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Loving Rugby Again in MLR - Catching up with RFCLA Captain Niall Saunders

April 12, 2024 - Major League Rugby (MLR)
Rugby FC Los Angeles News Release

Despite a challenging 2024 Major League Rugby season start, Niall Saunders and Rugby Football Club Los Angeles are still aiming high.

Currently at the bottom of the West Conference after playing five games, the new kids on the block have impressed with every outing.

Losing their first-ever game to the Dallas Jackals to a late drop goal, falling short to the San Diego Legion by a solitary point, and defying the odds to draw 22-22 with Old Glory DC after playing much of the fixture with 14 men, LA continues to grow week on week.

Recording a first-ever franchise win against the Utah Warriors with a 36-32 victory, with their division leaders coming to Dignity Health Sports Park this Sunday, the team's captain and scrum-half, Niall Saunders, says the team is still gathering momentum.

It's @rugbyfcla that hold off the late surge from @utwarriorsrugby to get their first ever win in MLR!

"As a team, we haven't been too disheartened with our results," Saunders said.

"Results aside, we are putting in performances, and that is something we look back on.

"At the backend of the season, we are going to be fighting to get into playoffs. We believe we are going to get into the playoffs.

"We have got an unbelievable set of coaches in Stephen Brett and Shaun Davies. They have installed a great culture for us early on.

"We are playing with brand new people. You are not going to have the connections that we have, but we have such a good bunch of boys here.

"We are not disheartened at all. Not the ideal start, but we are building something, building momentum."


Ahead of the 2024 season, Saunders was named LA's first-ever captain.

In a squad full of experienced players, the 26-year-old's captaincy comes four years after the scrum-half retired from rugby while playing for Harlequins.

Having the nagging thought that professional rugby wasn't for him, the former Ireland U20 international stepped away from the sport.

During a two-year break from the sport, Saunders traveled South America before signing on with Tel Aviv Heat in the Rugby Europe Super Cup.

When the Utah Warriors came calling, Saunders' view on the sport flipped on its head.

"My outlook on rugby has changed dramatically since I came to MLR," Saunders said.

"I played rugby at Harlequins for four years, and I just got so tired of playing rugby in the rain that I never enjoyed it.

"When Covid hit, I saw that as much as my opportunity to get out. I was in a pretty dark place.

"I went away for a year, then I returned to England, and this opportunity came up. For six months of the year, I get to travel to America and do something different.

"I love my rugby again, and you can probably see on the pitch now that I am enjoying myself.

"It is pretty easy to enjoy rugby when you are in the sun, playing with your mates and playing rugby that you enjoy.

"I love playing rugby for Steve. He is not only a great guy, but a phenomenal coach as well. My rugby has gotten a lot better since I met him."


Next up for LA is a visit from the Seattle Seawolves. Moving into Week Six, Allen Clarke's team tops the West Conference and is 13 points ahead of their hosts.

Regardless of being at the foot of their division, it is safe to say that one of MLR's newest teams backs itself against the two-time champions.

With 11 games still to play in the regular season, Saunders and his teammates are locked in on playing knockout rugby this summer as their bond continues to grow.

"We are not going into this game thinking 'we will do the best we can,'" Saunders said.

"We are looking to go and win this game because we see a couple of chinks in the Seawolves armor, and we are going to expose that.

"We have all the odds stacked against us, with injuries and a couple of bans, but we are going into the game with the mentality that we are going to win it. We are training like that as well.

"At this stage of the season, obviously, we want to pick up results, but at crunch time at the end of the season, I think that is when we will come into our own once we start figuring out discipline and the other boys on the pitch.

"You are going to see a completely different LA team, and showcasing what we are about every week is pretty exciting.

"This week, we are hoping to show up and win the game."


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