According to a reply from PRO Rugby on their Facebook page, the rosters for the five teams will be unveiled tomorrow. They have managed to play this close to the vest so far, only beginning to release a few of the bigger names in the past week, but a smattering of reports and social media posts have revealed the makeup of about a fifth of the league’s inaugural roster. Here is a compilation of those connections sorted by team, with some additional details about the players.
Pedrie Wannenburg was the first major international signing known, with the story coming out in South African media days before PRO Rugby made the announcement. The former Springbok and aspiring coach will bring a veteran presence to the Denver squad that appears to have its fair share of young Eagles talent. A tweet from Andre Snyman hints at Hanco Germishuys, Niku Kruger, and Chad London being other members of the Wannenburg-led squad. The South African-born and Denver-based trio have all received their first caps with the United States in the past year, with Germishuys and London making their test debuts in the recently concluded Americas Rugby Championship.
Ohio is the only squad without any confirmed players so far, but the few players rumored to be playing their rugby in Obetz have given the side a bit of a Southern flavor. Matt Hughston has played for the USA South Panthers and for D.C. and Atlanta in the Elite City 7s tournaments. Sebastián Kalm currently plays at Lindenwood University and has also featured for the Collegiate All-Americans and the Chilean U-20 side. Zac Mizell comes to Ohio from the Austin Blacks and has played with the national 7s team as well as the USA Select side in the previous version of the ARC.
The first PRO Rugby franchise was also home to the league’s first two confirmed players: Italian back Mirco Bergamasco and Santa Rosa’s Josh Inong (although Inong was more of a de facto confirmation). The Philippine international Inong, fellow Santa Rosa player Robert Meeson, and former Cal lock Sione Sina are a few examples of the kind of local talent that we can expect this team to pull in. Sacramento’s roster will also include Ray Barkwill, a Canadian international hooker, and Ryan Thompson, the older brother of Brett Thompson with USA U-19, All-American 7s, and Falcon 7s caps on his resume.
The Southern California side has a few players coming in from the English Premiership: Canadian international Phil Mackenzie joins from the Sale Sharks, while American scrumhalf Tom Bliss joins from Wasps. Bliss will be challenged for the starting role by Charlie Purdon, a South African scrumhalf playing in Santa Monica.
The first players known for San Francisco’s team are all currently playing in the Bay Area. Orene Ai’i is a former New Zealand and Samoa 7s star, most famous for earning the 2004-05 Sevens World Series Player of the Year award, who has recently been playing with the Life West Gladiators. A fellow Life West player, hooker Jacob Finau, will be joining him on the squad. The player from this squad that may be the most familiar to American fans is Olympic Club wing Colin Hawley, the former Cal star who has played for the national teams in fifteens and sevens.
Reported players: Filippo Ferrarini, Chris Kunkel
Players connected through social media: Junior Helu, Al Hanson, Peter Malcolm
Players featured in PRO Rugby promos: Aaron Davis, Joe Taufete’e, Jabari Zuberi, John O’Hara, David Tameilau
Known to be seeking a contract: Renaldo Wade
A number of players are linked with PRO Rugby but with no specific team. The most interesting of these is Filippo Ferrarini, an Italian flanker who played for four seasons with Zebre in Pro12. Unlike the other older internationals, Ferrarini is coming over relatively early in his career at the age of 25. It appears that he is coming to the U.S. to attend university as well as play rugby. Jamaican center Renaldo Wade, who has played for their national team in union, league, and sevens, is another international player who has been linked but it has only been stated that he is looking to play in the league and it hasn’t been confirmed that he has signed.
A number of players have seemingly obvious landing spots. Chris Kunkel currently plays for James Madison in Virginia, so Ohio seems like the most plausible place for him. The same can be said of Wheeling Jesuit duo Al Hanson and Peter Malcolm. Junior Helu and David Tameilau are likely to join their Life West teammates in San Francisco. John O’Hara is likely to end up in San Francisco as well due to the connection to Paul Keeler, his current head coach at Santa Clara University. It would be a surprise if San Diego didn’t land Joe Taufete’e and Jabari Zuberi as they are both currently based in Southern California and have played for the Griffins, SoCal’s regional all-star team. Aaron Davis, currently training with the USA sevens program and playing in recent tournaments for the USA Falcons, could end up with the nearest team in San Diego but his Tiger Rugby connection makes Ohio equally plausible.
The main takeaway from this initial list of players is that this league will not just be a collection of the best players from the premiership-level clubs. The league is finding players who currently play for a diverse set of clubs ranging from the Aviva Premiership and Pro12 to the second division of collegiate rugby. There is a noticeable trend of coaches bringing in players from their own clubs, such as the Life West contingent that will join their coach Adriaan Ferris in San Francisco, but not to an egregious extent that will keep qualified players out of the league. Some of the players listed here may be lesser known, but they are all players who are either immediately ready to play pro rugby or will gain a lot from training in a professional environment.
So what should we expect tomorrow? There are a good number of domestic Eagles players such as Seamus Kelly, Jake Anderson, Alec Gletzer, and Michelangelo Sosene-Feagai who haven’t been named, and I would be surprised if any players of that caliber aren’t included. It seems natural that Denver, San Diego, and San Francisco will add a fair number of local PRP players. Sacramento could see a number of players produced by their prolific high school programs returning to play in the city. Ohio will likely see some of the athletes from Tiger Rugby coming in to play for them as well as a smorgasbord of players from east of the Rockies. But these are just educated guesses and I would not have guessed that a good number of the players currently known would be playing in this league, so maybe the only thing we should expect is to be surprised – and to be grateful that the folks on Facebook will have one less thing to complain about after tomorrow.