Rugby ATL Hosts Rugby New York in Eastern Conference Semifinal

Rugby ATL hosts Rugby New York in an Eastern Conference playoff semifinal on Saturday, June 11 at 8:30 pm ET at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, Georgia. The match will be broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and internationally on The Rugby Network.

The teams have met six times since 2020 with Rugby New York holding a 4-2 edge over Rugby ATL in wins. Rugby ATL is the defending Eastern Conference Champion after beating Rugby New York 10-9 in 2021 in the lowest-scoring playoff match in MLR history. The teams split the 2022 series with each winning on the road. Rugby New York comes into the game with a 7-1 road record and is the MLR leader in road wins.

The match will be a physical one that will pit Rugby ATL’s blitz defense against the expansive rugby style of play that Rugby New York favors.

Throw history out the window, and the team which controls the set pieces and the breakdowns, as well as the fewest handling errors, will likely emerge to face the New England Free Jacks in the Eastern Final at Quincy, Massachusetts on June 19.

This article addresses the match between Rugby ATL and Rugby New York. In the Western Conference, there was a controversy involving the disqualification of the Austin Gilgronis and the LA Giltinis, both of which are owned by Adam Gilchrist. As a result, the Houston SaberCats received a bye, and the Seattle Seawolves host the San Diego Legion on Sunday, June 12 at 10 pm ET.

The disqualification of the Gilgronis and the Giltinis is certainly not to be taken lightly. The MLR has made a decision, however, you have to feel for the players who have toiled through a 16-match regular season and now are told that it is off-season for them. The championship quest for them will never be reclaimed.

Rugby ATL

In 2021 Rugby ATL beat Rugby New York for the first time, a 10-9 win in the Eastern Conference Final, which propelled them into the Championship match against the LA Giltinis. During the regular season, they finished in second place in the Conference based on point differential over Rugby New York. They would like to get back into the Championship again and this time it will be at the Eastern Conference Champions’ home field, with New England, ATL, or New York.

Rugby ATL plays a tenacious brand of blitz defense in which their physicality often leads to turnovers. They also can play a kicking for territory game to maximize scoring opportunities within their opponent’s territory.

Their front row includes two U.S. props in Alex Maughan and John Sullivan with South African hooker and MLR #3 try-scorer with 9, Marko Janse Van Rensburg at hooker. Alex, a loosehead prop who has also played hooker, is Eagle 508, having played in one Test against Uruguay in the 2017 Americas Rugby Championship. He also played for Pathway 404 and Life University. John played with NOLA Gold from 2018 through 2021 and joined ATL this year. He also played with USA Rugby South, Mystic River, Columbus, 1823 Sevens, and St. Bonaventure. Marko, who is from South Africa, played with the Lions, the Pumas in the Currie Cup and the Rugby Challenge, the University of Stellenbosch Maties in the Varsity Cup, and the Boland Cavaliers in the Vodacom Cup. This past Fall, he played with Live University Men in the American Rugby Premiership.

South Africans Justin Basson and Johan Momsen are the locks. Justin played with the Cheetahs, Western Province, and the DHL Stormers, while Johan played with the Griquas in the Currie Cup and the Rugby Challenge. 

The back row includes U.S. players Connor Cook at blindside flanker and Jason Damm at No. 8. Canadian international and captain Matt Heaton is the openside flanker. Connor played with the Glendale Raptors from 2018 to 2020 before joining ATL. Jason played with the Glendale Raptors in 2019 and also with Vail RFC, before joining ATL in 2020. Matt has been with the team since its inaugural 2020 season. he is a Canadian international with 31 tests, including playing in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He also played in the U.K with Otley RFC in the National 2 North and with Darlington Mowden Park in the National One.

The halfback pairing includes Ryan Rees at scrumhalf and South African Kurt Coleman at flyhalf. Ryan was a Collegiate All-American at Life University and a Rudy Scholtz Award Finalist. Kurt played Super Rugby with the Stormers, in the Guinness PRO 14 league with the Southern Kings, and the Currie Cup with Western Province. He is 10th in MLR points scored with 64 points with teammate Joaquín de la Vega Mendía in 7th with 76. Both provide the team with excellent kicking options throughout the match.

