The United States’ Major League Rugby (MLR) has welcomed another superstar of the game to the league after it was announced on Wednesday that South Africa’s Tendai Mtawarira has joined Old Glory DC.
The 117-cap loosehead prop is a huge name in world rugby, but this has created a debate amongst members of the rugby community in the States about how beneficial signing players of this magnitude is for the league.
‘The Beast’ joins Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud as just some of the high-profile signings set to play in 2020 MLR season. He’s maybe the biggest name of the three. Nonu is a titan of the game, but has not played international rugby in four years. Similarly, Bastareaud was not picked for France’s Rugby World Cup squad. On the other hand, Mtawarira was not only part of the Springboks’ RWC triumph in Japan, he was at his devastating best in the final against England, tearing through their scrum.
In terms of players that are still in the limelight, the 34-year-old is the biggest name to join the league, and he said on Twitter that he hopes to “grow the game in America”.
2/2… and help (in my small way) to grow the game in the America
I’d like to thank the owners Paul Sheehy and Chris Dunlavey, Coach Andrew and the whole Old Glory D.C organization for making this process easy for my family and I. #GloryAwaits
— Tendai Mtawarira (@Beast_TM) December 18, 2019
However, this created an interesting debate between podcaster Pat Clifton and former USA women’s coach Pete Steinberg. In essence, the discussion on Twitter revolved around whether these big names actually create an increase in stadium attendance or viewership in the US, particularly amongst those that don’t know the players, or whether it is simply to generate interest from abroad. While players of Mtawarira’s calibre will improve the standard of the league, it can sometimes come at a price.
This was the thread on Twitter:
We generally agree. My issue with big names is people confuse it with progress. Foreigners on the back end of their career taking a pay cut to play in empty stadiums in America is neither shocking nor progress. It’s a neat reality.
— Pat Clifton (@ThePatClifton) December 19, 2019
While these signings are often viewed as beneficial for the globalisation of rugby and growth of the game in North America, this is the other side of the coin. MLR clearly wants to grow as a product, but there is not necessarily an agreement about the best methods to achieve that.
It is less than two months until these players begin another chapter in their careers, with the new season starting in February 2020.
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