International players to light up season 2

Credit: Norma Salinas Photography

International players to light up season 2

Major League Rugby kicks off its second season this weekend, with North America’s only fully professional club rugby championship set to feature top North American talent including veterans of the USA Eagles and Canada national sides, joined by overseas crowd-pleasers drawn from every corner of the rugby world.

Alongside the best North American talent, MLR’s cosmopolitan clubs will field players from more than 20 countries this weekend. Top athletes from the United States and Canada will take the pitch alongside players from across South America, the Pacific Islands, Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. With over 40 players who have proven themselves in the fifteen-a-side international test arena and global sevens circuit, fans can expect a feast of world-class rugby over MLR’s expanded 75-game Season 2.

Among the North American Test rugby mainstays are USA Eagles’ No.8 Cam Dolan and Canada’s evergreen 50-cap prop Hubert Buydens, both important leaders for NOLA Gold. Seattle Seawolves’ player-coach Phil Mack boasts nearly 100 caps for Canada’s sevens and fifteens sides combined. San Diego Legion’s veteran second row Louis Stanfill brings three Rugby World Cups and 50 USA caps’ worth of experience to the Southern California coast. The Glendale Raptors’ new back-row signing Hanco Germishuys has emerged as one of the Eagles’ brightest young talents after the national team’s promising Summer and Autumn series.

Returning after a blistering start to his MLR career, Tonata Lauti will look to better his league-leading tally of nine tries in this year’s 16-game regular season on the Utah Warriors’ wing. Lauti can expect competition for leading try scorer from last season’s seven-try runner-up, Glendale Raptors’ winger Harley Davidson. Sam Windsor, meanwhile, will hope to repeat the form that earned him leading points scorer last time out, racking up 103 points from flyhalf with the Houston SaberCats in Season 1.

Fetu’u Vainikolo, Tonga’s record international try scorer, will bring explosive firepower to the Utah backline. Houston’s Osea Kolinisau skippered the Rio 2016 sevens team that brought home Fiji’s first ever Olympic gold medal, a side that also featured San Diego Legion signing Jasa Veremalua. Newcomers Rugby United New York will look to hit the ground running, spurred on by marquee signing Ben Foden, a 34-cap Six Nations Championship winning back with England. The other new addition to the MLR line-up, the Toronto Arrows, have supplied a quarter of the Canada squad for the upcoming Americas Rugby Championship, with Jamie Mackenzie, Lucas Rumball, Theo Sauder and Mike Sheppard all featuring in Canada’s Rugby World Cup qualifier win over Hong Kong to secure their place at the Japan 2019 tournament.

The Austin Elite midfield is bolstered by the addition of Australia-born center Ratu Peni Tagive, whose career has spanned stints with Australia’s NRL and the Fiji world cup squad in rugby league, and back-to-back Big 12 Championship wins as a defensive end for Baylor University’s American football team. Off the field, women’s Eagles international Tiffanny Faaee became the first ever female coach of a professional US men’s team when she joined RUNY this off-season.

“We gave the clubs a mandate to go out and recruit elite North American talent that makes fans sit up and take notice, and they’ve done just that” said MLR Commissioner Dean Howes. “The quality and the depth of these rosters is truly impressive. Our original teams are stronger across the board, and Toronto and New York have shown they’re here to succeed immediately. Top players competing together week-in, week-out can only be a good thing for the future of rugby in North America. The game is gathering momentum here and MLR fans are in for some sensational rugby. We can’t wait for kick-off.”