D.C. expansion proposed for Major League Rugby

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D.C. expansion proposed for Major League Rugby
Students play rugby on the Madison Bowl field of the University of Virginia (UVA) campus next to fraternity houses on Madison Lane in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Getty Images)

Signs point to a Washington, D.C. team coming in next couple years.

Major League Rugby kicked off its inaugural season late last month with matches in the southern and western U.S., but talks of eastward expansion are already underway.

The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly reported on Tuesday that a Washington, D.C. team will enter the league ‘no later’ than 2020.

DC Major League Rugby is an effort to bring an MLR team to the city.

“We’re extremely excited at the prospect of bringing professional rugby to DC,” DCMLR chairman Chris Dunlavey said in a statement. “Our experience, our network, our intuition and our market research all tell us the same thing: there is a big appetite for rugby in the DC region, with more than 190 active clubs featuring over 7,500 players. That’s a lot of potential supporters for this team.

“If professional rugby can work anywhere in the US, it can work in DC.”

Rumors of a DC Pro14 team ‘set aside’

Before this announcement, there were rumors of a Pro14 D.C. team. The celtic league features teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and (from this year) teams from South Africa.

“The Pro14 has not commented on the Washington MLR plan but sources within the US game said North American expansion was off the Pro14’s immediate agenda, given its addition of two South African teams,” Pengelly said.

DCMLR’s website further points to an MLR team; “Two local business leaders with rugby in their blood — Paul Sheehy and Chris Dunlavey — have secured exclusive rights for a DC-based MLR team.”

Pengelly continued, “Dunlavey, a leading light of the Washington Irish club, is joined in DCMLR ownership by Paul Sheehy – a US Eagles full-back who went to the 1991 World Cup – and is owner of Sheehy Auto Stores, a regional car dealership.

“Sheehy also coaches at Gonzaga College High School, a national power that produced among other top players San Diego and USA fly-half Ben Cima.”

Next steps for Dunlavey and Sheehy, MLR

The D.C. team may take the same route Rugby United NY has to join Major League Rugby. The team has played several exhibition matches, but won’t play competitively in the MLR until next year. If D.C. follows in Rugby United NY’s pattern, the team would realistically play exhibition matches in 2019. That similar pattern could see them officially join in 2020.

Pengelly reported that Ontario and Dallas teams have been building the case, with former England coach Mike Ford joined with Dallas. A Los Angeles-based team is also closer to realization than a Boston or Vancouver team; according to sources. With more northeastern projects rumored for MLR, it will be interesting to see what teams come to fruition over the coming years.

Smaller cities, such as Glendale, CO, are proving to have a lot of rugby support. The Glendale Raptors are currently the only undefeated team in MLR (4-0).

Perhaps MLR will replicate its mix of bigger and smaller (or intermediate-sized) cities to have teams call home in the east. Buffalo, NY, for example, has the highest per-capita rugby membership in the country.

2018 Major League Rugby debut season

Major League Rugby currently consists of seven competitive teams in Austin, Houston, Glendale, New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle and Utah. Select matches are broadcast on CBS and ESPN, and localized-broadcast channels.

The championship Grand Final is scheduled for July 7, to be played at Torero Stadium.

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