One-cap All Blacks wing Frank Halai has kickstarted his new stint in North America with a try on debut for Major League Rugby outfit Austin Gilgronis.
The 31-year-old is one of many high-profile offshore arrivals for the third season of MLR, joining the recently-rebranded Gilgronis from Top 14 club Pau in France.
Halai, who scored in his solitary All Blacks appearance against Japan in 2013, came off the bench to repeat the feat for Austin at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday, finishing off a move in broken play to run in a 51st minute try against the Utah Warriors.
Welcome to Austin, Frank Halai! ?
— Austin Gilgronis (@Gilgronis) February 23, 2020
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The former Blues and Wasps speedster’s maiden five-pointer wasn’t enough to secure victory for his new side, however, as a converted try to ex-Highlanders prop Kalolo Tuiloma in injury time allowed Utah to steal a 20-all draw away from home.
Halai wasn’t the only former All Black in action in the United States over the weekend, as test centurion Ma’a Nonu maintained an undefeated start to his tenure with the San Diego Legion on Sunday.
After playing a key role in the Legion’s previous two victories over the back-to-back reigning champion Seattle Seawolves and the Colorado Raptors, the two-time World Cup-winner was comparatively quieter in San Diego’s 30-21 win over the New England Free Jacks.
The Legion end today with another victory at Torero Stadium against @nefreejacks.
Final Score 30 – 21, and with more than 4 tries, it gives us a bonus point win!
Next home game is March 8th against @rugbyunitedny pic.twitter.com/6XZotm4t6N
— San Diego Legion (@SDLegion) February 24, 2020
However, that’s more of a credit to the Free Jacks’ defensive scheme rather than Nonu’s attacking abilities, which were on full show in the opening fortnight of the new MLR campaign.
The victory leaves the Legion comfortably at the top of the Western Conference standings with three wins from as many outings, eight points clear of the second-placed Warriors.
In the east, it’s the Toronto Arrows who sit atop the Eastern Conference table – a reward which comes as a result of being the only other team in the league yet to taste defeat.
The Canadian club’s unbeaten status remained intact after they dispatched the Seawolves 39-17 at Starfire Stadium in Seattle, with Manawatu fullback Sam Malcolm slotting three conversions and six penalties for a personal haul of 24 points.
? ICE ? IN ? HIS ? VEINS ?
A perfect nine-for-nine from the tee ? https://t.co/ealzwE4vuo
— Toronto Arrows RFC (@TorontoArrows) February 24, 2020
Elsewhere, a prominent-looking Old Glory DC side, headlined by ex-Springboks prop Tendai Mtawarira, downed the Houston SaberCats 22-13 at Aveva Stadium.
Former Scotland sevens international and Edinburgh loose forward Mungo Mason found himself on the scoresheet, which alleviated the pressure applied on his side when fleet-footed Northland wing Renata Roberts-Tenana was sent to the sin bin for an off-the-ball altercation late in the match.
That win lifted the Washington DC-based franchise, which also featured the likes of Auckland halfback and ex-Samoa sevens star Danny Tusitala, Kiwi journeyman Declan O’Donnell and blockbusting USA midfielder Thretton Palamo, off the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
In the round’s other matches, the NOLA Gold fought off the Colorado Raptors – who were without their key men Rene Ranger and Digby Ioane – 27-20 in Denver, while French star Mathieu Bastareaud started at No. 8 in Rugby United New York’s 22-19 win over Rugby ATL in Atlanta.
MLR Western Conference
San Diego Legion (3-0) – 15pts
Utah Warriors (1-1-1) – 7pts
Houston SaberCats (1-2) – 6pts
Austin Gilgronis (0-1-2) – 3pts
Seattle Seawolves (0-3) – 1pt
Colorado Raptors (0-3) – 1pt
MLR Eastern Conference
Toronto Arrows (3-0) – 13pts
NOLA Gold (2-1) – 10pts
Rugby ATL (2-1) – 10pts
Rugby United New York (2-1) – 9pts
Old Glory DC (2-1) 9pts
New England Free Jacks (1-2) – 7pts
Round Four Fixtures
NOLA Gold vs San Diego Legion at Shrine on Airline, New Orleans
Austin Gilgronis vs Old Glory DC at Toyota Field, San Antonio
Colorado Raptors vs Utah Warriors at Infinity Park, Denver
Seattle Seawolves vs New England Free Jacks at Starfire Stadium, Seattle
Rugby ATL vs Toronto Arrows at Life University, Atlanta
Houston SaberCats vs Rugby United New York at Aveva Stadium, Houston
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