Warrior Built Part Four: CRS provides stage for MLR hopefuls
Herriman, UT – The night of the Major League Rugby Draft is one that is filled with anticipation, excitement, relief and pride, the latter of which could be felt by all those that had a hand in helping to put on the inaugural Collegiate Rugby Shield (CRS) Event in early July. Particularly, a sense of pride in seeing that of the 39 players that had the honor of hearing their name read by MLR Commissioner Geroge Killebrew during the Draft, 11 of them had participated in the first-ever CRS.
The CRS was developed to provide a “senior bowl” type of event for college rugby’s rising talent as a precursor to their involvement in the MLR Collegiate Draft. Of the 50 players hosted at the CRS, 33 entered the MLR Collegiate Draft, while the above-noted 11 were selected on August 18th in the draft, more than any other pre-draft event.
We can’t wait to cheer on the ELEVEN CRS Players who were drafted into the @usmlr last night. It truly does Start at the Shield. #ItStartsAtTheShield pic.twitter.com/DU8VZY1odQ
— Collegiate Rugby Shield (@rugby_shield) August 19, 2022
During the week-long CRS event, participants were introduced to a professional sports environment, with coaches, trainers and scouts on site to oversee the performance of each athlete. With several representatives from MLR Teams in attendance, players were also able to interact directly with teams over the course of the week and get feedback firsthand. In addition, CRS players were coached by some of North America’s rising crop of domestic coaches with Tui Osborne (St. Bonaventure), Ray Barkwill (Rugby Canada) and Ashlee Byrge (Utah Warriors U18s) leading the two respective teams.
“We were extremely impressed by the professionalism and approach that the Collegiate Rugby Shield took in its first year,” said Rugby ATL Director of Rugby Operations, Mark Carney, “The quality staff that was assembled to guide these athletes through a thorough assembly, the real-world lessons and the content that they were provided was impressive and valuable. Having unfettered access to these players through the process allowed us to really get to know them on a level that you don’t get from a one day combine or phone call. We look forward to returning next year to see more of both United States and Canadian collegiate rugby talent exposed to challenging and uncomfortable situations, watch them learn to adapt, and showcase their best.”
Thirty-Nine of the fifty CRS players were from college rugby’s top divisions while eleven came from D-II colleges. Ultimately three of those eleven D-II players were drafted by MLR teams, showcasing the CRS’s ability to help players from smaller, lesser-known schools, be noticed and subsequently drafted.
“The shield offered the perfect platform and exposure for me to be noticed and prepared for the next level,” said Sebastiano Villani, the MLR Collegiate Draft 2nd overall pick to the NOLA Gold who hails from St. Bonaventure University. “It was one of the most professional weeks I’ve ever experienced, and I had a great time overall, definitely made me realize what it takes to make it to the next level and every staff member seemed so experienced. I love the Collegiate Rugby Shield.”
Echoing Villani’s sentiment was Nolan Buckley, the 23rd overall pick to the Dallas Jackals, who calls the University of Massachusetts-Lowell his alma mater.
“The CRS was vital to where I find myself now, being a part of the [Dallas] Jackals organization,” Buckley said. “I wouldn’t be here without the exposure and professional rugby experience that the CRS offered. I hope to see more draftees come through the [Collegiate Rugby] Shield in future years, and ideally other showcase opportunities like this will sprout up as rugby grows in the USA.”
There are clearance kicks – then there are CLEARANCE kicks 💥
📽️ @therugbynetwork pic.twitter.com/mrOciIA0Ft
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 3, 2022
On top of the success in the number of draft picks produced and the on-field success, the CRS also showed its value commercially with over 250K people watching the event live on FS1 and on The Rugby Network and another 2,000+ watching the event live at Zions Bank Stadium.
With the first year of the CRS having proven to be a success the event will be a significant part of the MLR and collegiate rugby landscape in the future by providing the next generation of talented collegiate rugby players and rising coaches the opportunity to develop and put their talents on display. The CRS tagline of “It Starts at the Shield” has proven true with 11 young men now starting their MLR paths and with many more likely to come through the CRS in years to come.
This op-ed was written by CRS Founder Nick Colling. To learn more about the Collegiate Rugby Shield please contact Nick at [email protected] or 801-477-7652. You can also visit www.CollegiateRugbyShield.com for more information.
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