Major League Rugby: New York and Toronto expand reach in season two
时间：2019-08-22 责任编辑：易陪 来源：云顶集团4008 点击：263 次
Major League Rugby with two new teams to watch. The Toronto Arrows will join Rugby United New York in taking on the Seattle Seawolves, Glendale Raptors, Austin Elite, , San Diego Legion, NOLA Gold and the .
Next year, the and as yet unnamed teams in Washington and Atlanta are scheduled to join the professional rugby union competition. Prospective teams continue to build in Dallas, Los Angeles, Ohio and elsewhere.
Fascinating stories are brewing. Consider two. In Seattle, the Seawolves will open on Sunday against the team , the Raptors from Colorado. Thousands of miles away in wintry Gotham, New York are preparing to enter the fray.
Seattle won MLR in year one rather in the way Wasps used to win the English Premiership: they didn’t finish top of the regular-season ladder, losing at home and away to Glendale, but they turned things round in the final. In a sense this was not a surprise: the Emerald City is a rugby hotbed, home to the storied Saracens club, plugged in cross-border with teams from British Columbia.
The Seawolves were coached to the title by a Canadian stalwart, 55-cap scrum-half Phil Mack. It wasn’t a straightforward ask for the 33-year-old: he continued to lead on the field after taking over off it when the original coach wasn’t granted a visa.
“Anybody that’s been in a player-coach role knows there’s some hurdles,” he says now, in a break from pre-season training. “You’re making decisions for an entire team and it’s difficult. There are really tough conversations to have with the guys you’re not going to pick, when you’re picking yourself.
“But the players checked their egos at the door. The leadership group we have, we have a ton of experience internationally from props out to the wings. So with that group pushing in the same direction it really helped.”
In that group is the English full-back or wing Matthew Turner, like Mack an experienced hand on the World Sevens circuit. There is also a new fly-half, the highly rated USA youngster Ben Cima, to replace retiring Australian Peter Smith. A raw-boned pack is once again seasoned with Canadian brawn.
Mack is now , the former USA women's sevens coach late in the day after the South African Anton Moolman also suffered problems. Being an assistant, Mack says, offers a chance to “focus on my personal game a little bit more, to learn from someone seasoned in coaching and pick up anything I can”. He’ll attempt that in a year which should end with the culmination of his Canada career: a second Rugby World Cup, in Pool B in Japan.
Seattle weren’t unbeaten at home in year one but by the end of it they had made Starfire, the Tukwila venue where , the most forbidding MLR venue. The “sold out” signs went up and likely will again, a raucous crowd ready to make things uncomfortable for any visiting team.
“Any time you win something you kind of put a target on your back,” Mack says. “So it’s going to be a different challenge, we have to come up with a way to keep that same mentality we had last year, which was pretty humble and we worked pretty hard.
“But when teams come to Starfire it’s a different experience to what the rest of the league is offering and it’s a massive boost to us as players to have that support. It shows what a fanbase Seattle can generate.”
Ticketholders and armchair fans thus anticipate a rematch of the championship game in which Mack expects a “highly motivated” Coloradan team to produce fireworks on the pitch, matching those laid on off it.
Generating fanbases, of course, is what MLR is all about, particularly in Toronto and New York. What with being a great of the Canadian game, Mack has “loads of friends who play on the Toronto team” and so looks forward to that long trip east. He’s also, “like everybody”, curious “to see what New York’s going to bring to the table.”
, or RUNY, operate out of owner James Kennedy’s construction company office at the bottom of Broadway, opposite Wall Street, a couple of blocks down from Trinity Church where Alexander Hamilton lies buried. They will play their home games at a minor league ballpark in another famous neighbourhood, Coney Island, but that won’t happen till mid-March: it’s too damn cold right now.
Visit on an averagely brutal January day, wind howling down the skyscrapered canyon outside, and Kennedy makes warming cups of tea. The conference room is full of props doing paperwork – , formerly of Gala, Hawick and Currie, stares at an iPad rather as he would an opposing Scottish loosehead – so the conversation takes place in the main man’s office, surrounded by merchandise, balls and schedules penned on the walls.
General manager James English, oddly enough an Englishman to Kennedy’s broad Munster Irish, admits the unknown team are in the unknown themselves. RUNY must play their first five games on the road, starting in the sun of San Diego on Sunday. They will only land in Coney Island on 15 March, to face Toronto, for now their only remotely local rivals. MLR isn’t big enough to arrange itself in conferences, the usual antidote to the travel demands of such an enormous landmass.
Over three weekends in February and March, Kennedy says, “we’ll be on a plane to Seattle, then back to New York, then flying to Houston, then back, then flying to Utah which is at altitude, then back.” He laughs, characteristically, about such a slightly ludicrous run-in to that home debut, which he hopes will attract around 5,000 fans out to the end of the D train line.
New Yorkers like winners so Kennedy’s half-pro, half-semi-pro assemblage of local talent, US internationals such as flanker John Quill and scrum-half Mike Petri and key imports – – will be expected to pick up points on the road. For the home games, Kennedy thinks crowds of 3,000 to 5,000, in line with Seattle at Starfire, are out there to be found. By the end of the season, in June, fans might also go to Nathan’s Famous for a hot dog or down to the beach for a swim.
“We can play in cold weather,” Kennedy says, about future seasons. “It’s about having the ability to do snow removal and the fans who will come out whatever.”
Hence in part pre-season forays up to Buffalo, a decent rugby area closer to Toronto, to spread the word among fans of the Bills, “the only other full-contact sports team in New York”. The New York Giants and Jets train and play in New Jersey, you see, but Kennedy’s delighted kidology hints at a more serious problem for any team hoping to rep the Big Apple: finding a home in the city. MCU Park, home of the , a New York Mets affiliate, can cope with rugby once turf has been laid over the pitcher’s mound. Building a permanent home will be tough.
Jacky Lorenzetti, the who built the futuristic Paris La Defense Arena, is one of a number of who have been linked to MLR in the press or by whispers around the game. RUNY, meanwhile, has established its own French connection: , once of Stade Français, .
It’s Kennedy’s contention that most US pro rugby will be soon be played indoors. For training, at least, RUNY are looking at enclosing a rooftop in the post-industrial, soon to be Amazon-dominated fastness of Long Island City.
For now, there are a thousand subway ads to launch and a million challenges to face. Unfortunately there’s no subway in Cobble Hill, the where lives possibly New York’s most famous rugby fan and potential RUNY customer: Daniel Craig. How to get a club cap on James Bond’s head, and thus on to , remains a live question.
Regarding the team, there is sponsorship to sell and, fascinatingly to any rugby geek granted back-office access, there are questions about building a team from scratch. One of them: who will partner US Eagle Nate Brakeley in the heart of the scrum?
It turns out top-quality lock forwards are scarce in America, and indeed around the world. There are rumours that World Rugby is looking at establishing a specialist academy in Richmond, Virginia. If so, that’s closer to the DC team coming in 2020. So Kennedy’s forwards coach, the hulkingly amiable former Namibia prop Kees Lensing, and his assistant Tiffany Faaee, a former Eagle and the first female coach in US men’s pro rugby, are on constant lookout. Samu Manoa, once of Northampton, Toulon and Cardiff, is back in the US and a target for most in the league.
“You need a squad of around 40 players who can play MLR,” English says, if you are going to harbour thoughts of winning MLR. RUNY have tried to assemble that from scratch. Starting this weekend, they will give it the best they can.
Seattle vs Glendale will be broadcast on and , a local network in Seattle. RUNY vs San Diego will be shown on and in New York on .
This story was updated on 25 January 2018