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Former All Blacks and Wallabies stars shine in opening round of Major League Rugby

By Alex McLeod

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A number of former All Blacks and Wallabies kicked their Major League Rugby campaigns off with victories across the United States as the North American club competition entered its fourth edition over the weekend.

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Perhaps the best viewing came at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the LA Giltinis made their first-ever MLR appearance and emerged victorious against the New England Free Jacks.

Featuring a raft of Australian imports, the Giltinis romped to a 42-27 victory in a match that saw Wallabies centurions Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau register on the scoresheet.

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Richie Mo’unga speaks to media after posting 28 points against the Blues
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Richie Mo’unga speaks to media after posting 28 points against the Blues

Ashley-Cooper, a veteran of four World Cups and 121 tests, crashed over for a try midway through the second half, while Giteau, playing at first-five for LA, knocked over all five of his conversion attempts.

Other Australian players – such as Dave Dennis, Billy Meakes and Angus Cottrell – also featured for the Giltinis, with Cottrell and Canadian try-scoring machine DTH van der Merwe each bagging a brace of tries.

Ashley-Cooper and Giteau weren’t the only notable names taking part in MLR for the first time over the weekend, as ex-All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis made his debut for Rugby United New York against the San Diego Legion in Las Vegas.

The 37-year-old, who won a World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011, got his MLR career off to winning ways in Nevada, as RUNY picked up a 36-29 victory.

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Not even the likes of Blitzboks legend Cecil Afrika, former Waratahs wing Cam Clark, Los Pumas pivot Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias and ex-Springboks wing Bjorn Basson could save San Diego, who were without their marquee signing and former England captain Chris Robshaw.

RUNY, however, had their star English import, Ben Foden, on hand to help Ellis pick up his first win Stateside, although it was the likes of ex-Highlanders pivot Dan Hollinshead, former All Blacks Sevens speedster Fa’asiu Fuatai and USA Eagles pair Dylan Fawsitt and Hanco Germishuys who shone for the Brooklyn-based side.

In Texas, the Austin Gilgronis were denied a last-gasp victory over the Utah Warriors after former Waratahs playmaker Mack Mason missed a 51 metre penalty attempt in the 82nd minute of their 30-28 loss in front of a small home crowd at Bold Stadium.

The narrow loss dampened the return of one-test All Blacks prop Jamie Mackintosh, who had spent the off-season playing in the Mitre 10 Cup for Otago.

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Others, like Manu Samoa halfback Pele Cowley, former Waratahs, Rebels and Crusaders hooker Hugh Roach, Tonga first-five Kurt Morath and Conner Mooneyham, the first pick of the inaugural MLR Draft last year, also featured for Austin.

In the final game of the weekend, Auckland halfback and former Samoa sevens star Danny Tusitala scored two tries upon his return to MLR to help Old Glory DC secure a 26-all draw with NOLA Gold in New Orleans.

The victory ensured former Scotland sevens representative Mungo Mason got his second season of MLR action off to an unbeaten start, but the same can’t be said for former Sunwolves flanker Andrew Durutalo.

The 22-test USA Eagles flanker, who also spent six years with the USA Sevens and has played for Worcester Warriors and Fiji U20, failed to pick up a win while playing for the reigning champion Seattle Seawolves against the Houston Sabercats in Texas.

Instead, Seattle succumbed to a 30-24 defeat to put an early dent in their aspirations of retaining their status as the only title-holders in MLR history after having taken out the first two competitions in 2018 and 2019 before the 2020 season was cancelled.

Elsewhere, Rugby ATL toppled the Toronto Arrows – the only Canadian side in the competition – in a 21-14 victory at Life University in Atlanta.

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Former All Blacks and Wallabies stars shine in opening round of Major League Rugby

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