The Dallas Jackals will be one of two new Major League Rugby teams in the league in 2021 along with the Los Angeles Giltinis. Dallas was slated to have been one of the original teams in the MLR in 2018, however, finding a suitable venue to showcase the team delayed their inclusion until now.
I interviewed Phil Camm, an owner and General Manager of the Dallas Jackals for this article. Phil and his business partner Bill Bingham were originally part of the group at the start of MLR, but are now partnered with Donnie Nelson who brings his entertainment expertise which includes sports ownership of several different teams, as well as investments in restaurants and bars. He recently lured Texas Rangers Neil Leibman to the ownership group.
With the combination of Phil Camm, and the expertise of his new partners, the team is poised to compete for the greater Dallas entertainment market.
The inclusion of Globe Life Park as the team’s rugby venue should usher in a fan-friendly experience for both experienced and novice rugby fans. Rugby is an action-packed, fast-paced sport and its fans readily will help newcomers to understand the game. Rugby 101 will also be included by the team.
Where can fans readily interact with players prior to and/or post-game? Globe Life was renovated when the XFL used the facility with many lower seats removed. Semi-permanent seating with a capacity of 4,000 was included and approximately 15-17000 seats could be enjoyed with fans. The Park originally had a very large area surrounding the infield, so a regulation rugby field can fit within the confines of the stadium and will result in an excellent viewing experience from the stands or suites.
One can expect an outstanding fan experience for families, so come out and support the team!
The team has hired Allen Clarke, an Ireland Elite Coach, who helped to develop players such as Rory Best, an Ireland international. He has been a PRO 14 Rugby coach with Ulster and with the Ospreys. Phil Camm added that with the different skill levels in the MLR, that having two skill sets as both an elite coach and a developer of young talent, that he was a natural selection. Players think highly of him and he is driven to help players and the team to succeed. He also had experience with a Collegiate draft in Ireland, which is something that is relatively new in rugby.
Elaine Vassie is the first woman to have a key management position in the MLR. She is the Assistant GM and the Attack Coach. This is not new for her. She is the first woman to be both the Director of Rugby and Head Coach at the National League English professional league while at Manchester FC. She was the Manager with the Scotland Women’s XVs in the Six Nations competitions and an Assistant Coach with the Scotland Women’s Sevens team. She is also knowledgeable about Texas Rugby. She was the DOR and Head Coach of both the Dallas Griffins and the recently, the Dallas Harlequins Men’s Rugby Club. Her strength is her player-centric focus in developing players and teams while keeping player welfare at its forefront. The team is fortunate to have both a skilled administrator and coach.
Lee Radford rounds out the coaching staff. He will be the defense coach and brings his rugby league experience to the team. There have been many successful coaches like Andy Farrell, Sean Edwards and Mike Ford, who have come from rugby league and had a substantial impact on the union code at the international level
The Dallas jackals gained their first players from the dispersal draft of MLR players that had previously played with the Colorado Raptors, who exited the league in May, after being one of the inaugural league members. Since players have contracts with the MLR, which is a single-entity league, there is no free agency.
Dallas and LA had first access to signing these players and it has been reported that 8 players were signed by the Jackals. When asked for Phil Camm to confirm, he indicated that he could not comment on signings. The team did reveal their first former Raptors player to be signed in Kody O’Neil. and other team signings should be announced in due time.
On June 13th the team participated in the first MLR Collegiate Draft. There were two rounds to the draft with 24 players selected. Prior to the draft, the team traded one of its 10 foreign player spots for the 2021 season to Rugby United New York in exchange for their two picks, as well as for some salary-cap considerations.
Dallas had the first pick in the draft and added Conner Mooneyham a center from Life University. with the 9th pick acquired from NY, the team selected Tommy Hunkin-Clark a back row from American International College. With the first selection in the second round (#13) the team added a powerful center from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Levi Van Lanen and with the #21 selection added another back row in Bronson Teles (University of Arizona). Players were selected on merit, however, both Mooneyham and Tels are from Texas. That should appeal to the local fans.
There are idiosyncrasies with MLR player contracts since they are a single-entity league. If players recently had an MLR contract, there are rules in place that dictate when and whether teams may have contact with these players for potentially switching teams. It is not as transparent to have a player return to a local area, even if they would be a welcome addition.
The Jackals will work closely with its two Division 1 Club teams in the area, the Dallas Reds and the Dallas Harlequins, as well as with the other Division Club, Colleges, and Youth Rugby organizations in the area. Both the Reds and the Harlequins have already made inroads in youth rugby, as well as youth-specific clubs. The Jackals will seek to work with these clubs and to support the robust youth system in the area with their coaching expertise or to perhaps help clubs to streamline programs, as needed.
Players are also part of the community development process and will be active in the community. Some local men’s and women’s players are seeking to become coaches and the team will support their efforts with clinics and mentorship. Dallas Jackals players may also utilize their Academic expertise in other support ways.