A number of foreign stars have been named to start in the opening round of Major League Rugby this weekend.
All 12 teams will take to the field over the coming days to open their 2021 campaigns, and there is no shortage of test-level star power across the Western and Eastern Conferences.
Perhaps the most stacked side of the opening weekend is the newest team of the league, the LA Giltinis, who will make their MLR debut with two Wallabies centurions – flyhalf Matt Giteau and outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper – in their starting lineup.
Fellow ex-Australian international Dave Dennis is also starting at lock for the Venice Beach-based franchise, as are a raft of former Super Rugby players such as inside centre Billy Meakes, scrumhalf Harrison Goddard and blindside flanker Angus Cottrell.
Canada’s all-time top try-scorer DTH van der Merwe will also make his first appearance in the competition after shifting to the Giltinis from the Glasgow Warriors.
LA will open their account in MLR at the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the New England Free Jacks, who possess a wealth of foreign talent themselves.
Former Wallabies training squad member Sef Fa’agase will start at loosehead prop for the Boston side, while Scotland international Dougie Fife will start on the right wing.
Further inland in Nevada, the San Diego Legion will kick their season off against Rugby United New York at Cashman Field in Las Vegas.
While the Legion – who have the likes of former England captain Chris Robshaw, Argentine playmaker Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias and Blitzboks legend Cecil Afrika in their ranks – are yet to name their team, RUNY have numerous high-profile players in their match day team.
Ex-England fullback Ben Foden returns to play his 22nd consecutive match for the Brooklyn-based franchise, while former All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis has been named to start at scrumhalf.
In the loose forwards, former Blues and Sunwolves tearaway Kara Pryor will partner with USA Eagles star Hanco Germishuys on the side of the scrum and Manu Samoa prop Sakaria Taulafo will pack down in the No 3 jersey.
In Atlanta, Rugby ATL will field Los Pumas midfielder Bautista Ezcurra at inside centre against the Toronto Arrows atLife University.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 20, 2021
The only Canadian franchise in the competition are missing their star recruit Joaquin Tuculet, who has joined Ezcurra in making the move from the now-defunct Jaguares to MLR for the 2021 season.
The Austin Gilgronis, meanwhile, have welcomed back one-test All Blacks prop Jamie Mackintosh into their side, as the 36-year-old will start at loosehead prop against the Utah Warriors at Bold Stadium in Austin.
Mackintosh will be accompanied by the likes of Manu Samoa scrumhalf Pele Cowley and wing Conner Mooneyham, the first pick in the inaugural MLR Draft last year, in the run-on XV, while Tongan playmaker Kurt Morath starts from the bench.
Saturday’s other match will see the Seattle Seawolves, the champions of the first two editions of MLR, travel to Texas to take on the Houston Sabercats, while NOLA Gold and Old Glory DC will close out the weekend in New Orleans on Sunday.
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