Imagine the nonstop speed and strategy of Major League Soccer melded with the strength and power of the National Football League (but without helmets or protective padding), and you've got the makings of what would be a very exciting and engaging pastime for American fans and spectators alike.

Interestingly, what you would have would be Major League Rugby, the five-year-old professional sports league anchored in the Rocky Mountain region by the Utah Warriors.

This Saturday, the Warriors will compete at 12 noon in their home opener at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman.

FYI: Tickets for Warriors home games range from $14 to $44 and can be purchased here.


Launching Professional Rugby in the U.S.

At the top of the Warriors organization is Kimball Kjar (pronounced "care"), the CEO and General Manager, and a former rugger himself.

In fact, not only was he a three-time All-American for the rugby team at Brigham Young University (2001–2003) and the 2002 captain of the collegiate All-American Team, Kjar also played for USA Rugby for over six years (2001–2007) as a scrum half (or halfback).

In addition to spending five years as an assistant coach for BYU Rugby after his playing days were over, Kjar went on to a successful professional career in executive recruitment/talent placement (in the high-tech world).

Then came the opportunity to help bring professional rugby to both Utah and America. {FYI:  Kjar also serves as a board member of Major League Rugby, a position he's held since its official founding in 2017.}

The challenge with rugby for most Utahns, Kjar told me earlier this week, is that they've "... "not touched it, smelled it, experienced it – yet."

But, he added, when they do, "They're hooked."

The Warriors were an inaugural team in MLR when it was formed five years ago, and last year, the team made it to the conference semifinals with a record of 10–6.

Photo from the Utah Warriors vs. San Diego Legion match 12 June 2021. Photo by Davey Wilson, with usage permission via Hunter Miller of the Utah Warriors.

The Warriors squad is comprised of 35 full-time players, and this season the league has grown to 13 teams (one in Canada and the rest in the U.S.) that will each play 16 regular season games coupled with two byes.

The regular season is followed by three tiers of playoffs, capped by the MLR Championship match in late June.


My Tentative Journey to Rugby Fan

Personally, I love American football – the NFL, collegiate football, the high school game, even Pop Warner (aka, little league football).

When it's played well, it's an amazing sport.

Soccer? I get it, at least I understand the rules.

I've also watched a fair amount of soccer "games," both on the sidelines at high school matches and on the Telly while following U.S. teams in World Cup or Olympics-level competition.

Nationally ... I love watching the U.S. Women's National Team the best, and not because they're women.

It's just that they are SO much better than the men's national team.

And female players tend to spend less time writhing on the ground in supposed pain after they get bumped or tripped while on the pitch. {Can't stand that, by the way.}

To be clear, I've never seen a rugby match in person, although I have watched snippets of matches on cable, as well as the two most popular American-made rugby movies (Invictus and Forever Strong). {Loved 'em both, BTW.}

So ... when I explained all of this to Kjar, he suggested my experience was not that much different than most Utahns, even though Utah has a high percentage of transplants from South Pacific nations where rugby is played and followed religiously, especially New Zealand, home of the world-famous All Blacks.

After the majority of people watch a rugby match for the first time, Kjar explained that the most common reaction is something along the lines of

"I didn't know what the hell was going on, but I loved it."

Apparently rugby games are comprised of two, 40-minute halves, with a 12-minute halftime for MLR contests.

Bottom line, you're in and out in two hours from a Warriors match, Kjar said.

And with that, Kjar had me "hooked" (figuratively speaking).

Guess I'll be attending at least one Warriors home match this season.

How 'bout you?

Utah Warriors 2021 season highlights video downloaded from YouTube 03 March 2022.
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