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Thursday, December 28, 2017

5 Questions For MLR: What Will Be The Quality Of Play?


Today we're going to begin a five part series asking some key questions about Major League Rugby. This isn't meant as a criticism or praise but more of a straightforward examination of some of the key things that will be vital to the success of MLR.

Today's question is about the quality of play. Any league, no matter where in the world, will only get attention if the level of play is strong. That is why Super Rugby, the Premiership, Top 14, and the ITM Cup are some of the most followed competitions in the world. If MLR wants to last the level of play has to be strong. It doesn't have to be the top league in the world but it has to be a high-level and it has to be exciting.

For all of its problems, and there were a lot of them, PRO Rugby was actually pretty good at delivering an on-field product. Was it the greatest standard of play? No, but it was pretty good all things considered. A lot of credit has to go to Steve Lewis who put together the rosters. Each team had some players with strong international experience--Pedrie Wannenberg and Timana Tahu (Denver), Mirco Bergamasco (Sacramento), Orene Ai'i and Mils Muiliana (San Francisco), Dom Waldouck and Jamie Mackintosh (Ohio), and Taku Ngwenya and Kurt Morath (San Diego).

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It wasn't just the international players, it was the amount of Eagles that dotted PRO Rugby rosters. With the exception of a few players from the Northeast PRO Rugby had nearly all of the domestic Eagles on the roster. It created a lot of depth that helped raise the standard of play. Again, the standard varied to be certain but it was still overall strong. By the end of the season there was quite a bit of parity.

So far it's a mixed experience in this area when it comes to MLR. This comes with a major disclaimer that rosters are not yet full and there are going to be quite a few names added to the competition over the next few months. That said, as things stand it looks like the level of play might not be as strong as PRO Rugby's. That's mostly in the bottom half of the rosters. The top half of the rosters may not have some of the marquee names that PRO Rugby had but they still have some very, very solid players.

At the same time, another area of concern is whether or not the top domestic Eagles will be in the competition. If you look at those without international contracts that were on the Eagles roster for the November internationals by and large most will be on MLR teams. The excepts are once again players from the Northeast, most of whom should get a run out with Rugby Club New York. That's good except if you look at the rosters most of the players are concentrated on the Glendale Raptors who are easily the early favorites to win the inaugural competition as things stand.

If MLR is going to have a high standard of play it is going to have to come from the bottom half of the roster and that is the biggest questions mark at this point. Can MLR have players emerge like Langilangi Haupeakui? If players can step up on each team then they should be alright. However, if the bottom half of the roster can't hold up their end and injuries start to take their toll then by the end of the season MLR's product could get messy.

Overall, there is still plenty of time to improve rosters ahead of the start to the season. We can expect teams to add more and more players in the next few months but the overall depth of the rosters need to be there in order to have long-term stability.



2 comments:

  1. The quality of play shouldn't be judged in years 1-2, but in year 3 and thereafter once players and teams have had a few years in a professional environment.

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  2. Absolutely no depth at all. You need to be playing more local rugby. You're not going to have any depth otherwise. Local club games and provincial competitions. Don't put your eggs into the high school university basket and think your best are going to come from there because they're not. Rugby thrives on mongrel and street smarts. You need club players. You need local club competition and town city and state competitions. And I'll keep saying that until the cows come home.

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