Major League Rugby Live

Major League Rugby players from New Zealand and Australia

The pandemic chased these rugby players home. Nearly a year later, it colored their return.

Last March, Old Glory DC Coach Andrew Douglas hosted a cookout on the rooftop of his apartment building in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood of Washington. It was primarily a chance for his players to unwind ahead of a rare day off, but he also stressed the importance of the team not getting complacent after a 4-1 start to its inaugural season in Major League Rugby.

The next morning, players awoke to a text message instructing them to report to the practice field for an impromptu and mandatory meeting.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, God, what did the boys do last night?’ ” utility back Renata Roberts-Tenana recalled in a Zoom interview last month.

When the players arrived, Douglas, Old Glory operations manager John Manson and co-owner Chris Dunlavey were waiting with beers. They delivered the news that Major League Rugby had suspended all matches for 30 days to “assess the impact of covid-19.” A week later, the league canceled the rest of its third season.

The international players on Old Glory’s roster returned to their homes across the globe to ride out the coronavirus pandemic. For the team’s six players from New Zealand and Australia, life mostly returned to normal over the ensuing months, thanks to their countries’ aggressive mitigation efforts in the early stages of the crisis.

In the past three weeks, most of those players returned to the District, the capital of a nation that experienced its deadliest month of the pandemic in January and the following month saw its overall death toll surpass a half-million. But there doesn’t seem to be a sense of whiplash about the move for the players who left their largely covid-free lives in Oceania behind. They’re excited to be here, confident that the league’s safety protocols will work and determined to build on the early success of a promising campaign cut short when the 2021 season begins March 20.

“I was always pretty certain that I was going to come back,” said Old Glory fly half Jason Robertson, a 26-year-old New Zealander who led the league in scoring during the abbreviated 2020 season. “This place is awesome, and the people were nothing but nice to me.”

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