Since joining ATL this year after playing for Rugby New York since 2019, Will Leonard is 4th in MLR in ball carries with 161 and is a threat with ball in hand. He also played with Shannon RFC in the All-Ireland League. Te Rangatira Waitokia is the other center. He played for the Manawatu Turbos in the Mitre 10 Cup and Wanganui in the Heartland Championship. He also played for the All Blacks Sevens in a preseason tournament.

Rounding out the backs in the back three are wings Austin White and Harley Davidson along with Argentine fullback Joaquín de la Vega Mendía. Austin played with the USA Falcons Sevens, Life University, and Tulsa RFC. Harley played with the Glendale Raptors, Glendale Merlins, and Life Men and with ATL since 2020. Joaquín, a fullback/flyhalf played in Argentina for Hindú in the Urba Top 14 and the Argentina U20s.

When the reserves enter, four of them will have previously played for Rugby New York in props Jonas Petrakopoulos and Will Burke, with lock/back row Evan Mintern and No. 8 Ross Deacon. Jonas was born in the Netherlands and played in the USA High School All-Americans. he played for SAS Rugby, with Greeton Marist, and then Ngawha, a Bay of Plenty Development side in New Zealand. Will played with Lurgan RFC in Northern Ireland, Buffalo RFC, and the University of Buffalo. Evan played with Cork Constitution in the All-Ireland League. Ross, who was born in San Francisco, grew up in Ireland and played at University College in Dublin, New York Athletic Club, Stars Rugby XV, and for Life Men.

Rounding out the forwards is Tiaan Erasmus, a South African hooker who played with the Austin Elite and Houston SaberCats, as well as with the Free State Cheetahs side in the Supersport Challenge Cup.

The back reserves include scrumhalf/flyhalf Duncan Van Schalkwyk and center Ryan Nell and George Barton. Duncan was a three-time National Champion and All-American at Life University. He was also part of the Eagles’ 2019 Americas Rugby Championship touring roster. Ryan played with the Pumas and the Boland Cavaliers before joining ATL in 2020. He also played in the Varsity Cup for the University of Pretoria Tuks. George played for three seasons with the Seattle Seawolves and recently played for the Vancouver Island Crimson Tide in the Coastal Cup. He has two caps for Canada and played club rugby for Cowichan Rugby Club, as well as for ASM Clermont-Ferrand Rugby Club’s Academy side.

Rugby New York

The team enters the match after defeating the New England Free Jacks 15-10 at Veterans Memorial Stadium on June 3, which was the Free Jacks’ first loss at home in nine matches.

Rugby New York is a very experienced side that has been in the playoffs for each of the three full seasons that it has played in the league (2019, 2021, and 2022).

With extensive changes in the starters, Rugby New York will have three Rugby World Cup All Blacks Champions starting in an MLR match for the first time together. Andy Ellis won the RWC in 2011 and the All-Black 1068 scrumhalf has 28 caps. He also made 154 Super Rugby appearances for the Crusaders, made 73 senior rugby appearances for Canterbury, and played for six years in the Japanese Top League for the Kobelco Steelers. Waisake Naholo, All Black 1142 wing, won the 2015 Rugby World Cup and has 27 caps. He played twice for the Barbarians, as well as the Super Rugby Blues, and made 62 appearances for the Highlanders. He also played 9 times for the All Blacks 7s team, played for the London Irish in the English Premiership, and in 2021 in the NPC for Canterbury. Nehe Milner-Skudder, All Black 1146 fullback/wing, won the 2015 Rugby World Cup and has 13 caps. He played for the World XV in 2018, the Barbarians twice, the Māori All Blacks three times, the Super Rugby Hurricanes 36 times, and recently appeared with the Highlanders. He also played in 57 Mitre 10 matches with the Manawatu Turbos.

Ellis will pair in the halfbacks with flyhalf Jack Heighton, who played with the Super Rugby Blues and with North Harbour in the National Provincial Championship. jack was 7th in MLR in points scored with 67.

Jason Emery and Fa’asiu Fuatai are the centers. Jason played twice for the Māori All Blacks and played 57 Super Rugby matches, 22 with the Sunwolves and 37 with the Highlanders. He also played in Japan with the Munakata Sanix Blues and in what is now the NPC with Manawatu Turbos. Fasi played twice for the New Zealand Sevens in 2017 and played 50 times in the Mitre 10 Cup (now NPC,) making 28 appearances with Otago and 22 with the Bay of Plenty. He also played for a season with the Bordeaux Bègles in France.

