Major League Rugby Picks Up Speed in the New Year

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Major League Rugby
SUGAR LAND, TX - JANUARY 13: Houston SaberCats prop Jamie Dever (1) reaches to take the ball from Vancouver Ravens hooker Paul Ahn (2) during the rugby match between the Vancouver Ravens and Houston SaberCats on January 13, 2018 at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The past few months have brought a lot of change and development to Major League Rugby. The impending league has been progressing at a rapid pace, setting the scene for a strong professional rugby union league in the United States.

Fans and stakeholders are watching developments, and many are intently circling dates in their calendars, ready for kick-off.

With interest growing, all it requires now is the players to show what they have, on the field. And with that preparation, comes a taste of what fans can expect in Major League Rugby (MLR) 2018.

Houston Sabercats put on a great preseason showing

The Houston-based Sabercats are the first MLR team to start working through their preseason, with a pair of matches against the Seattle Saracens and the Vancouver Ravens. The results ended up mixed; with a win over the Saracens, but dropping a close run match, up against the Ravens.

Both those moments are good signs for the future of Major League Rugby. Both on a match quality level, and the Houston organization has already surpassed attendance records of previous attempts in the US pro-rugby market. There is no guarantee this will remain throughout the season however, but it looks very hopeful for the team.

The first match was an absolute blow-out for the Sabercats, while the second match had a
late penalty that led to Vancouver taking the lead. Results aside, getting the players in front of fans was the main benefit.

Houston will be playing a heavy preseason before Major League Rugby begins, including a match next Saturday against the Uruguay national team. Such a prolonged preseason is a great idea for a team that has never worked together, as well as bringing in some much needed revenue to the newly formed franchise.

Rosters feature some of the best of American and International Rugby.

Major League Rugby has worked hard through all of 2017, to sign much of the top talent in the United States. With that, several of the franchises have imported talent from around the world.

Every team has planned well, to compliment each position with a mix of the best of American, and International names. Many of those are notable, who will immediately put in a solid work rate and have to potential to be stars to inspire local born players of the future.

Seattle Seawolves

Seattle has been heavy on the trail with some impressive new players. The biggest member is former Canadian Captain Ray Barkwill. Other notable members include: former Blue Bull Riekert Hattingh, 2016 Olympian Garrett Bender, as well as Canadian captain Phil Mack. There has been a large contingent of local talent that has been added to fill out the team.

San Diego Legion

Very little has come out of San Diego in way of signings. The Eagles listed Ryan Matyas, Mike Te’o, and Dylan Audsley as playing for San Diego. LWOR has since been able to confirm that all three are under contract with the Legion.

NOLA Gold

The best of the New members for NOLA would have to be their head coach, Nate Osborn. Osborn has been a strong assistant coach for the USA Eagles for the past 5 years  and will bring about success for his new team. USA Eagles JP Eloff and Ben Tarr,  Free State Cheetah Vincent Jobo, and Chile National Nikola Bursic have all joined NOLA in recent months and are building to be formidable.

Glendale Raptors

Glendale was not hurting for stars prior to Major League Rugby. The Raptors have been the destination for America’s top talent for many years now, and that trend is likely to continue. USA Eagle mainstays, Shaun Davies, Will Maggie, and Bryce Campbell, have played for the Raptors since last year.

Austin Elite

Paddy Ryan made his way onto the Eagles squad last year as a virtual unknown. Following a good career with the Newcastle Falcons, he has finally made his way to the United States to play with the Austin Elite. Austin Elite has also signed Timothee Guillimin of French Top 14 Agen, and Tongan Pakisonasi Afu. It seems that Austin Elite is adding to their call ups from the national title winning Huns with some great international talent.

Houston Sabercats

Houston has mostly worked toward signing players from the defunct PRO Rugby league, with names like Daniel Paul and Cecil Garber. They have managed some good international talent with Sam Windsor from Australia, and Fijian international Josua Vici. Their decision seems to be pulling more from other clubs than some of the other teams that had club teams to take from when forming their new teams. Hopefully it will work well for the Sabercats in the coming season.

Utah Warriors

The Warriors were one of only two teams building completely from the ground up. They have spent their time well though signing the likes of Matt Jensen, Josh Whippy and Paul Lasike. Paul Lasike comes off of his successful stint with the Chicago Bears in the NFL. Whether on a rugby pitch or a NFL gridiron, Lasike has some scary speed and power that will put the Warriors on a good foot going forward.

USA Eagles feature heavily from Major League Rugby

Gary Gold recently announced his 39 man squad for the upcoming America’s Rugby Championship. The competition featured 14 players from MLR, selected from five of the franchise teams. This will be great exposure for the league players, before the season even gets underway.

The Eagles are building up very well, working their way towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup. So featuring the top American talent will bring nothing but improved results for the Eagles. Plus, a successful debut season from Major League Rugby will bring huge dividends for the National team.

The game of rugby union in America has progressed well for the past few years, picking up speed before the new league blasts off in April. A a strong domestic professional rugby competition is vital. It will undoubtedly increase the footprint of the sport in the States, and MLR player development could be what takes the Eagles to the next level on the International rugby scene.

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Major League Rugby kicks-off its inaugural season on April 21st. Follow the preseason, season launch and the full 2018 calendar, here on Last Word on Rugby.

 

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