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‘They'll bounce back’: MLR pioneer Lance Williams confident league 'will grow’

By Finn Morton
Lance Williams of the Utah Warriors walks onto the field for warm ups before the game against the Los Angeles Giltinis at Los Angeles Coliseum on March 13, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images for LA Giltinis)

As one of the “pioneers” of Major League Rugby, Utah Warriors veteran Lance Williams is confident that the competition is “going to grow” in the wake of a tough period for North American rugby.

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MLR confirmed an “unfortunate” update late last month with Canadian club the Toronto Arrows ceasing operations immediately ahead of the 2024 season.

But there was more bad news on the way for rugby fans up north with 2022 MLR champions Rugby New York also folding in a heartbreaking blow for the sport.

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While it seems that North American rugby and MLR are in a bad spot, the competition may just be experiencing the very same growing pains that all big competitions seem to go through.

World-renowned competitions including the NBA, MLS, MLB and NHL have all experienced the loss of teams folding at some point in their esteemed histories. MLR is not alone in this.

“Prayers to Toronto and New York for falling out in the league but I can’t see anything about it, I don’t know the background of why they’ve fallen off,” Williams told RugbyPass

“I feel like MLR is going to push through because teams like Seattle… Houston, they want to make this league, they want to make MLR capable.

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“I think it’s just finding the right owners and finding the right people to run this league.

“For the past six years, I’ve been with MLR, there was some struggles but that’s the way rugby is. If you want to start a new sport and grow it in the USA, you’ve got to start small.

“I feel like the MLR will grow with these new teams coming in, Miami and LA, (but) they’ve just got to find the right owners.

“My heart and prayers go to New York and Toronto. I feel like they’ll bounce back. It’s never a goodbye it’s a see you later so hopefully they’ll come back because they’re two great teams.

“I feel like it’s going to grow.”

With the new season expected to kick off in the first weekend of March, it’s time to get excited as the best rugby players in America prepare to battle it out for the famed MLR shield.

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The New England Free Jacks are the reigning champions and they’ll be eager to defend their crown, but the Massachusetts-based franchise will face tough competition across the board.

Rugby ATL will move from Atlanta to Los Angeles for the 2024 season, and they’ll be joined by the new kids on the MLR block in the Miami Sharks, and Chicago is still quite new to the scene too.

“Unfortunately the USA didn’t qualify for the World Cup… there’s no other league that’s helping USA grow, the rugby,” Williams said.

“MLR and PR Sevens and all these other guys, they’re taking a shot. You don’t see other people taking a shot to grow this sport (in the US).

“I think MLR is doing a great job right now. I know it’s hard… that’s what it takes, hard work. We’re the pioneers of rugby now.”

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Comments

1 Comment
M
Michael 225 days ago

They need to explore better sponsorship opportunities. In South Africa they have good corporate backing for their teams. A more lucrative TV deal. Show the league to Americans abroad. And they should explore the possibility of a champions Cup. With Super Rugby America and, Japan, Hong-Kong or teams in Europe Super Cup, or South Africa curry Cup. Or whoever. And get a sponsor involved. All options to grow should be explored. But definitely World Rugby should help grow this league, a loan or grant or something 🤔. Whatever it takes.

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