Major League Rugby on the way as the US looks to fulfil its vast potential

The new competition launches next year, with teams in Texas, Seattle, New Orleans and Austin.

AMERICA WILL HAVE a new professional rugby competition from 2018 onwards, with Major League Rugby set to launch in the States.

The US has yet to successfully crack a professional league set-up, despite PRO Rugby showing early promise last year with internationals like Mils Muliaina and Pedrie Wannenburg, as well as several Irish players and coaches, involved.

However, PRO Rugby terminated all player contracts in December and came into dispute with USA Rugby, the governing body for rugby in the US. While PRO Rugby insist that their organisation is not defunct, they have not announced any future plans since.

Irish fans Ireland and the All Blacks played in front of a vocal crowd in Chicago last year. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Major League Rugby is now set to step into the void, driven by existing USA Rugby-member teams.

The league has announced that it will launch next year with 10 teams. So far, teams have been confirmed in Glendale, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Seattle, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

A 10th host city is to be announced in the coming months, along with a schedule for the first season, as well as player contracting information.

Stating that the ML “will be the premier rugby competition in the United States,” organisers say they are keen to expand into new areas beyond 2018.

“By drawing on the best domestic talent, MLR will create an intense, fast-paced competition and a top-tier media product,” says their press release.

MLR will introduce rugby to the American sports mainstream, provide a focal point for millions of existing fans and bring even more new supporters to the game.

“Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States and one of the most popular sports in the world, as evidenced by the strong reception it received at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

“Rugby’s rising domestic growth and wide-reaching global fan base combine to create a unique environment for a professional league to succeed in the American market.

“While hundreds of local clubs have helped the sport to take hold in the US during the past decade, Major League Rugby is poised to unite these fans under a common banner as rugby enters the American sports mainstream.”

Simon Zebo after the game Ireland played the US in Houston in 2013. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The MLR will hope to build on the existing strengths of the American rugby, particularly the deep passion for the sport among a hardcore following, while they will receive backing from unnamed private investors, “who believe that American rugby can thrive at the highest levels.”

It remains to be seen if MLR can deliver in terms of providing a sustainable and high-quality professional club rugby competition in the US in the coming years, but their goal of making US rugby “an influential player on the international scene” is laudable.

Many see the States as a potential hotbed and a nation where the possible growth of rugby could change the entire landscape of the sport.

The sheer scale of athletic talent in the States – much of it discarded after not reaching the NFL or other professional leagues – has always excited rugby coaches and clubs, with several having dipped into other sports looking for possible rugby stars.

A well-run professional league would certainly help to improve the quality of the US national team, currently ranked 17th in the world, and could also open up new opportunities for players and coaches of all nationalities.

Many in the rugby world will be watching with interest to note how Major League Rugby fares next year and beyond.

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