By Liam Madigan-Fried
At last, professional Rugby has come to the United States in the form of PRO Rugby North America. Which means for fans in the U.K, you get to deal with a whole new group of American sports fanatics on social media thinking they finally ‘get’ this whole rugby thing.
I promise, there are those of us who do, but for the rest, just give them time. In order to kick-start the level of competition early, each of the five current teams has made a few notable signings with players from all over the rugby globe. Here’s a look at one per team just to give you a rough idea:
Kurt Morath: San Diego
San Diego gains in Morath a leader with a wealth of experience on the pitch. Morath made his breakout onto the world rugby stage when he was selected to the New Zealand U-21 Squad along with Australian Super Rugby star Andrew Ellis.
At 31 years old, Morath has a resume of accomplishments that any American rugby coach would covet in a player. Currently a member of the Tonga International Team, he has represented them in over 30 caps, as well as two World Cups in 2011 and 2015.
Though his age might say he’s at the tail end of his career, match footage from his most recent stint with the French Top 14 Competition club Biarritz might suggest otherwise, as the New Zealand product still boasts one of the best kicking foots in the game.
Though his ability to get points after the try will be greatly appreciated, that won’t necessarily be his primary usage on the field. Playing the position of fly-half, the coaching staff is going to rely on Morath’s experience to help get San Diego’s wings in the best position to score.
Mils Muliaina: San Francisco
Perhaps the biggest signing of the year, Muliaina is near legend status on the island nation of New Zealand. As only the second player in history (and the only back) to earn over 100 caps as a representative of the country, Muliaina’s experience on the pitch is just as valuable as the leadership he provides.
The United States is only the latest stop in what seems to be Mils Muliaina’s world tour of professional rugby. Before coming here, he had a very successful career for the Blues and Chiefs in New Zealand’s Super Rugby league, after which he started moving around playing for clubs in countries such as Ireland, Japan and Italy.
According to PRO Rugby’s Facebook page, a quote from Muliaina describes himself as “delighted” to be playing here in the States. Well “delighted”, is exactly what rugby fans here in the U.S should be.
As more international names come in, the more overseas coverage PRO will receive. And as long as the league continues to bring in a few big named veterans every year, it could potentially start the domino effect of attracting younger talent with higher ceilings of potential.
Already with a stacked roster that includes a near whole squad of Life West Eagles, look for San Francisco to be one of the teams to dominate the league early.
Jamie Mackintosh: Ohio
Mackintosh is known as a hard-hitting prop with the stamina to go all 80 minutes. Most recently playing with the Montpellier Hérault Rugby club in the French Top 14 Competition, Mackintosh will head to Ohio to provide some size and experience to their scrum.
Throughout his career, Mackintosh has moved around between New Zealand and Australian club teams, both in Super Rugby and Union.
His most recent stint with a Southern Hemisphere team came with the Super Rugby club The Highlanders.
Mackintosh was named to the New Zealand National Team in 2008 for his only cap with the All Blacks in a match against Scotland.
Timana Tahu: Denver
Denver adds to its already explosive roster with yet another addition from the land down under. Tahu comes to PRO Rugby after a long and successful career playing in the Australian Rugby League, most notably with the Newcastle Knights.
Tahu’s ability to put points on the board is going to be an undeniable strength. All in all, he scored a grand total of 121 tries during his club career in Australia.
His versatility on the field shouldn’t be overlooked either, as he has been known to move between center and second row. This ability to play at multiple positions is going to allow the Denver coaches some flexibility in terms of filling in the gaps with experience as well as physical ability.
Tahu’s national credits include earning caps with the Australian National Team in both Rugby Union and League.
Ray Barkwill: Sacramento
Barkwill joins teammate Phil Mackenzie in the move to PRO Rugby from his club team in Canada. Barkwill’s most caps have been with the Ontario Blues club team, as well as representing Canada on the national team.
Barkwill gained much of his skill playing for the UWA team in Australia, at one point he was voted the Best and Fairest by his teammates.
Other than his representation of his home country, his career highlights also include the Canadian Rugby Championship with the Blues in 2012.
As one of the more physical hookers to come into the league from overseas, look for Barkwill to use his size and experience to make plays in the trenches of the rucks and on the goal line.