Warriors react to World Cup coming to USA
HERRIMAN — Those involved with today’s historic announcement take a lot of pride with it, and for good reason.
As word broke that the United States has been awarded hosting responsibilities for the 2031 Men’s Rugby World Cup and the 2033 Women’s World Cup, those involved in growing the sport in the US were understandably thrilled with the decision.
“The Rugby World Cup coming to the United States is a game-changer for this sport, this league and for the Warriors,” said Utah Warriors CEO Kimball Kjar. “With an unprecedented investment into media and grassroots development that will precede the event, the next nine years will be a once in a lifetime opportunity…to revolutionize the sport for generations to come.”
Kjar is just one of several who have worked diligently to grow the sport of rugby locally in Utah, and indeed for the entire country. His efforts have helped the Warriors enjoy Major League Rugby’s best home field advantage, with thousands of fans coming out to support the franchise with every home game played.
But as mentioned, Kjar is hardly alone with his efforts.
Take Ashlee Byrge, who holds several titles within the Warrior organization, but perhaps the title of Jr. Warriors Manager will prove the most pivotal in preparation for the 2031 and 2033 events.
“Those in our development program from kids five years old to 14 will now have the chance to represent our country on our home turf,” Byrge said. “We’ve worked to develop the fundamental skills like other countries have…to help grow the development of the game by the time the World Cup gets here. So this really helps parents and others buy into what we’re doing right now.”
Byrge has been involved with rugby since she was ten years old, attending her older brother’s practices when he played for Highland before starting the state of Utah’s very first women’s rugby program at Herriman High School when she was 14.
Since then Byrge has traveled the world playing the sport and representing the United States before coming back home to her current capacity with the Warriors.
“It’s all about growing the sport and teaching kids how great the sport of rugby is, so bringing the World Cup here — I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity it presents,” Byrge said.
For Warriors captain Bailey Wilson, who is originally from Australia before making his home in Utah, he couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity ahead presented by Thursday’s announcement.
“It’s amazing and we’ve all been involved with growing the sport here in the states and excited to see where it goes from here,” Wilson said. “I consider myself an American after being here 10 years, so I take a lot of pride with the World Cup coming here for sure.”
Like Wilson, Warriors coach Shaun Davies, who is originally from South Africa, has now made his home in Utah and worked diligently to grow the sport coaching with the Warriors after helping BYU win national championships in 2009 and 2012.
“It’s massive for the Country, certainly for the MLR and for everything else. There’s no question about it,” Davies said. “I love what we’ve done here with the MLR and I believe it’s going to grow and having the World Cup here helps all of that significantly.”
TAKING ON THE SABERCATS
While the World Cup is a ways away, the Utah Warriors (3-9) immediate task involves traveling to Houston to take on the Sabercats (7-5) this coming Saturday. Utah will work to avenge a 28-12 loss to Houston back on March 26 which was underscored by several big mistakes made by the Warriors that led directly to scores for the Sabercats.
“Houston has a very solid system and they take advantage of whatever you give them, and we saw that the last time out,” Davies said. “But if we stay with our system, and play smart, then I’m confident we can come away with a win.”
Also boosting optimism is the turnaround seen last Saturday when the Warriors broke a six-game losing streak in impressive fashion, taking a 44-26 win over Rugby ATL.
“It was massive for our confidence and really rewarding for all the hard work we’ve put in,” Wilson said. “We’re starting to play more consistent and we need to keep that going against a very physical game like Houston.”
UTAH WARRIORS VS. HOUSTON SABERCATS
Date: Saturday, May 14
Time: 6:00 PM MDT
Where: AVEVA Stadium, Houston
Broadcast: The Rugby Network, KJZZ, KSLSports
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