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# Irish Abroad
Big Irish influence as Major League Rugby season kicks off in North America
The likes of Cathal Marsh, David Busby, Cormac Daly, Tomas Quinlan, and John Poland have joined the league.

THE THIRD SEASON of Major League Rugby in North America kicks off this weekend, with three new clubs involved.

The New England Free Jacks, Old Glory DC, and Rugby ATL have joined the league, which is now split into two conferences of six teams.

The 17-week regular season runs until the end of May before semi-finals and a final, with a host of new big-name stars involved.

mathieu-bastareaud Giuseppe Fama / INPHO Mathieu Bastareaud has joined Rugby United New York. Giuseppe Fama / INPHO / INPHO

Ma’a Nonu, Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, Digby Ioane, Mathieu Bastareaud, Rene Ranger, and Juan Manuel Leguizamón will all be involved in the third edition of MLR, with several other high-profile players being linked with moves to the States.

On top of that, there are a host of Irish players involved again as the North American league looks to take another major step forward in 2020.

Tomás Quinlan 
Colorado Raptors

After playing with Narbonne in the French Fédérale 1 last season, the 25-year-old has now moved on to the US, where he joins the Colorado Raptors for their second season in MLR.

tomas-quinlan-kicks-a-penalty James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Out-half Quinlan is a former Ireland U20 international who kicked a dramatic last-gasp match-winning penalty at the 2015 Junior World Championship. He was released from the Munster system in 2016 after one season in the province’s academy.

Quinlan, who can also play fullback, showed his class for Cork Con in the AIL in the years that followed and then moved to France after finishing his studies in 2018. He will now hope to shine for the Raptors, whose head coach is former Munster prop Peter Borlase. The Glendale-based side also have 34-year-old Ioane and 33-year-old Ranger in their squad.

Charlie Connolly
Houston SaberCats

22-year-old tighthead prop Connolly is heading into his second season in Texas, having joined in 2018 after a spell with Mogliano in Italy and a stint with Welsh club RGC 1404.

charlie-connolly Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO / INPHO

Connolly, who played schools rugby alongside Caelan Doris at Blackrock College and then featured for Trinity, was a key man in the SaberCats’ number three jersey last season and will hope to help the Texans improve on a poor 2019 campaign.

There are names who will be familiar to Ulster fans on the coaching staff in Houston in Paul Emerick and Neil Kelly, while out-half Sam Windsor is a player/coach.

Sean McNulty
New England Free Jacks

The 24-year-old hooker is part of the Boston-based Free Jacks’ first season in MLR, having spent some time on loan at Rugby United New York [RUNY] in 2019.

sean-mcnulty Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

McNulty, a product of Rockwell College who played underage rugby for Munster, spent three seasons in Leinster’s academy but never got a senior debut for the province and was released in 2018

The UCD man has previously played for Ireland at U19 and U20 levels but is also US-qualified having spent much of his youth living in the States, and will have ambitions of featuring for the Eagles in Test rugby if he can impress with the Free Jacks.

John Poland
New England Free Jacks

Cork man Poland is another smart addition for the Free Jacks, offering a strong kicking game and lively service at scrum-half.

john-poland Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The 23-year-old former PBC student was in and out of the Munster system in recent years, making his Pro14 debut against Zebre in 2018. Poland has also shone in club rugby with Cork Con and, more recently, UCC.

Keen to pursue a professional rugby career, the former Ireland U20 international now brings his skillset to the US and will hope to help the Free Jacks get off to a winning start against RUNY in Las Vegas this weekend.

Tadhg Leader
New England Free Jacks

The former Connacht academy man is the Free Jacks’ captain and out-half as they get their first season underway.

tadhg-leader Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Leader has been in the US since moving Stateside on a rugby scholarship to Lindenwood University in 2015. The playmaker, whose brother Darragh plays for Connacht, starred for San Diego Legion in the first-ever MLR season in 2018.

He had a short stint with NOLA Gold last year but – having had existing ties in Boston – was one of the Free Jacks’ key signings as soon as they came into existence.

Leader is now a USA international, having debuted in last year’s Americas Rugby Championship and is likely to be a key man for the Free Jacks. 

