Stars & Stripes & Scrums: Best American Rugby Players to Watch till 2024


Rugby, unlike American football, emphasizes teamwork and continuous play. Here’s a breakdown of the key rules to get you started:

American Rugby

The Basics:

  • Teams and Field: Two teams of 15 players battle it out on a rectangular field with H-shaped goalposts at each end.
  • Objective: Score more points than the opposing team within the playtime (usually 80 minutes).

Scoring Points:

There are two ways to score points in Rugby:

  • Try (5 points): Ground the ball in the opponent’s in-goal area (similar to a touchdown in American football).
  • Conversion (2 points): After a try, a successful kick through the opponent’s goalposts.

Moving the Ball:

  • Forward Passing: Not allowed! You can only pass the ball backwards or sideways with your hands.
  • Kicking: Your best friend for moving the ball forward. You can punt, drop kick, or place kick the ball.
  • Running with the Ball: Carry the ball in your hands and dodge tackles to advance.

When Play Stops:

Unlike American football, play doesn’t necessarily stop after a tackle. Here’s what happens:

  • Tackle: When a player with the ball is brought down by the opposition.
  • Ruck: The tackled player stays on their feet, and teammates from both sides crowd around their feet, fighting to win possession of the ball. The ball pops out for someone to grab.
  • Maul: The ball carrier and tacklers stay upright, wrestling for control of the ball without it hitting the ground. Similar to a ruck, but everyone stays connected.

Other Key Rules:

  • Lineout: Occurs when the ball goes out of bounds over the sideline. Players from both teams line up and jump to try and catch the ball thrown in by the referee.
  • Scrum: A set-piece contest for possession awarded for various offenses, like a knock-on (ball accidentally knocked forward by hand). Players from both teams bind together in three rows and push against each other, trying to win the ball back when it’s fed into the scrum by a teammate.
  • Offsides: Players can’t interfere with play from an offside position (closer to the opponent’s goal line than the teammate who last played the ball).
  • Penalties: Awarded for various infringements. The non-offending team gets a free kick at goal for points (similar to a field goal) or to restart play.

This is a basic rundown of Rugby’s core mechanics. Remember, there are many nuances, but this should give you a good understanding of how the game progresses!

American Rugby Teams

To determine the “best” rugby teams in America, we need to consider two main factors:

National Teams:

  • Argentina: The undisputed powerhouse of Americas rugby. Ranked consistently high in the World Rugby Rankings (currently #6), they’ve reached the Rugby World Cup semifinals three times. They’re known for their passionate play and strong scrummaging.
  • United States: Ranked 15th globally, the USA is on the rise. They’ve shown promising performances in recent Rugby World Cup qualifiers and boast some exciting young talent.
  • Canada: Sitting at 23rd in the world rankings, Canada is a historically strong team in the Americas. They’ve participated in every Rugby World Cup and are known for their physicality and well-organized defense.

Major League Rugby (MLR):

This professional league in North America features teams from various cities. “Best” can be subjective within the league, but here are some strong contenders based on recent performance and overall popularity:

  • Seattle Seawolves: Two-time MLR champions (2019, 2022), known for their attacking style and passionate fanbase.
  • Rugby ATL (Atlanta): MLR champions in 2021, they boast a strong all-around game and a deep squad.
  • Los Angeles Giltinis: Though a newer team (founded in 2020), they’ve made a splash with their flashy play and experienced international players.

Remember, the “best” team can depend on the specific competition and who’s playing on a given day. However, these teams represent the top tiers of rugby in North and South America.

Best American Rugby Players

Defining the absolute “top 10” in American rugby is tricky because the sport is still growing in the US compared to established powerhouses. However, here are ten American rugby players who have made a significant impact on the sport, both domestically and internationally:


  • Todd Clever (retired): A legend with the most caps (76 appearances) for the US Eagles national team. A versatile back-rower known for his leadership and work ethic.
  • Luke Gross (retired): A giant lock (tall second-row forward) who excelled in Europe for over a decade. Renowned for his lineout skills and physical presence.
  • Hannibal Burenaar: A powerful prop for the Eagles, known for his scrummaging prowess and durability.


  • AJ MacGinty (current captain): The current Eagles fly-half (organizer of the backline) and captain. A skilled kicker and tactician with experience playing professionally in England.
  • Mike Hercus (retired): The all-time leading scorer for the US Eagles. A versatile back who could play fly-half or fullback, known for his accurate kicking and decision-making.
  • Vaea Anitoni (retired): The US Eagles’ all-time leading try scorer (26 tries). A winger with blistering pace and finishing ability.

Sevens Rugby (a faster, seven-a-side version):

  • Carlin Isles: A lightning-fast winger on the US Sevens team. An Olympic gold medalist (2016) known for his electrifying runs and elusive footwork.
  • Perry Baker: Another world-class Sevens player with impressive speed and agility. A key member of the gold medal-winning 2016 Olympic Sevens team.
  • Folau Niua: A talented Sevens player with a strong work ethic. A consistent performer who brings leadership and physicality to the team.


