NEW YORK — Major League Rugby, the 12-team North American circuit that had started its third season, announced on Thursday it will cancel the remainder of the 2020 campaign due to the coronavirus outbreak.
This means that Tendai ‘‘Beast’’ Mtawarira’s American adventure, after years of playing in South Africa, has ended prematurely.
Health and safety guidelines from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have banned large gatherings to combat the COVID-19 crisis.
A week after issuing a 30-day pause to the regular season, the rugby union league decided to shut down any attempt to restart the season and begin preparing for 2021.
“I am saddened to announce that the remainder of the 2020 season is cancelled,” MLR commissioner George Killebrew said.
“We believe it is ultimately the correct decision as we factored in health and safety risks for all parties.”
Killebrew vowed the league would return next year.
“I want to ensure our fans that there is no doubt MLR will be back in 2021 and will emerge bigger and better than ever before,” he said.
“We will be using this time as an opportunity to grow all aspects of MLR and we’re excited to continue this journey into 2021 and for many years to come.”
The league grew from seven to nine teams from its 2018 debut to 2019 and added three more clubs in 2020 with Atlanta, Washington and New England joining.
When the season was halted, the San Diego Legion topped the table at 5-0 on 23 points followed by Toronto at 4-1 on 19 points and Old Glory DC at 4-1 with 17 points.
MLR also began adding more top names from overseas, notably prop Mtawarira, who sparked South Africa to the 2019 Rugby World Cup title before joining Old Glory.
Mtawarira spoke of his excitement in moving to the United States when he signed for Old Glory.
“I’m really excited to come play rugby in Washington DC for Old Glory,” he told The Guardian newspaper, shortly after signing a one-year deal with his new team while on a visit to New York City.
“This conversation started quite a while back, it’s probably been over 10 months, chatting about the possibility of pursuing a career in America.”
Mtawarira was born in Zimbabwe but played 117 times for the Springboks in a storied career which came to an end after the World Cup final against England in Yokohama last year.
He played Currie Cup and Super Rugby for the Sharks, based in Durban, and also turned out for the Barbarians.
The move to Washington was managed by Kyros Sports, a sports marketing company Mtawarira co-owns.
“I’ve been a loyal player to the Sharks and the Springboks,” Mtawarira said, “and I have had an amazing career.
‘’I’ve been blessed to have that longevity and eventually come out of it as a World Cup winner. I was always looking for a great opportunity overseas after that.
“Coming to America excited me the most. The league is still young and for me to be part of something that is still brand new and to be a mentor to young rugby players, that really excited me.
‘’I want to give back a lot more because I was given a hell of a lot from the game. It changed my life, literally.”
Mtawarira was also linked to Gloucester in the English Premiership but said “the US excited me very much, above going to France [or England].
‘’Yes, the money’s big in France and big in Europe but I wanted to be part of something that might contribute to my legacy.
“America really excites me: they say it’s the land of opportunity.”
The MLR salary cap is low, at US$500,000, and squads are dominated by players from the US and Canada.
But Mtawarira, now 34, followed other former internationals into the competition.
Rugby United New York, rivals in the Eastern Conference, employ the England full-back Ben Foden and France centre Matthieu Bastareaud.
The San Diego Legion signed the double World Cup-winning All Black centre Ma’a Nonu while New Zealand wing Rene Ranger and Australia back Digby Ioane are with the Colorado Raptors. — AFP/The Guardian.
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