Rob Hoadley backs MLR to learn from PRO Rugby lesson

Date published: April 20 2018

San Diego Legion head coach Rob Hoadley is confident that Major League Rugby can succeed where PRO Rugby failed and establish a professional competition in the United States.

Hoadley, the former Wasps and London Irish centre, was also part of the coaching team behind PRO Rugby side San Diego Breakers and he insists that while that competition lasted only one season back in 2016, it provided many valuable lessons.

“When we look back on PRO Rugby, it had its ups and downs but at the end of the day it gave a group of guys an opportunity for the first time ever to work out every day and be professional rugby players and that just hadn’t been the case before,” he said.

“Will we do things better in this latest incarnation with Major League Rugby? Absolutely. I think already we are way advanced of where we were at the start of PRO Rugby. But could we exist in the space we do without PRO Rugby? I don’t think so.”

Hoadley’s side are one of seven teams from across the country – Austin Elite, Glendale Raptors, Houston SaberCats, New Orleans Gold, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors – that will compete for the inaugural crown over the next three months.

As opposed to the single owner structure of PRO Rugby, each MLR franchise is owned and managed locally with each team having also provided funding guarantees that it is hoped will prevent a repeat of the financial issues that plagued the competition’s predecessor.

“The structure now is there’s ownership of each franchise, there are funding rounds and you have to make your funding rounds to gain access to the league,” explained Hoadley.

“So, players’ wages are guaranteed which is the most important thing and I think there is a lot more vetting there and it gives much more security to the whole operation.

“We probably didn’t have as much control in PRO Rugby as we would have liked because of the ownership structure, now we have more control we can implement things like our training facilities, our S&C staff, and we are trying to build out a product here that will compete with any professional set up in the world.

“We have got great backers who have been very supportive of us, we are building for long-term success here, Matt Hawkins who is the general manager, was involved in PRO Rugby and has been involved in the community here for what must be 20 years, so whatever the iteration of professional rugby is here, that we are ready to provide a great experience and long-term success.”

Despite the focus on the local environment, Hoadley says each side is well aware of the bigger picture and the need to deliver success for the league and USA rugby in general with only five overseas players permitted in each matchday squad.

“The teams are working hard to engage the communities more, looking long-term and to build academies, produce our own players. I think many things were learnt off the field during PRO Rugby and I think it will translate to a much better product on the field this time around.”

by Graham Jenkins