Conor Kindregan
New England Free Jacks

An imposing lock, Kindregan was with the Free Jacks for their ‘exhibition season’ in 2019 and will now look to make his mark in MLR.

conor-kindregan Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

The Athenry man had a year in Connacht’s academy in 2013/14 before going on to excel with Cork Con, winning the All-Ireland League Division 1A player of the year award in 2016. He has also starred for the Ireland Clubs side.

Kindregan’s nous and physicality are likely to be important this season for the Boston-based side as they attempt to get up to speed quickly in MLR.

Ronan McCusker
New England Free Jacks

Kindregan may well be part of an all-Irish second row this season, with Ulster man Ronan McCusker also on the books at the Free Jacks.

ronan-mccusker James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

6ft 5ins McCusker previously played for the Ulster U20s and was captain of club side Rainey Old Boys RFC at the age of just 21. Qualified for the US through his mother, 24-year-old McCusker spent some of last year on loan to Austin.

Magherafelt man McCusker, whose younger brother John has featured for the Ireland U19s, now aims to show his quality for the ambitious Free Jacks. 

James Rochford
Rugby United New York

With a new Irish head coach in the highly-rated Greg McWilliams and an Irish owner in Tipperary man James Kennedy, RUNY are an obvious choice for any supporters in Ireland looking for a MLR club to follow.

download Colbert O'Sullivan Rochford, second from left, after winning the Bateman Cup with Cork Con Colbert O'Sullivan

27-year-old loosehead prop James Rochford is back for his second season after being a key figure in 2019, starting 17 games. The Crosshaven man never quite got a look-in with his native Munster and he spent the 2015/16 season with Lazio in Italy.

Spells with Cork Con and Dolphin allowed Rochford to impressive in the All-Ireland League, while he also completed a full pre-season with Munster while on a six-month training contract with the province in 2017.

Heading into his second season with RUNY, Rochford will be an important influence.

Mark O’Keeffe
Rugby United New York

24-year-old O’Keeffe is also in his second year with RUNY, having scored four tries in his 13 starts last year, predominantly featuring in midfield but also playing on the wing on a handful of occasions.

robert-mcgrath-and-mark-okeeffe Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The former Lansdowne FC man played for Leinster U19s and Connacht U20s, having come through St Michael’s College, where he was part of the 2012 Leinster Schools Senior Cup-winning side.

An All-Ireland League winner with Lansdowne in 2018, O’Keeffe’s pace and power should make him a real threat for RUNY again this year. 

Cormac Daly
Rugby United New York

A new face at RUNY for this year, 21-year-old lock Daly is a player of great promise. The Kildare man came through North Kildare RFC and Navan RFC and played for his native Leinster at U20 and A levels, while also featuring for Connacht A.

cormac-daly James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

6ft 6ins Daly, who was also a fine footballer as he grew up, featured prominently for the Ireland U20s in the 2018 Six Nations and World Rugby Championships.

In announcing the signing of Daly, who was still featuring for Connacht’s A team earlier this season, RUNY boss McWilliams called him “one of the best young second rows in Ireland” and predicted he will be “very important to Rugby United New York.”

Will Leonard
Rugby United New York

RUNY’s starting midfield for their opener against the Free Jacks is France international Mathieu Bastareaud, a new addition, and Irishman Will Leonard.


24-year-old Limerick man Leonard is one of the returning faces for RUNY, having started 12 games last year.

The Shannon RFC man, who was part of a very successful Crescent Comprehensive College team, played for the Munster U20s in 2014.

An Ireland Clubs international, Leonard was nominated for the AIL Division 1B player of the year award as he impressed for Shannon in 2017/18.  

Evan Mintern
Rugby United New York

Cork man Mintern is a new signing for RUNY this year, having earned his move with consistently strong form in the back row and second row for Cork Con in the AIL.

evan-mintern Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

The former CBC student played for the Ireland U20s in 2016 and then featured for Munster A over the two seasons that followed. Standing 6ft 5ins tall, Mintern can play as a lock but seems more likely to feature in RUNY’s back row.

The 23-year-old helped Con to their AIL title last year and now gets a shot at showing his quality in the MLR.

