By Liam Madigan-Fried
The inaugural season of PRO Rugby has yet to begin, but it’s never too early to speculate about what this season might hold. A few weeks ago, PRO released its rosters for the five teams who will be competing this season, and those rosters have only become larger and more star-studded since.
San Francisco, one of the first five inaugural teams, seems to have already laid the foundation of a powerhouse roster. This team has everything, from big name internationals to club teammates, all coming in with loads of chemistry and experience.
1) Big international signings
Let’s start with the two biggest signings of this first off-season, former IRB World Sevens Player of the Year, Orene Ai’I, and the 100+ capped All Black standout, Mils Muliaina.
If you watch highlights of Ai’I, the way he is able to finesse his way through hordes of defenders is mesmerizing. Coupled with his expert ball control, his ability to make people miss in order to get into open space is going to be deadly, and not easily defended when possibly going against a much less experienced U.S born player.
Then there is Muliaina, who is a very capable fullback both defensively and offensively. Not only does he have the speed and power to bring down runners in space, but he can in turn use that speed and power to his advantage in a very straight forward running style with the ball.
San Fran’s newest signing, Nick Blevins, is a Canadian National Team inside/outside center with 31 caps to his name, who brings a degree of size and viciousness to the pitch.
2) The huge presence of Life West Rugby players and the chemistry they bring
Though Orene’s and Mil’s presence is going to be a large X-factor in of themselves, what will carry this team to victory will ultimately be the chemistry many of these players have built together.
The San Fran squad includes three capped Eagles players, as well as 8 Life West Gladiators teammates, one of whom is Ai’i.
The Life West Gladiators are no middling American rugby club either. “The expectations the players are under with the Life West model is to be a professional team.” Says Dr. Brian Kelly, President of Life West Rugby, “This makes the transition into the new PRO League well within their ability.”
The Gladiators have been regarded as one of the most dominant clubs in American Rugby for a few years now. Their men’s senior team currently sits at 9-0 atop the ultra-competitive Northern California Division I standings.
We know the expectations of the players are set very high, but how exactly does Dr. Kelly help his players achieve such a level? By giving them one of the best coaches available.
Adriaan Ferris, Head Coach of the Gladiators and assistant coach of the San Francisco squad, was referred to by Dr. Kelly as “a top professional coach”, who was recruited by Life West to drive the rugby program. He has a resume of international coaching experience with Tonga, and attended the 2011 Rugby World Cup with Fiji. His other credits include the three years he spent as Head Coach of the Northland ITM Cup Team in New Zealand, and has taken Life West to the National D2 title in his first season at the helm and remains unbeaten in D1 play to date.
It’s no wonder why Life West has remained a constant forced to be reckoned with. Thanks to the dedication of Dr. Kelly and Coach Ferris, these new PRO players are going in already having already gotten a taste of what the international standard of professional rugby is
3) American-born coach with a history of success.
San Francisco decided to keep it close to home when choosing a leader for their team. Head Coach Paul Keeler has a long career history as both a player and coach in American club and college rugby.
Most recently, Keeler has worked as the Head Coach for the Santa Clara University rugby team. In his first season, he led the team to a league championship as well as a subsequent D1-AA playoff berth, the first in the history of the program.
At the club level, Keeler is also no stranger to championships either. As Head Coach, he guided the San Francisco Golden Gate RFC to two RSL National Championships in 2009 and 2011.
Now as coach in PRO Rugby, Keeler will look to replicate his past success with some of the best weapons he’s ever had available to him.
With the experience of their international additions along with the high level of skill and training of the domestic players, San Francisco has all the ability in the world to immediately put their stamp on the new league, and put all other competition on notice.
About the Author
Liam Madigan-Fried is a rugby player from Boston, USA, currently attending college and playing for the Lyndon State Hornets RC. As a major of English and Film Studies,he tends to spend his time binge-watching Rugby, NFL and Trailer Park Boys. While writing articles for Ruck, he also runs his own NFL/PRO Rugby Blog at www.penguintundrasports.com