  • Ryan Matamoros: A young fly-half with a bright future. Known for his creativity, passing skills, and goal-kicking accuracy.

This list is not exhaustive, and there are many other talented American rugby players who deserve recognition. However, it provides a starting point to learn about some of the most influential figures in the sport’s development in the Americas.

American Rugby Leagues

There’s actually a key distinction to make here. In the Americas, unlike some other parts of the world, there’s a major difference between professional leagues for Rugby Union and Rugby League. Here’s a breakdown:

Major Rugby Union League: Major League Rugby (MLR)

  • Founded: 2018
  • Teams: 12 teams across the United States and Canada (one team)
  • Playing Style: Known for a faster, more open style of play compared to traditional Rugby Union.
  • Competition: Teams play a regular season followed by playoffs to determine the MLR champion.
  • Popularity: MLR is a young league but is rapidly growing in popularity, attracting talented players and expanding its fan base.

Why Rugby Union?

Rugby Union is the dominant form of rugby played in the Americas, particularly in Argentina and the United States. This is in contrast to other regions like Australia or England, where Rugby League holds a strong presence.

No Major Rugby League Presently

There currently isn’t a major professional Rugby League in North or South America. However, Rugby League does have a presence at the amateur level in some countries, and there have been discussions about potentially establishing a professional league in the future.

So, Here’s the Takeaway:

  • Major League Rugby (MLR) is the current major professional rugby league in the Americas, specifically focusing on Rugby Union.
  • Rugby League, while not as prominent, has some presence at the amateur level and might see future professional league developments.

Latest Rugby FAQs in the Americas

1. When is the next Major League Rugby (MLR) season?

The MLR season typically runs from February to June. The 2024 season is likely concluded by now, but you can follow MLR on social media or their website for news about the upcoming 2025 season schedule which is usually announced by late summer.

2. Who are the favorites for the 2025 Rugby World Cup?

The next Rugby World Cup is in 2027 hosted by Australia. Predicting favorites this far out is difficult, but current powerhouses like New Zealand, South Africa, England, and France are always strong contenders. Argentina, with their recent success, could also be a team to watch.

3. How can I get into watching rugby?

Rugby can be a thrilling sport to watch! Here are some tips:

  • Start with the basics: Learn the core rules like tries, conversions, rucks, and scrums (explained earlier).
  • Watch Major League Rugby: There are several MLR streaming options and local broadcasts depending on your location.
  • International test matches: Major test matches are often broadcast on national sports channels or streamed online.
  • Youtube highlights: Search for compilations of recent games or highlights of star players to get a feel for the sport’s fast pace and excitement.

4. Is rugby union or league more popular in America?

Rugby union is currently more popular in the Americas compared to rugby league. Major League Rugby is helping to grow the sport, and the USA and Argentina’s national teams are experiencing increasing success on the international stage.

5. Is there a professional women’s rugby league in America?

There is no professional women’s rugby league currently operating in America. However, women’s rugby union is growing in popularity, with professional leagues in some countries and a strong presence at the international level. The USA Women’s National Rugby Sevens team is a reigning Olympic gold medalist (2016).

6. What are some up-and-coming American rugby players to watch?

Beyond the established names mentioned earlier, here are a few young American talents making waves:

  • Kate Zackary (Women’s Sevens): A rising star on the USA Women’s Sevens team, known for her speed and try-scoring ability.
  • Marlo Taufete (USA Eagles): A powerful young prop with a bright future for the Eagles national team.
  • Gage Bates (Canada): A highly-rated Canadian center with impressive footwork and attacking flair.

7. How does the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) work?

The ARC is an annual rugby union competition featuring Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the USA, and Uruguay. It’s sometimes called the “Americas Six Nations” due to the similar format to Europe’s Six Nations Championship. Teams play each other once in a round-robin format, and the team with the most points at the end wins the championship.

8. Is there a fantasy rugby league for Major League Rugby?

Fantasy sports are becoming increasingly popular, and there are unofficial fantasy rugby platforms popping up for various leagues. While there isn’t an official MLR fantasy league yet, keep an eye out for developments as MLR continues to grow.

9. What are the differences between rugby in Argentina and North America?

  • Professionalism: Argentina has a longer history of professional rugby, with several teams competing in Super Rugby, a major international competition. North America’s MLR is a younger league but is rapidly gaining professional stature.
  • Playing Style: Argentina is known for its strong forward play and set-piece dominance (scrums and lineouts). North American teams tend to favor a more open, running style of rugby influenced by American Football.

10. Where can I find information about local rugby clubs near me?

  • USA Rugby website: The USA Rugby website has a directory of clubs and organizations across the country.
  • Social media: Look for local rugby clubs on Facebook or social media platforms. They often advertise practice times, games, and social events.
  • Word of mouth: Ask friends or colleagues who might be interested in rugby if they know of any local clubs.

About the author

Adeline Darrow
By Adeline Darrow

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