Rugby: Kiwi connections boosting New York as American Major League Rugby season kicks off

America's new Major League Rugby season has just kicked off, with a distinctly 'Kiwi' feel, as dozens of New Zealanders fill positions of coaches, players and support staff.

More than 14,000km from home, New York is a long way from New Zealand, but, in the Big Apple's rugby team, there are Kiwis galore. 

Not to say this city doesn't take some getting used to...

"It's energetic, it's vibey, it's diverse," Rugby New York coach James Semple told Newshub. "You see a lot of crazy stuff going on, but no-one bats an eyelid."

Previously with Chiefs Manawa and Blues Super Rugby Aupiki sides, Semple is taking on a team of familiar faces and accents, with players from up and down Aotearoa, as well as Kiwi assistants, physios and video analysts. 

"I think if we can get the US boys up to an awesome standard, it's only going to be better for World Rugby and obviously USA Rugby," he added.

Major League Rugby is about to enter its sixth professional season. USA Rugby wants participation here to balloon from 100,00 players now to a million by 2032, when it'll host the Rugby World Cup, and it sees countries like New Zealand helping make that possible. 

"Those partnerships are really important for us globally, if we are going to develop the US market," said USA Rugby chief operating officer Johnathan Atkeison. "Not only in the way we want it to, but New Zealand wants it to."

James Semple celebrates Waikato's 2021 Farah Palmer Cup victory
James Semple celebrates Waikato's 2021 Farah Palmer Cup victory. Photo credit: Photosport

At least 12 players in this New York team have a New Zealand connection.

They're not just players at the start or end of their career. Some have already signed NPC contracts for when they arrive home - players like North Harbour's Sam Davies, who admits some at home question the quality of rugby here. 

"Quite a few of my coaches, or family and friends were like 'footy in America?' - you know, sort of a bit half ass - but it's pretty into it. I would say it's a similar level to NPC footy back home."

Major League Rugby is back up and running, as USA Rugby hopes to grow the game at home, with a little Kiwi help.