USA Eagles boss Gary Gold believes San Diego Legion have made the “perfect signing” by convincing Chris Robshaw, the former England captain, to join Major League Rugby after his illustrious career with Harlequins in the Gallagher Premiership finishes later this year.

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Unlike Rugby United New York’s decision to bring in an overweight ex-France midfielder Mathieu Bastareaud, whose short-lived MLR stint ended with the centre joining Lyon in April, Gold suggested the arrival of Robshaw on a two-year deal at Legion can have significant benefits for the American league and its ambitious expansion plans.

MLR are aiming to be a genuine alternative to Japan and signing Robshaw, who won 66 England caps and led his country 43 times – including at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, is a major statement of intent. 

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Robshaw will head to California when he completes a short-term extension that will see him help Harlequins, whom he skippered to 2012 Premiership glory, finish their delayed season which is due to restart in August.

“It is critically important for the MLR to sign a player like Chris Robshaw,” said Gold to RugbyPass after it emerged that the 33-year-old flanker will join Legion, the Californian-based club whose squad includes Ma’a Nonu, the double World Cup-winning All Black centre. 

“Chris is such a good guy, a great rugby player and an inspiring leader in a critical position and it is a perfect signing. The USA guys at San Diego are going to get the chance to find out what it is like to play alongside Chris Robshaw and Ma’a Nonu and that will be a wonderful experience. 

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“Neither Chris or Ma’a are past their sell-by date and have a huge amount of value to add. It will enhance the value of the MLR. I remember Martin Johnson being asked about Josh Kronfeld joining Leicester and concerns about an influx of foreign players into England.

“He said it was a critical balance but that they needed to be playing week in, week out with players of the quality of Kronfeld and Joel Stransky because there could be so much to learn from them. Ma’a Nonu in San Diego and Tendai Mtawarira for Washington are also great signings but there have also been some bad ones where you pay over the odds for a guy well past his sell-by date and it doesn’t help the game. 

“I have nothing against him, but I’m not sure Mathieu Bastareaud was a smart signing when you are so limited financially. If you spend that kind of money you want proper value and Chris Robshaw ticks that box.

“It’s a brilliant acquisition for San Diego and the players who will be playing alongside him. At Old Glory DC in Washington, those players were around Tendai, who had played over 100 times for the Springboks. Now the San Diego guys are going to play with a guy who captained England for four successful years.”

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Earlier this month, Legion confirmed that former Scotland captain Scott Murray and USA Sevens legend Zack Test will be their new joint head coaches for 2021 after the 2020 campaign was halted just five games in due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ultimately, you want MLR to become as fiercely competitive and as powerful as possible,” added Gold. “There are some good teams in Japan but there are still some question marks over whether the Japanese league is such a powerful one.

 

“Undoubtedly it is important for players like Robshaw, Mtawarira and Nonu to be seen to be choosing the MLR but there also has to be a management of expectation because we don’t have Japanese money in the US game. 

“You counter that with the lifestyle and people do want to experience the USA. While I haven’t spoken to Chris, I did speak to Ma’a and it was something that was of interest to him. There is a huge amount of interest from South African guys who would like to try the MLR and some may even want to fulfil the qualification rule to play Test rugby.

“It is important that the MLR is seen as a rugby destination while accepting that you don’t want teams jam-packed with foreign players to the determent of the USA game.”

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