition.
Everything seems to be moving in the right direction ahead of the big kick-off on the 21st April when Glendale Raptors host Austin Elite Rugby, and if Major League Rugby can capture the attention of sports fans in the United States, it will be a huge success.