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Updated: Colorado Raptors withdraw from Major League Rugby

The Colorado Raptors issued a statement on its Facebook page in which it said the decision came with a "heavy heart."
Credit: Colorado Raptors

GLENDALE, Colo. — The Colorado Raptors stint in Major League Rugby (MLR) is over.

The team, which was a founding member of the league in 2018, announced the news on its Facebook page on Thursday.

The full statement reads as follows: 

Credit: Colorado Raptors Rugby / Facebook

The Raptors "wish(ed) the league every success (moving forward)," but "believe (their) greater responsibility lies in the development of American players who can go on to win the World Cup for the United States." 

The statement left many fans confused and asking for an explanation as to why the decision to withdraw was made. 9NEWS reached out to multiple members of the Raptors staff for comment.

Raptors Director of Marketing Pam Dunbar referred our questions to Glendale City Manager Linda Cassaday, who offered clarification on Friday morning. 

Cassaday answered multiple questions, including why developing American players was a "greater responsibility" for the club and a reason for leaving MLR. 

"One of the core values of the League in the beginning was to develop American players who could compete successfully on the international stage. Rugby is a sport that is still in its infancy in this country, so we do not yet have the depth of talent that many other countries have," Cassaday said. 

"In 2018, MLR started with 7 teams, then grew to 9 in 2019, and to 12 in 2020. Because we do not yet have the supply of players in this country to meet that demand, teams have imported more and more players from overseas in order to be competitive. At the start of the League, the concept was for there to be no more than 3 foreign players on a team’s roster for any match. That quickly grew to 5 (even before the first season began), and now stands at 10. And as you would expect, those 10 players often have much more experience than the American players on the roster, so of the 15 players on the field, it is typical that 10 of those are foreign players," Cassaday said.

"We are not faulting Major League Rugby for this structure (and indeed, have had many foreign players on the Raptors team in order to stay competitive), but is this structure really meeting the initial goal of developing American players? After two years of competition in the MLR, the United States lost all four of its matches in the 2019 Rugby World Cup (England 45, USA 7; France 33, USA 9; Argentina 45, USA 17; Tonga 31, USA 19). If the US is going to compete successfully with the rest of the world, we must focus on the development of American players," Cassady said. 

"Again, we have been supportive of Major League Rugby in the past, and will be supporting them in the future through the development of more US players who can fill their rosters, thereby reducing their reliance on foreign players. We believe that’s a win-win," Cassaday concluded. 

She went on to add that joining another league is not a consideration for the Raptors and emphasized Glendale's mission is to continue to "develop players who will compete successfully in both Major League Rugby and on the world stage (through their youth, Academy and amateur programs)." 

Those programs will still be offered at Infinity Park moving forward. 

Raptors Director of Rugby Mark Bullock said Linda's answers covered 9NEWS' questions "succinctly." He added, "having started the program here our mission has always been the development of USA rugby players, one player at a time."

Major League Rugby's season was canceled on March 19 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is set to return for the 2021 season without the Raptors involvement.  

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