Professional rugby is one step closer to returning to America’s shores with Major League Rugby revealing their schedule for the 2021 season on Tuesday.
The competition was suspended and later cancelled last season due to COVID-19 after five rounds had been played.
Speaking following the schedule release, MLR Commissioner George Killebrew admitted that he’s “really excited” about having rugby back.
“All of the economic indicators that sports leagues and sports teams are judged by, were on their way up. From ticket sales to sponsorship to broadcast, our TV ratings were greater,” Killebrew said on MLR’s Voices Around The League.
“It was really frustrating after week five to have to shut down which makes us even more excited to be here today getting ready for 2021.”
The season is set to begin on March 20th and run through until August 1st, where the third ever MLR champion is set to be crowned.
“If we’re having a discussion on August the 2nd, it means that we got through 16 weeks of matches, and we played the final on August the 1st on CBS, and that gets me the most excited.”
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) December 9, 2020
Colorado Raptors withdrew from MLR following last season, but the league has still managed to expand, welcoming both the LA Giltinis and Dallas Jackals as the 12th and 13th franchises.
It’s an exciting time for American rugby, and with so many great fixtures lined up, it’s set to be the best season of MLR to date. With just 100 days between now and the start of the season, we picked out five of the key games for you to look out for.
Los Angeles Giltinis vs Dallas Jackals – Week 1, March 20th
This might just be the most intriguing fixture ahead of the 2021 season with competition newcomers in the LA Giltinis and Dallas Jackals set to go head-to-head in the opening weekend.
George Killebrew described the addition of both franchises as a “very significant” moment for MLR, as the competition now has a team representing the top five media markets in the US, and seven of the top 10.
MLR announced their decision to award the competitions 12th franchise to Los Angeles in late May, while Dallas were revealed to be the other expansion side eight days later.
Dallas had the first pick in the inaugural MLR Collegiate Draft, selecting utility back Conner Mooneyham from Life University. Three other players were also drafted, which on top of some exciting signings and an experienced coaching staff means that there’s plenty to like about how the Jackals are shaping up.
The Giltinis announced their first signings last month, Draft Pick Watson Filikitonga, and have since revealed some of an already impressive squad. Arguably Canada’s best player in DTH van der Merwe is set to make the move from Glasgow Warriors, teaming up with former Wallaby Dave Dennis and exciting Australian prospect in Mahe Vailanu.
Both LA and Dallas are two of the most notable sporting cities in the country, so seeing them represented in MLR for the first time is going to be incredible in itself.
San Diego Legion vs Toronto Arrows – Week 2, March 28th
This very well could have been the 2020 Championship Final that we never got to see.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, last season was only five matches in before it was cut short, but this matchup was certainly a possibility.
Over the past couple of seasons, Toronto have proven themselves to be the quiet achiever of the league. While most of MLR’s attention has followed two-time champions Seattle, or the Legion’s marquee signings, the Arrows made the 2019 finals series and were well on their way to do it again last season.
Toronto were second on the standings with four wins and one loss, but had the best points difference of any team in the competition. This came despite playing all of their matches being played on the road.
After an opening round bye, their first match of the new season will be against the Legion, who were the form team ahead of the COVID-19 break last season.
A win against arguably the favourites for the title, away from home, would go a long way to proving how much of a contender they really are.
Austin Gilgronis vs Houston SaberCats – Week 3, April 3rd
Austin claimed bragging rights over their rivals Houston last season, running out 24-20 winners to take out the Texas Cup. That was their only victory that season, with Houston also winning just the one match out of five.
But rivalries never disappoint, and both teams have been busy in the off-season getting their sides ready for such an occasion.
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) October 20, 2020
Austin Gilgronis have announced plenty of signings already, including lock Sebastian de Chaves, Canadian internationals Jeff Hassler, Cole Davis and Reegan O’Gorman, former Waratah Mack Mason, and USA Eagle Paddy Ryan.
The SaberCats have also done a great job in bringing back talent from last season, and signing some new players from around MLR and the world.
But both teams are set to host MLR powerhouse Seattle across the opening two weekends, which could add some extra feeling to an already big occasion. With both Austin and Houston set to carry the underdog tag into their clash against the Seawolves, a win against their Texan rivals in round three might be needed to make sure that they don’t begin to slip away from the rest of the competition.
New England Free Jacks vs Rugby United New York – Week 3, April 3rd
New England is the most successful and arguably well-known region in American sport, and after an introduction to rugby that was cut short last season, rugby is finally is finally set to get in on the action.
The Free Jacks are set to face-off against rivals New York in their first MLR home match, having not had the chance to host a match at Union Point Sports Complex in their inaugural season. They made their MLR debut as the ‘home’ team against Rugby United in the MLR Vegas Weekend, before rounding off that campaign with four away fixtures.
— New England Free Jacks (@NEFreeJacks) November 17, 2020
Having got the win over their north-east rivals last season, led by Canadian second-rower Josh Larsen, the Free Jacks will be looking to do it again to cap off an historic occasion.
But for New York, it’s a must win as well.
The week before their trip to New England they face Old Glory DC away. They’ll have to avoid back-to-back losses against their Eastern Conference rivals if they’re to remain in the hunt for the number one seed.
Seattle Seawolves vs San Diego Legion – Week 15, June 27th
An absolutely crucial match awaits both the Legion and Seawolves in week 15, with the two fierce rivals set to go head-to-head with playoffs less than a month away.
These are the two most decorated teams in the history of MLR already, with the Seawolves having won both titles in 2018 and 2019.
But after losing the big dance last year before, the Legion were well on their way to going one step further in 2020, before the season was cancelled. Their impressive five from five start to the season included a 33-24 win over Seattle.
Both of these teams are expected to be battling it out for the top seed in the Western Conference, and this match might just end up being the deciding match.
Mark your calendars! The 2021 schedule is official here.
Full schedule ? https://t.co/MWHls7Ryj5
Key dates and March lineup ? pic.twitter.com/r1iGjV7RJI
— Major League Rugby (@usmlr) December 8, 2020
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