Guardian understands disqualification from US league of teams with common owner stems from breaches of salary cap rules
Less than a month after the US was awarded the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups, Major League Rugby, the US men’s professional competition, has pitched into crisis with the disqualification of LA and Austin, the top two teams in its Western Conference.
Sources across the US game said the expulsions from season-ending playoffs were for breaches of rules surrounding the salary cap.
LA and Austin ownership did not respond to Guardian requests for comment.
MLR said it had no comment to add to a brief statement on social media, which said: “Due to a violation of league rules, the LA Giltinis have been disqualified from the 2022 Major League Rugby competition.”
The Giltinis, who employ the former Australia fly-half Matt Giteau, are in their second season in the league, having won it in their first.
In a similar statement last week, MLR said: “Due to a violation of league rules, the Austin Gilgronis have been disqualified from 2022 postseason play. Championship Series fixtures will be announced as they are determined.”
Austin and LA are owned by Adam Gilchrist, an Australian entrepreneur in the personal fitness industry. Both teams are named for cocktails named after Gilchrist.
MLR is in its fifth season, having survived the coronavirus
pandemic which cut short season three. This year, an expansion team in Dallas – which lost all 16 games – brought the league to 13 teams. Chicago and St Louis are widely reported to be the next expansion cities.
The league has lost one team previously, the Colorado Raptors withdrawing in 2020. Guardian reporting linked the foundation team’s exit to political shifts surrounding the arrival of powerful owners in LA, Gilchrist, and New England, Errik Anderson, a biotech investor.
The Raptors shifted focus and now seek to convert athletes from sports including football, basketball and wrestling. The program is in its second year and has sent players to MLR and the USA men’s sevens team.
Control of MLR will be increasingly attractive as two US-hosted Rugby World Cups approach and World Rugby looks to invest in the American game.
In May, when the 2031 men’s and 2033 women’s events were announced in Dublin, Matt McCarthy, a leading reporter on US rugby, told the Guardian a “huge, game-changing investment in high schools, colleges, clubs, for men and women, sevens and 15s” would also “safeguard the future of Major League Rugby as a fully professional men’s 15s competition”.
McCarthy added: “The establishment of the pro league in Japan in the years before the 2019 World Cup shows what World Rugby knows must happen. Now the World Cups are coming to America, MLR simply cannot be allowed to fail.”
Last weekend, amid political uproar even before the decision to expel LA, the final round of the regular MLR season saw Austin beat the Houston SaberCats and LA fall to defeat by the Seattle Seawolves, champions in 2018 and 2019.
The Guardian understands the decision to disqualify LA was taken at a board meeting on Monday night.
On Tuesday, MLR said: “The Houston SaberCats will now host the Western Conference Final and play the winner of the Western Conference Eliminator between the Seattle Seawolves and San Diego Legion.”
In the east, Rugby ATL of Atlanta and Rugby New York will contest the eliminator, the winner progressing to the conference final against the New England Free Jacks.
The MLR Championship game is scheduled for the weekend of 25-26 June.