In the back three, Samoan international Ed Fidow joins Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder. Ed has 14 caps for Samoa and was recently selected for the Pacific Nations Cup for Samoa in July. He also made 46 appearances for the Samoa Sevens Team. He’s played rugby with the Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership (8 appearances), played in France with the Bordeaux Bègles (11x), and Provence (23x), Brisbane City in the National Rugby Championship. Ed was the 2022 MLR leading try scorer with 12 tries and #3 in ball carry meters with 1631 with Fasi Fuatai also in the top 10.

The forwards have been among the top MLR teams in set pieces, often dominating scrums and lineouts. They also create turnovers at the breakdowns. They face another strong opponent in these areas in Rugby ATL.

The front row includes USA internationals Chance Wenglewski and Dylan Fawsitt with Brazilian international Wilton Rebolo.

Chance Wenglewski, Eagle 531 loosehead prop, has 8 USA caps and is part of the USA extended squad for the Rugby World Cup qualifiers against Chile in July along with Dylan Fawsitt. Nat Brakeley, Nick Civetta, and Ben Bonasso. Chance played for Rugby ATL during their exhibition season in 2019 and then in 2020 and 2021. He also played for Rugby New York on loan in 2019, appearing in 3 matches. He was both a High School and Collegiate All-American (Lindenwood U.) and worked his way to the National Team after playing age-grade rugby.

Dylan Fawsitt, Eagle 523 with 20 USA caps, is a fiery player and leader at hooker, who also has played for Rugby New York in the back row. He has been with the team since 2018 and previously played for Life University, Old Blue RFC, and for St. Mary’s in the All-Ireland Division 1 League. Dylan is also the 4th player in the league to play in 50 MLR matches.

Wilton Rebolo played 33 matches for Brazil and played club rugby for São José, Band Saracens, the Bandeirantes Rugby Club, and Pasteur Athletique. He joined Rugby New York last year.

The lock includes Nick Civetta and Charlie Hewitt. Nick is Eagle 498 and has 33 USA caps. He appeared in the Varsity Match in April for Oxford in its win over Cambridge and scored a try. He has played professionally in France for Vannes (15x), in the United Kingdom for the English Premiership Newcastle Falcons, and in The RFU Championship for the Doncaster Knights. He also played in Italy for Lazio, Rugby Viadana, and I Medicei. He also played club rugby for the New York Athletic Club and San Francisco Golden Gate RFC. Charlie played for the USA Selects, Worcester Warriors (5x) in the English Premiership and European Challenge Cup, the London Scottish in the RFU Championship, and the Houston SaberCats, from 2018 through his 2020 trade to Rugby New York.

The back row consists of USA International and the captain for the match, Benja Bonasso at blindside flanker, Brendon O’Connor at openside flanker, and Antonio Kiri Kiri at No. 8. Ben has 2 USA Caps and is a member of the USA National Team player pool. He joined Rugby New York in 2021 and also played for He played for Club Newman in Argentina. Brendon has played in 45 Super Rugby matches, playing for the Blues (42x) and the Crusader (3x). He played Mitre 10 Cup 59+ times for Hawkes Bay and 17 times for Canterbury. He also played for the Leicester Tigers an English Premiership club 73 times, including 53 in Premiership matches. He also added to his Super Rugby total, playing for the Sunwolves and for the Crusaders. Antonio joined Rugby New York in April as a replacement for the injured Pago Haini. He played in four HSBC World Sevens Series stops for the New Zealand All Blacks Sevens, and made 60 appearances for the Manawatu Turbos in the Mitre 10 Cup, and 3 Super Rugby appearances for the Blues, before playing with Yorkshire Carnegie and Leeds Tykes.

The Reserves include players with significant professional and/or international test experience along with a crossover athlete and a couple of young players. Front row replacements include former American Raptors crossover hooker, Kaleb Geiger, who has been impressive this season as a try-scorer, in the scrums, and with ball-in-hand. He is joined by Nic Mayhew, who can play at either prop, and Samoan international, Kalolo Tuiloma who has been capped at tighthead prop. Nic has played Super Rugby with the Blues (11x), the Brumbies (20x), and then with the Sunwolves. He also played in the National Provincial Championship with North Harbour and in the United Kingdom with the Harlequins, Esher, and the London Scottish. Kalolo has two caps for Samoa, as well as playing two matches for the national team against the Māori All Blacks. That total will grow with his selection for Samoa at the 2022 Pacific Nations Cup in July. Kalolo is a powerful 300+ lb man, who has made the highlight videos for his tackles, tries, and for his behind the back passes. Kalolo, “The Bulldozer”, played in the National Provincial Championship (Mitre 10 Cup) for Counties Manukau and Northland played Super Rugby for the Highlanders (10x) and also played during 2020 all five MLR matches for the Utah Warriors.