Cathal Marsh
Rugby United New York

After helping RUNY into the semi-finals last season, 28-year-old Marsh will be aiming to guide them towards trophy glory this year. He links up with his former St Michael’s College coach McWilliams for this campaign.

cathal-marsh-15102016 Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Marsh came through the Ireland U20s to earn a senior contract with Leinster, making a total of 26 appearances for his province, including Champions Cup caps.

However, with Johnny Sexton, Ross Byrne, and Joey Carbery ahead of him in the pecking order, Marsh opted to leave in 2018 and then took up a two-year contract offer from RUNY.

An experienced and classy playmaker, Marsh will be a key figure again as he looks to link with Bastareaud and Ben Foden in the RUNY backline.

Dylan Fawsitt
Rugby United New York

Now a well-established Eagles international, hooker Fawsitt has been in the US since 2014, first studying at Life University in Georgia.

dylan-fawsitt-with-siobhan-fawsitt-and-megan-fawsitt Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

29-year-old Wexford man Fawsitt featured for Ohio in the now-defunct Pro Rugby competition in 2016 before playing for Colorado in the first-ever MLR season in 2018.

He was RUNY captain last year, having also made his US debut in 2018, qualifying under the residency rules. Fawsitt played against Ireland in November of that year and was part of the US’ World Cup squad last year.

Nicknamed ‘The Butcher,’ Fawsitt scored a remarkable 13 tries in 15 starts last year for RUNY, most of them at the back of the New York side’s fearsome maul.

Marcus Walsh
Rugby United New York

Walsh is also in his second season with RUNY, having played for Austin back in 2018.

marcus-walsh James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Like Fawsitt, scrum-half Walsh is a graduate of Life University. He shone in schools rugby with Blackrock, winning Junior and Senior Cup medals, while also playing for Leinster’s underage teams.

Walsh went onto shine in the AIL with Lansdowne and had a season in Connacht’s academy before moving to the US. The 28-year-old Dubliner’s experience and rapid service could be important again for RUNY this year.

Jason Higgins
Rugby United New York

Walsh will have competition at scrum-half from the veteran USA international Mike Petri and also a fellow Irishman in new signing Jason Higgins.

jason-higgins Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

26-year-old Higgins is another former Cork Con man and has been consistently good in the All-Ireland League. A product of CBC in Cork, the scrum-half played for the Munster U20s and has also featured strongly for Munster A in more recent years.

An AIL winner with Con last year, Higgins now brings his talents to the MLR.

Paddy Ryan
Rugby United New York

The 29-year-old tighthead was an important figure for RUNY last year, playing 14 times.

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Ryan-2020-HS RUNY RUNY

Ryan, the brother of former Munster props Timmy and Dave, has had spells with Viadana in Italy, Libourne in France and London Welsh, as well as two seasons with Newcastle in the English Premiership.

US-qualified through his mother, Ryan played for Austin in the first season of MLR in 2018 before being a starter for RUNY as they joined the league last year. Part of the USA’s wider training squad before the World Cup, he narrowly missed the final cut.

Cronan Gleeson
Rugby ATL

Rugby ATL are one of the new clubs in MLR this season, based out of Atlanta, Georgia and with Irish prop Cronan Gleeson in their squad.

cronan-gleeson James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

A product of Nenagh Ormond RFC, Gleeson played for Munster’s underage teams and won Ireland caps at U18 and U19 levels. Having played with Shannon RFC, he then spent a season in French club Mont-de-Marsan’s academy.

A move to Bury St Edmunds in England followed, as did appearances for Newcastle and Bristol’s A team, and then a stint with Perth Palmyra in Australia. The tighthead played for Connacht’s A team in 2016/17 before shifting to Spain with the Getxo club.

He returned to Ireland and shone for Old Wesley in the AIL, earning a short-term development contract with Munster in late 2018. He now links up with Rugby ATL as he takes a shot in American rugby. 

