For years rugby players have believed the next step to growing the sport in the U.S. was the need for a professional league. And that belief (or dream in some cases) will become a reality when Professional Rugby Organization (PRO) Rugby kicks off on April 17.
PRO Rugby is sanctioned by USA Rugby and World Rugby and is working to lay a solid foundation with 5-team 12-week season scheduled for the inaugural season but with ambitious plans for the future. The new league will incorporate some innovations from limited scrum tests to sudden-death overtime with the goal of increasing the fan base from grassroots rugby players to the general sports fan.
Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Ohio, and Denver will host teams in the inaugural season. The season kicks off with an I-80 derby between San Francisco and Sacramento and a match between Ohio and Denver on April 17. The season ends on July 31.
The teams currently don’t have team names only their city/state connection. And that is all part of the design with the league planning on allowing fans to take part in the naming process.
The rosters are made up of homegrown players, players in the USA Eagles player pool as well as some identified through a try-out process, and international players.
Mils Muliaina is arguably the biggest signing to date. The former New Zealand All Black earned 100 caps for his country as well as a long career in the Super 12, top domestic league for New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, and will be playing for San Francisco.
“From initially just going to study in San Francisco to now being able to continue to play rugby, I am grateful that Pro Rugby and Life West Chiropractic College have provided me the opportunity to do both,” he said in Stuff.co.nz. “I’m excited to be able to play in the San Francisco Bay area and to work alongside and share my experience with some talented young players.”
The Italy wing Mirco Bergamasco earned 89 caps and scored 256 Test points will suit up for Sacramento; South Africa flanker Pedrie Wannenburg has 20 caps and is headed to Denver. Canadian Phil Mackenzie has 32 caps signed with San Diego; New Zealand sevens Orene Ai’i will play with fellow countryman Muliaina in San Francisco. Dual Australia international Timana Tahu, who has played both rugby league and rugby union, will play for Denver.
“We’re pioneers,” San Francisco’s Paul Keeler told the Guardian with a laugh. “We’re pioneering here. I guess we have to hope we don’t lose our way or our stores.”
The venues for each city will provide a quaint atmosphere to make the fans as much a part of the game as possible. Sacramento’s Bonney Field, a soccer venue, is the largest with 11,442 capacity. Denver will call the rugby specific Infinity Park in Glendale, CO home. University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium will be used by San Diego. Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park will be home to San Francisco. Ohio will play in the smallest venue, Memorial Park in Obetz with a capacity of 3,500.
What will be PRO Rugby’s biggest challenges in their inaugural season? Will you be a fan of the new league? How important is a professional league to the continued development of the game in the U.S.?
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