Nate Brakeley has been an ironman at lock, and recently had a couple of weeks to recharge following his marriage. Eagle 469, who played in the 2019 Rugby World Cup has 30 caps is back in the squad. He has also played in the Varsity match for Cambridge, as well as for New York Athletic Club.

Joe Basser is a young dual national flanker, who was born in Manhattan and raised in Australia. He played in the Shute Shield for the Hunter Wildfires, the Melbourne Rebels u19s, and at the University of Melbourne.

Rugby New York has 5 forward and 3 back reserves. Conor McManus provides coverage at scrumhalf. He’s played for the Crusader Knights and the Canterbury Mitre 10 squad, as well as for Old Blue in the American Rugby Premiership. Although born in New Zealand, he lived in Virginia and was a USA High School All-American.

Sam Windsor is Major League Rugby’s all-time scoring leader with 448 points. He played in MLR for 4 years with the Houston SaberCats before joining Rugby New York this year. He was the third person to play in 50 MLR matches and the first to start in 50. He is a versatile player who can play flyhalf, inside the center or fullback. He’s played with the Queanbeyan Whites, DUFC (Dublin University), the NSW Country Eagles in the National Rugby Championship, the Worcester Warriors, and Ulster in Pro 12 Rugby. Despite playing in MLR for five years, this is the first time he will be in the playoffs.

Andrew Coe is a Canadian international XVs (14 tests) and Sevens player (about 40 matches) and an Olympian (Tokyo). he also played at the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast and the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco. He also played rugby with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.

Squads with Player Article Links

RUGBY ATL: 1 Alex Maughan 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg 3 John Sullivan 4 Justin Basson 5 Johan Momsen 6 Connor Cook 7 Matt Heaton (C) 8 Jason Damm 9 Ryan Rees 10 Kurt Coleman 11 Austin White 12 Will Leonard 13 Te Rangatira Waitokia 14 Harley Davidson 15 Joaquín de la Vega Mendía 16 Tiaan Erasmus 17 Jonas Petrakopoulos 18 Will Burke 19 Evan Mintern 20 Ross Deacon 21Duncan van Schalkwyk 22 Ryan Nell 23 George Barton

RUGBY NEW YORK: 1 Chance Wenglewski 2 Dylan Fawsitt 3 Wilton Rebolo 4 Nick Civetta 5 Charlie Hewitt 6 Ben Bonasso (C) 7 Brendon O’Connor 8 Antonio Kiri Kiri 9 Andy Ellis 10 Jack Heighton 11 Ed Fidow 12  Jason Emery 13 Faasiu Fuatai 14 Waisake Naholo 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder 16 Kaleb Geiger 17 Nic Mayhew 18 Kalolo Tuiloma 19 Nate Brakeley 20 Joe Basser 21 Conor McManus 22 Sam Windsor 23 Andrew  Coe

Rugby ATL: Record 11-5, 57 points, 2nd place

  • Rugby ATL 55-22 Old Glory DC
  • NOLA Gold 9-14 Rugby ATL
  • Rugby ATL 31-36 Rugby New York
  • Rugby ATL 29-22 Houston SaberCats
  • Rugby ATL 29-14 Austin Gilronis
  • Old Glory DC 13-27 Rugby ATL
  • Rugby ATL 27-41 New England Free jacks
  • Toronto Arrows 14-20 Rugby ATL
  • NOLA Gold 17-34 Rugby ATL
  • San Diego Legion 17-30 Rugby ATL
  • Rugby ATL 19-31 LA Giltinis
  • Utah Warriors 44-26 Rugby ATL
  • New England Free jacks 15-10 Rugby ATL
  • Rugby New York 3-38 Rugby ATL May 22
  • Rugby ATL 34-23 Toronto Arrows May 28
  • Rugby ATL 57-5 NOLA Gold
  • Rugby ATL vs Rugby New York: Eastern Conference Semifinal on June 11 at 8:30 pm ET
Rugby New York: Record 11-5, 56 points, 3rd place

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