In 2017, the landscape of rugby in the USA changed with the arrival of a new professional league, Major League Rugby. Fast forward a few years and some of rugby’s iconic names are on display, including Mathieu Bastareaud, Tendai Mtawarira, Adam Ashley-Cooper and come 2021, Chris Robshaw.
The former England captain will join San Diego Legion, one of the many teams making great strides in MLR. Based off the West Coast of America, they already have a strong setup, with coaching being shared between Ex USA sevens player, Zak Test, and former Scotland international, Scott Murray. They were also the home for All Black great Ma’a Nonu for a brief period in 2020.
Now with Robshaw joining them they are raring to go next season.
Head coach Murray – who won 87 caps for Scotland – has had a varied coaching career. He first coached in France before making the move to the USA with his American wife for family reasons.
Starting at UCLA
His first coaching role in the states was at UCLA and he looks back at his time there with fondness, despite some difficulties:
“It was great. Rugby was a club sport and not a varsity sport, you don’t really get much help from the school, we had to pay dues, had to do a lot of fundraising, bottom of the rung to get fields and all the rest of it. I think that’s getting better now, UCLA has come a long way since when I was there.”
Joining San Diego Legion
In 2018, Murray took the job at San Diego Legion, after missing out on the job the year before. He praised how the league was set up and applauds the progress it is making.
“They had Pro Rugby [which was the previous incarnation of the MLR] and I’m not sure how it was run, I’m not sure if they got the backing of USA rugby. I think the MLR did it properly, they got the structure in place, they got the teams involved, the TV involved, I think they’ve done it the right way. They brought in the salary cap which is a good idea because it makes it very competitive.”
As with many other leagues, MLR was brought to a halt when the pandemic struck and unfortunately, the season never finished. During that time, Legion started making preparations for next season and Murray praised the owners for the help they gave:
“We have great owners, Darren Gardner and Ryan Patterson, so not only we are getting a plan not just for the first fifteen team but also creating an academy as well. So, they (Gardner and Patterson) believe in what we are trying to do, we are trying to create awareness of rugby, we’re trying to grow the younger players and trying to create the academy.”
Chris Robshaw and Eddie Jones
Chris Robshaw’s signing has given Legion an almighty boost, and Murray spoke about how excited he is to work with the flanker:“I mean it’s brilliant. When the owners told me it could be a possibility, I was like a kid in a candy store, kid before Christmas, I couldn’t contain myself.
“We saw especially with Ma’a Nonu the impact that these guys will have on some of our younger players. There’s nothing you can do as a coach that will have close to the impact that Nonu and Robshaw coming into your team. They bring knowledge, a wealth of understanding and enthusiasm of the game.”
England head coach Eddie Jones also took on a consultancy role with the team during lockdown. Whilst Murray admitted the zoom sessions with Jones were “daunting,” both Test and Murray came away from the meetings feeling positive about the advice Jones provided.
Legion have a good record in the MLR, having made the final both years, but on both occasions they came unstuck against the Seattle Seawolves.
The future of the sport in America
Because the MLR has helped rugby’s development in America, there is hope that the nation could host the Rugby World Cup in the future. Talks are already ongoing for 2027 and 2031, and Murray backs the country to be the perfect place to have the tournament:
“It would be awesome for America. I can think of nothing better in terms of facilities and stadiums. I think a lot of people would come and watch a game and start to love rugby. It would be great for rugby here but fingers crossed. At the moment our short term goal is to grow the game, focus on the young kids because they want to start playing.
“And the great thing is now, we’ve got more young people playing at college because there is that stepping-stone and now you can make a living playing rugby in the States which there hasn’t been in a long time.”
With the growth of rugby in the states, it’s clear to see why so many of the top players from both the Northern and Southern hemisphere, now want to apply their trade to a growing market.