The global organization for rugby, World Rugby, supports the North Carolina team in the US Major League Rugby, with the goal of hosting the 2031 World Cup.
The US men’s professional rugby union competition, Major League Rugby, will have a team in Charlotte, North Carolina this year. The team will mainly consist of young American players and is supported by World Rugby. This is an effort to strengthen the US rugby game leading up to the 2031 and 2033 World Cups.
Anthem Rugby Carolina’s addition to the league will bring the total number of teams back to 12, with two conferences. This comes after the Toronto Arrows and New York Ironworkers, the 2022 MLR champions, recently folded. The news of the new team was widely discussed prior to its official confirmation on Friday, only a month before the start of the seventh season in early March.
Alan Gilpin, the CEO of World Rugby, announced that they are collaborating with US strategic partners and with the support of their executive board to implement a comprehensive plan for long-term growth of rugby in the US. This plan will not only benefit the nation as a whole, but also allow for the full potential of hosting both men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups to be realized.
This ambitious strategy focuses on increasing the sport’s relevance and accessibility to a larger audience in a country that has a passion for sports and events, with a focus on entertainment.
The 2021 MLR champions, New York and the Los Angeles Giltinis, have stopped functioning. However, a new team in LA called Rugby FC Los Angeles will be competing this year, as the new owners have relocated the team from Atlanta.
The salaries in the MLR are not very high and the facilities are often basic. There is ongoing debate about the league’s main goal – whether it is to be a successful business by hiring the best international players, to develop American players and improve the national men’s team, or to strive for both simultaneously. This discussion has been present since the league began in 2018.
Last year, Alex Magleby, the CEO of the New England Free Jacks and champions in 2023, shared with the Guardian: “At this moment, there are professional Americans in every position who didn’t have this opportunity just a few years ago.”
“In the future, when the league reaches full expansion, there will be approximately 300 to 400 professional athletes in North America. It would be amazing to reach this point within the next seven to 10 years.”
In the immediate future, the US men’s national rugby team’s inability to secure a spot in the 2023 World Cup was another setback. Losses against Uruguay and Chile led to a final qualifying match in Dubai, where they defeated Hong Kong and Kenya, but a tie with Portugal resulted in the Americans not making the cut.
Portugal’s accomplishments in France, such as defeating Fiji, tying with Georgia, and putting up tough competition against Australia and Wales, provided insight for the American team on what could potentially be accomplished. The improvement of the Portuguese team has been supported by World Rugby, with the majority of the men’s national players also competing for Lusitanos in the Rugby Europe Super Cup, a competition that showcases teams from developing nations.
The Anthem RC team in MLR is building upon the USA Hawks’ efforts, a male development team previously located in Charlotte.
The new team, MLR, World Rugby and USA Rugby, have declared their commitment to helping the USA men’s national team achieve their long-term goals. This support will greatly aid in their pursuit of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup in 2027 in Australia and hosting the 2031 edition on home turf.
Gilpin acknowledged the success of Super Rugby, which is mostly located in Australia and New Zealand. He mentioned the partnership that has benefited 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-finalists Fiji through the creation of the Drua team. He expressed excitement for the potential of Anthem RC, not only as a pathway but also as a significant franchise in the long-term goal of MLR success supported by all involved parties.
MLR’s CEO, Nic Benson, stated that Anthem RC will open up new opportunities for player growth and community involvement, building upon the strong base established by our teams over the past seven years.
Ross Young, chief executive of USA Rugby and a former Rugby World Cup general manager, described a “remarkable collaboration” and “an inspiring example of progress we can look forward to as rugby in America begins a new trajectory.
“Anthem RC provides a truly unique opportunity for accelerated development with USA Rugby High Performance while continuing to bolster MLR as a key pathway for the USA Men’s Eagles. The level of teamwork that has occurred across all parties to bring this project to life is unprecedented and we’re thrilled to see it on a rugby pitch this year.”
The Anthem RC team, according to the partners, will consist of players from different MLR teams who are able to represent the USA in global competitions.
The new team, named after the US national anthem, will be located in Charlotte and will play at the 10,500-seat American Legion Memorial Stadium. The team aims to have strong ties to the Charlotte community by incorporating elements from its military history and using a color scheme inspired by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Last week, the remaining 11 MLR teams revealed their team colors and kits. The Anthem RC team will face off against the reigning champions, the Free Jacks, in Charlotte on March 3rd.