Sean Coughlan
Rugby ATL

The second Irishman in the Rugby ATL squad is former Blackrock College man Sean Coughlan, who was part of the Dublin school’s 2013 Leinster Schools Senior Cup-winning team alongside the likes of Garry Ringrose.

sean-coughlan Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Capped by the Leinster U20s, centre/wing Coughlan is US-qualified and, after playing club rugby with Lansdowne, moved to study at Life University. Having also coached in the local Atlanta rugby scene, Coughlan is a newcomer to MLR this year. 

The midfielder is a former Old Belvedere club man.

Ross Deacon
Rugby ATL

A new signing for the new club, number eight Deacon spent last season with RUNY and was with Austin in 2018.

ross-deacon-dejected James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Born in San Francisco, Deacon grew up in Ireland and first showed his promise with Kilkenny College before going on to win both U20 and senior All-Ireland League medals with Lansdowne.

A former Leinster U20 cap, the powerful back row played for the USA U20s in 2013 and surely has ambitions of pushing into the senior Test side too.

Ben Mitchell
San Diego Legion

Dynamic second row Mitchell makes the move to San Diego from Austin, where he has been superb over the last two years since his move to the US.

download (1) Norma Salinas / Austin Elite Norma Salinas / Austin Elite / Austin Elite

25-year-old Mitchell came through Youghal RFC and Midleton College, playing at centre or fullback, and made an appearance for a Munster Development team in 2016.

Having converted to the second row, he excelled for UCC in the AIL with his powerful play around the pitch. The 6ft 7ins Cork man took a punt in moving to the US in 2018 and has been earning rave reviews ever since with Austin.

Now relocated to San Diego, Mitchell may even have an eye on possible US qualification by 2023. 

Paul Mullen
San Diego Legion

The USA international tighthead is now is a new signing for Legion, having spent the past two MLR seasons in Houston.

paul-mullen Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

A native of the Aran Islands, Mullen attended Glenstal Abbey and played for Munster at underage levels. American-qualified through his grandfather, Mullen moved to the US in 2011 to study and play for the USA U20s.

The 28-year-old has enjoyed a steady rise through the US game since, while also having spells in England with Newcastle and Doncaster. Mullen made his senior US debut in 2018 and featured against Ireland in November of that year.

He played four times off the bench for the Eagles in last year’s World Cup.

Conor Kearns
San Diego Legion

A native of San Francisco but raised in Limerick, 26-year-old Kearns is capable of playing at out-half, centre or fullback. 

conor-kearns-with-paul-davis Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Kearns – who has a Munster A cap – has played for the USA Selects team, essentially an international A side, having shown his ability for Legion in recent seasons. 

A product of Old Crescent RFC and Glenstal Abbey, Kearns played for Munster underage teams and then went on to impress in the AIL for Trinity. An Ireland Universities international, Kearns also studied and played for Oxford University before moving back to the States.

Jamie Dever
San Diego Legion

Loosehead prop Dever is a new signing for San Diego after spending the last two seasons with Houston, for whom he played 15 times last year.

pat-lam-and-jamie-dever James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

A native of Mayo who came through Westport RFC and Rice College, Dever player for Connacht’s underage teams and was capped by Ireland up to U20 level before going into his native province’s academy.

Dever made his senior debut for Connacht off the bench in a Pro12 game against the Ospreys in 2014 while impressing for Buccaneers RFC in the AIL. Having played for Cambridge RFC in 2017, he moved to the States for the first MLR season in 2018.

David Busby
Seattle Seawolves

A new addition for the back-to-back champions, Busby is likely to prove a smart signing.

david-busby-with-dave-kearney Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The versatile back three player came through the Ulster academy and started at fullback for the Ireland U20s in the 2014 Six Nations, before progressing into his native province’s senior squad. 

He made his Pro14 debut against Zebre in 2017 and started at fullback against Leinster as recently as April of last year. 26-year-old Busby, who came through Portadown College and impressed in the AIL with Ballynahinch, has since moved on to Seattle and will now be part of their bid to secure a third consecutive MLR title.

- This article was updated at 12.08pm to correct ‘Canada’ to ‘the US’ in the sixth paragraph. It was updated again at 1.23pm to add ‘North Kildare RFC’ to the section on Cormac Daly, and to include Paul Mullen and Ross Deacon.

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