The second Major League Rugby season kicks off this weekend as Seattle Seawolves aim to defend their title, while the league also introduces two new teams.
The Toronto Arrows and Rugby United New York will make their debuts in the competition and Joe Harvey has all the latest for TRU ahead of Round One.
Toronto Arrows @ NOLA Gold
New to Major League Rugby for 2019, the Toronto Arrows face a stern test against NOLA Gold, who placed sixth in their maiden professional season. Winning three of their eight games, NOLA picked up four try scoring bonus points and have made several offseason signings to improve their chances of reaching the playoff games. Northampton and Cardiff Blues flanker Cam Dolan will certainly add to the international pedigree already at NOLA.
?? #TorontoArrows Wing Dan Moor joined the @americasrugby ARN Podcast to chat about his journey to joining his hometown team, his expectations for the upcoming @usmlr season, and his national team aspirations.— Toronto Arrows Rugby Club (@TorontoArrows) January 25, 2019
Tune in here ? https://t.co/15mxxfLH3C
Toronto are relative unknowns at this time, but they come into the league with an extremely strong squad, with 13 Canadian internationals available for Head Coach Chris Silverthorn. Toronto haven’t had too much preseason game time as their friendly against Rugby United New York was cancelled at short notice, meaning the Arrows had to play an inter-club game. With an extremely strong forwards pack and a capable defence coach in Aaron Carpenter, the Arrows will be both unpredictable and difficult to break down.
Houston SaberCats @ Austin Elite Rugby
The second Saturday fixture sees an early return for the Texas-derby. This game saw Houston pick up their solitary MLR win last year. Gathering 11 points in their first MLR campaign, four of those points came from losing bonus points for Houston, displaying how close the side was to victory on a number of occasions. With a good coaching setup, led by Ulster-legend Justin Fitzpatrick aided also by the assistance of flyhalf Sam Windsor and flanker Matt Trouville, the only way is up for SaberCats.
Austin, in the meantime, have added a few international players to their roster. With two Uruguayan internationals joining the fray, one of Austin’s headline signings was former NRL wing Peni Tagive. The Fijian first moved to the USA to study at Baylor University, where he also played running back. With former Clermont coach Alain Hyardet continuing his tenure at Austin, Elite will be hoping to build on the three games that they won last year.
Rugby United New York @ San Diego Legion
A lot of eyes have been on New York in their run up to their debut in MLR. Making the signing of Ben Foden, which grabbed the attention in England and across the rugby world, there is a lot of hype surrounding this team. With nine Eagles in the squad, RUNY have acquired players like John Quill from teams that were in MLR last season as well as recalling hooker Dylan Fawsitt and Marcus Walsh from their spells at Glendale and Austin, respectively.
https://t.co/DP28EpCN5o— Talking Rugby Union (@TalkRugbyUnion) October 9, 2018
Something exciting always seems to be happening in the 'City that Never Sleeps'
And now Pierre Arnald and @rugbyunitedny are preparing to make their mark in the Big Apple. ??????#MLR #RUNY
??Rugby United New York pic.twitter.com/wrdLLWUIuh
San Diego reached the semi-finals of last season’s MLR and there have been some changes since their last outing. Starting flyhalf Tadhg Leader has departed the club to join the New England FreeJacks, who will be joining MLR in 2020. Former Wasps stalwart, Rob Hoadley, has taken the reigns at the franchise, replacing Chris Cracknell, meaning no one knows what to expect. Veteran of Super Rugby, Joe Pietersen, has remained with the club and should play a big part in how the team perform.
Glendale Raptors @ Seattle Seawolves
A replay of the MLR Championship game that saw Seattle crowned as the inaugural winners of MLR, all eyes will be on the Starfire Sports Complex as the two finalists face off. Glendale would have been disappointed by the loss to Seattle in San Diego and will be hoping to avenge that defeat at the first time of asking. Brining in Hanco Germishuys, who was possibly the best forward in the league when he was lining up for Austin last season, Glendale will be hoping that the USA international will play in the same fashion.
Seattle have never actually beaten Glendale in the regular season, their only win over the Raptors coming in the Championship game at the end of the season. With the lion’s share of the squad remaining the same, Seattle will be setting their standards high in this game. With a head coach now in place, Phil Mack will potentially have the shackles taken off and the Seawolves game could be even more exciting than it was last year.