Washington will field an expansion team in Major League Rugby no later than 2020, backers of the new project announced, likely ending talk of a Pro14 squad in the US capital.
Paul Sheehy, a former US Eagles fullback who played in the 1991 World Cup, and Chris Dunlavey, a Washington Irish club player who presides over a construction firm, secured rights to the team in the US-based league that opened its inaugural season last month.
Sheehy had been named in possible Pro14 expansion to North America before two South African clubs joined the Europe-based series last year.
“I’m happy to be part of the team bringing professional rugby to Washington,” Sheehy said. “This is going to be an exciting time in the nation’s capital, the second-largest rugby market in the United States. Fans will love the game.”
MLR features seven clubs with a New York team set to begin play next year and the Washington squad possibly opening in 2019 and definitely taking the field by 2020 at a home venue to be determined.
“We’re extremely excited,” said Dunlavy, chairman of the DCMLR group. “Our experience, our network, our intuition and our market research all tell us the same thing — there’s a big appetite for rugby in the DC region.
“If professional rugby can work anywhere in the US, it can work in DC.”
The group hopes to boost interest in the new club when Wales and South Africa visit Washington’s RFK Stadium — the 57-year-old former home of NFL, soccer and baseball teams — for a June 2 match that has sold more than 12,000 tickets already.
“We expect the Wales-South Africa match will help us get the word out in the rugby and local community and start to generate momentum for MLR,” Dunlavey said.
Having another Eastern US outpost is important to MLR commissioner Dean Howes, whose league is primarily in western cities, none east of New Orleans.
“We think Washington DC will be an exciting and growing market for us,” Howes said. “With New York already committed and now DC coming on board, we can envision a robust rivalry blossoming between those two clubs.”