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Major League Rugby hampered by COVID-19 yet again as title contenders prepare for season away from home

By Alex McLeod

Trending on RugbyPass

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Major League Rugby has been hit with another COVID-19-related disruption ahead of the 2021 campaign, with one of the competition’s title frontrunners moving away from their home for the entire season.

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In a statement released on Monday (local time), the San Diego Legion announced they will play their home matches in Las Vegas rather than at their normal venue of Torero Stadium.

The side said the move is due to the impact of COVID-19 in Southern California, with the entire state accounting for a total of 3.2 million virus cases and over 37,000 deaths.

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“Due to the impact of COVID-19 in Southern California, San Diego Legion will play its 2021 Major League Rugby home matches in Las Vegas, Nevada,” the club said.

“We are in the process of finalising the arrangements and we will announce further details as soon as possible.

“In the meantime, we thank our fans for their support and patience. We remain focused on delivering the MLR Championship title to San Diego in 2021.”

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San Diego have established themselves as a dominant force in MLR since its inception in 2018.

The franchise featured in a semi-final in its debut season, reached the final in 2019, and stood 11 points clear at the top of the Western Conference standings at the time of MLR’s cancellation, due to COVID-19, last year.

The Californian side has subsequently become a glamour club of sorts in recent years.

All Blacks centurion Ma’a Nonu, ex-Wallabies prop Paddy Ryan and USA stars Takudzwa Ngwenya, Tony Lamborn and Cam Dolan have all previously played for the side, while the Legion’s biggest signing this season is former England captain Chris Robshaw.

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He is accompanied by other high-profile newbies ex-Springboks wing Bjorn Basson, Blitzboks legend Cecil Afrika, Argentine playmaker Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias and former Waratahs wing Cam Clark.

That contingent of foreign recruits will be forced to wait to play in front of their home fans, though, as the Legion prepare for their season-long move to Nevada.

San Diego’s announcement comes just a week after the Dallas Jackals, one of the league’s two new expansion sides expected to play this year, were forced to delay their inaugural MLR season to 2022.

“This has been a challenging process, but we firmly believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team,” Jackals President Scott Sonju said in a statement released last Tuesday.

“The pandemic has obviously had a far-reaching impact on many businesses. For an expansion sports team it presents very specific challenges, from properly cultivating community and business relationships, to securing visas for international players – there are many challenges in a normal climate, let alone in the unusual climate of this past year.”

The Jackals and Legion aren’t the only sides in the league seriously affected by the pandemic over the past year.

One of MLR’s founding members, the Colorado Raptors, withdrew from the competition last May, citing that COVID-19 had made it “impossible” to continue its involvement in the league.

Japan’s star-studded Top League has also faced COVID-19 difficulties this year, with organisers postponing the competition’s start date by three weeks to February 6 as a result of a virus outbreak throughout three clubs.

MLR is scheduled to kick-off on March 20 when NOLA Gold host Old Glory DC at Shrine on Airline in New Orleans.

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Major League Rugby hampered by COVID-19 yet again as title contenders prepare for season away from home

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