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New World Rugby backed MLR club to boost USA's World Cup competitiveness

By Ian Cameron
Members of Rugby New York celebrate with the MLR Shield following their victory against the Seattle Seawolves during the Major League Rugby Championship at Red Bull Arena on June 25, 2022 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for Rugby New York)

USA Rugby, Major League Rugby (MLR), and World Rugby have announced the establishment of a new MLR expansion club, Anthem Rugby Carolina (RC), based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Set to join the MLR in the 2024 season, Anthem RC will play its matches at the American Legion Memorial Stadium, marking a significant step in the development of rugby in the United States.

The collaboration between the key governing bodies of global and American rugby, along with North America’s leading professional rugby league, is a robust investment aimed at nurturing the sport in the US ahead of the country’s hosting of the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033, respectively. The US Eagles failed to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023, just the second time they didn’t make the flagship tournament.

The addition of Anthem RC is a timely leg-up for the league which suffered the withdrawal of the Toronto Arrows and the New York Ironworkers in the lead-up to the season due to financial difficulties.

Anthem RC is an evolution of MLR and USA Rugby’s existing partnership, which includes the USA Hawks program. This initiative has been instrumental in developing young American and USA-qualified rugby talents. The aim is for Anthem RC to accelerate these efforts, with a particular focus on the USA men’s national team’s long-term progress and preparation for the Rugby World Cup 2027 and their eventual hosting duties in 2031.

“The launch of Anthem RC is a transformative step in our joint efforts to expand rugby in the US, offering a coherent path for player development and bolstering USA Rugby’s prospects as we approach the Rugby World Cup,” said MLR CEO Nic Benson.

Ross Young, CEO of USA Rugby, emphasized the collaboration’s significance. “This extraordinary partnership signifies a new trajectory for rugby in America. Anthem RC not only accelerates player development but also strengthens MLR as a pivotal pathway for the USA Men’s Eagles.”

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World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin viewed the announcement as a critical component of a broader strategy to enhance rugby’s competitiveness and appeal in the USA. “This plan aims to make rugby more relevant and accessible in the US. It includes fostering women’s rugby, embedding sevens in the American sports culture, and growing the elite men’s game. Anthem RC is a cornerstone in this strategy, offering a robust high-performance pathway and contributing to MLR’s long-term success.”

Anthem RC’s initial lineup features players from various MLR teams eligible for international competition for the USA. The club’s introduction reinstates the two-conference format in the league, promising an exciting new chapter in North American rugby.

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