Warriors’ new additions look to make instant impact in Utah
Niall Saunders holds a good amount of pioneering spirit, which made the Utah Warriors an ideal landing spot for him.
Arriving from England in late January, Saunders joins the Utah Warriors as a talented and experienced option that should aid tremendously in the team’s pursuit of a Major League Rugby Championship.
So what have been Saunders’ first impressions after spending his entire life playing top rugby in both England and Ireland?
“There’s some seriously good players here, and just being here with them a few days has shown that even more, I think,” Saunders said. “We should be pushing for the title this year, which is one of the main reasons I chose to come here. There’s good rugby being played here and I want to be part of it.”
Saunders has known good rugby for his entire life. The son of former Ireland National Team Captain Rob Saunders, Niall has been playing the sport since an early age, eventually joining the Harlequins, which is a top organization within the English Premiership Rugby Union League.
The Harlequins were founded clear back in 1866, while the Utah Warriors began play just over 150 years later, with 2018 being their inaugural season, which is part of the reason Niall decided to switch continents.
“I looked at the league and it’s really exciting,” Niall said. “I think it’s going to be a really big league in a couple of years, and I like being on the pioneering side of it. And I also like the opportunity to travel around and see America.”
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) January 27, 2022
Like Niall, Caleb Makene is also making the continental switch, albeit from the other side of the globe in New Zealand, where he played six years for various teams within that country’s top professional Rugby Union League.
“I liked the brand of rugby played here and the potential, and all of that has been confirmed since being here,” Makene, who joined the Warriors officially in mid-January, said. “The culture is really strong here and I’m excited to see what we can do this year.”
Indeed the Warriors came up just short of winning the Major League Rugby Championship last season, all of which is well-noted by both Makene and Saunders.
“Looking at Utah — it’s a great (spot) for me. I think (the Warriors) were pretty unlucky not to have made the finals, and I think they would have won it had they advanced,” Niall said. “So I think this is a great place with great lads, that is playing some really good rugby. So it was an easy decision for me to come here.”
While both players are still brand new to the organization, both are expected to contribute heavily to the Warriors’ overall success this coming season, given both of their experience and talent level.
Acclimating to a new team just weeks before the season isn’t ideal, although both Niall Saunders and Makene are confident they can hit the ground running come the Warriors first match of the season versus the San Diego Legion on February 6.
“It’s always tough adjusting to a new team, and taking that leap of faith — trusting that everything is going to work out,” Makene said. “But the staff here has been awesome in helping me settle down and fit in. Everyone on the team has been really great in helping me with the adjustment.”
“I would have liked to have been here earlier, no question, but that’s how it played out,” Niall added. “But I’m still confident I can catch up and the body feels good. I feel quick and fast, and now just have to adjust to the high altitude. But that will come.”
Brandon Gurney is the Utah Warriors Team Reporter. With nearly two decades of experience covering BYU Football in print and on radio, Gurney brings a wealth of experience to the Utah Warriors beat. You can read all of Gurney’s stories on the Utah Warriors throughout the 2022 Season at WarriorsRugby.com
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