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SALT LAKE CITY — With the new addition of Major League Rugby, Utah will be gaining their first professional rugby team.
The Warriors opened up the inaugural season with an exhibition game on March 30, at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Warriors fell to the Glendale Raptors, but the new professional team left the community excited for the rest of the season.
In case you missed the first exhibition game, here are some reasons why you should check out Utah’s newest professional sports team.
Rugby is a growing sport, especially in Utah
Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation. Since 2010, participation has increased by 43 percent according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association 2017 annual report. The sport now has over 115,000 registered players within the USA Rugby program and has grown enough that the sport was reintroduced as an Olympic sport in 2016, and will make its way back to the Olympic stage at the 2020 games in Tokyo.
In Utah, the state is second in total participation in the sport, according to the Utah Youth Rugby Organization. The programs have grown tremendously in the beehive state with over 130 high school, youth, and rookie level teams
Utah has a rich history with the sport with one of the top teams in the nation, the Highland Rugby club, which is featured in the 2008 movie "Forever Strong." After this movie, the sport exploded in Utah as more and more youth joined rugby programs. The whole goal of the creation of the MLR was to grow the sport. A professional team is in Utah because it has the audience for rugby and can grow the sport.
The team features BYU rugby alumni
BYU is known for their rugby team, as the club sport has won five national championships since 2009. The Warriors roster features 10 former BYU rugby members. Many of these players played together at BYU and won multiple championships.
It will be an advantage for the Warriors to have guys who have already played together. The players include Paul Lasike, Josh Whippy, Ray Forrester, Ara Elkington, Josh Anderson, Jackson Kaka, Joe Nicholls, Jared Whippy, Wineera Elkington and Matt Jensen.
For the Warriors staff, there will be another familiar face from BYU: Kimball Kjar, a former BYU rugby coach who coached these players on to win national championships, will be the general manager for the team.
Record breaking attendance
According to MLR, the Warriors' season opener shattered the domestic U.S. rugby match attendance record during their exhibition game Saturday against the Glendale Raptors.
@warriorsrugbyofficial shatters the domestic U.S. rugby match attendance record during their exhibition season-opener Saturday night against the @glendaleraptors - - Warriors’ next match at Rio Tinto is against the @ontarioarrows on 4/6 - #MLRugby #MajorLeagueRugby #StandStrongStandAsOne #UtahWarriors #OntarioArrows
Warriors officials were hesitant to host the season opener at Rio Tinto, as the stadium holds 20,213 people. The last thing Kjar wanted was the first game played in an empty stadium. He said he was unaware of how many people would actually show up and support the new team. The sport proved, however, that it was more popular than anticipated with 9,186 fans in attendance.
30 minutes late to the Utah Warriors rugby match and still incredibly far back in line waiting to get in. I guess rugby’s big now pic.twitter.com/lcVa5xs8uG— Benjamin Kocher (@BenjaminKocher) March 31, 2018
New Zions Bank Stadium
The Warriors home will be at the new $78 million facility in Herriman, the Zions Bank Stadium, which seats 5,000 and sits on 132 acres of land. The stadium will share the complex with the Real Monarchs and will be the training facility for Real Salt Lake. Along with the stadium, there will be two other complexes on site: Zions Bank Real Academy and Zions Bank Training Facility. The first game played at the new stadium will be on April 20.
BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!— Utah Warriors (@warriorsrugbyut) January 25, 2018
The Utah Warriors look forward to playing at Zions Bank Stadium and calling this first-class facility home. Fans will enjoy top-notch Major League #Rugby on the pitch this year.
Read more: https://t.co/cNLIE4GEjl#news#Utah#warriorspic.twitter.com/adq1dyZc5z
The Utah Warriors offer Utahns an opportunity to become educated on the fastest growing sport in the nation. What better way to watch and learn about a sport than at the professional level. Grab a friend, your family or coworkers and get out to a Warriors game this summer.
If those reasons aren’t enough to get you to check out the new sport, Kjar offered this promise: “If you don’t find value or entertainment in what we are trying to build, send me an email and we will give you your money back.”
The Warriors host another exhibition match at Rio Tinto on April 6 against the Ontario Arrows. The season will run through the end of June. Lexi Lewis is studying public relations at Utah Valley University. You can follow her on twitter @lex_lew1018.