With the postponement of the NOLA Gold match against Old Glory DC due to a positive COVID test of a DC player prior to the trip, the San Diego Legion match against Rugby United New York will open the 2021 Major League Rugby season at 3 pm local time, 6 pm ET on Saturday, March 20.
Covid-19 considerations in California have meant that the Legion has relocated to Las Vegas for 2021. Unfortunately, the match scheduled at James Regional Sports Park in Las Vegas, will not permit fans at this time. Fans may view the match live in San Diego on Fox 5 San Diego, while those in other parts of the U.S. or worldwide may view it on The Rugby Network.
In 2021 San Diego Legion was the league’s only undefeated team, but the pandemic shortened season did not allow for a champion to be declared in 2020. Rugby United New York ended the season with a 3-2 record and had a narrow 24-20 loss in their final match of the season.
There have been many changes since then. Both teams lost their head coaches. Rob Hoadley was replaced by his assistant coaches Scott Murray and Zack Test, who now have dual head coach roles. Rugby United New York lost their head coach Greg McWilliams, who left the team due to family considerations with the health of his wife Sarah and the care of the couple’s young twins. In the interim, Marty Veale will coach the team.
San Diego also lost and gained players. Significant among the losses were centers Ma’a Nomu and JP Du Plessis. New additions include former England captain, Chris Robshaw, who is serving a suspension until the fourth week of the MLR season due to a pandemic violation with the Harlequins, South Africa Sevens star, Cecil Afrika, and former Australia Sevens and Super Rugby Waratahs back, Cam Clark. Former Springbok Bjorn Basson, Argentina international Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, and U.S. international Chris Baumann also joined the team. Other additions include Cronin Gleeson, who played with Rugby ATL last season, Carlo De Nysschen, who played with the Colorado Raptors, Travis Larsen, who played with Old Glory DC and Canada A, and as well as former Canadian U20s flanker Michael Smith. Patrick Madden and Cole Zarcone were also signed after the first MLR Collegiate Draft.
Rugby United New York has also been very active in meeting the challenges of a league, which is improving its standard every year. The team lost Mathieu Bastareaud, Mike Petri, Cathal Marsh, Marcus Walsh, James Denise, Trevor Cassidy, Alex MacDonald, Alec McConnell, Julio Cesar Giraldo, Jake Feury, Mike Brown, Paddy Ryan to the Austin Gilgronis, Will Burke, and Jonas Petrakopoulos to Rugby ATL, and Matt Wirken and Quentin Pradere to the Free Jacks.
RUNY added international experience in the front row with internationals Sakaria Taulafo (Samoa), Wilton Rebolo (Brazil), and Samu Tawake, who played with the Fiji Warriors. USA international lock, Nick Civetta will join the team shortly. while Super Rugby back-row Kyra Pryor and Irish No.8 Evan Mintern are ready to play. Add a former All Black in Andy Eliis at scrumhalf, who will mentor young halfbacks, Conor McManus and Connor Buckley, Kiwi flyhalf Dan Hollinshead, Fiji Sevens wing Apenisa Cakaubalavu, former New Zealand Sevens Fa’asiu Fuatai, Canadian Pride back Quinn Ngawati, US eligible back-row Ben Bonasso and Joel Miranda (both USA/Argentina), local prop Joe Brady, as well as the return of U.S. international Luke Hume.
The matchday squads shape up to be a physical battle with both teams testing each other early in the set pieces. A new trial rule will only allow two consecutive scrums, so look for teams to exploit penalties. Dominant scrummaging teams will not like this change. Both teams have height in the lineouts with Ben Mitchell and CC Mahoni going against Nate Brakeley and Charlie Hewitt, key targets. Look for teams to kick for territory and try to maul their way to tries. RUNY has been among the league leaders at this.
Both teams are capable of putting on an offloading exhibition with their many sevens players being creative in finding space. Matches in the past have been very close, with matches decided in the closing minutes. The reserves will need to play well as they likely enter in the last 20-30 minutes of the match.
The Legion will be captained by USA scrumhalf Nate Augspurger, with Carlo de Nysschen waiting in relief. USA National team No. 8, Tevita Tameilau, will be the vice-captain. RUNY counters with the fiery Dylan Fawsitt at hooker.
This is a match that USA Head Coach Gary Gold will be following. San Diego Legion has former or current Eagles in Psalm Wooching, Tevita Tameilau, Ryan Matyas, Pete Malcolm, Chris Baumann, with U.S. Eligible players by residency, Ben Mitchell and Carlo De Nysschen to watch.
Gold can similarly watch Eagles Dylan Fawsitt, Nate Brakeley, Hanco Germishuys while looking at U.S. eligible players Charlie Hewitt, and perhaps a future player in Ben Bonasso. Joel Miranda, who is also U.S. eligible, and Nick Civetta, who has not arrived may be observed another time.
RUNY will supplement their team with former England captain Ben Foden, Will Leonard at inside center, and James Rockford at loosehead prop.
The Legion will counter with Faka’osi Pifeleti, Dean Muir, Keni Naoqeqe, Dylan Audsley, and Fijian Save Totovosau.
With fans not being permitted at the venue, don’t take your eyes off the match broadcast. If you do, you may miss the winning score.
This match should be a close one with both teams looking to first win while adding bonus points, which will be critical for later in the season. Who knows, the teams may even meet again for the MLR Shield Championship on August 1.
Squads With Player Article Links
San Diego Legion: 1 Faka’osi Pifeleti 2 Dean Muir 3 Cronan Gleeson 4 Ben Mithcell 5 Siaosi ‘CC’ Mahoni 6 Keni Nasoqeqe 7 Psalm Wooching 8 Tevita Tamelau (VC) 9 Nate Augspurger (c) 10 Josh Thiel 11 Ryan Matyas 12 Dylan Audsley 13 Cameron Clark 14 Save Totovosau 15 Cecil Afrika 16 Pete Malcolm 17 Nate Sylvia 18 Chris Baumann 19 Jasa Veremalua 20 Travis Larsen 21 Carlo De Nysschen 22 Santiago Iglesias 23 Bjorn Basson
Rugby United New York: 1 James Rochford 2 Dylan Fawsitt (c) 3 Sak Taulafo 4 Nate Brakeley 5 Charlie Hewitt 6 Hanco Germishuys 7 Kyra Pryor 8 Evan Mintern 9 Andy Ellis 10 Dan Hollinshead 11 Apensia Cakaubalavu 12 Will Leonard 13 Fa’asiu Fuatai 14 Quinn Ngawati 15 Ben Foden 16 Rob Iramescu 17 Anthony Parry 18 Wilton Rebolo 19 Ben Bonasso 20 Conor McManus 21 Harry Bennett 22 Chris Mattina 23 Connor Buckley