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MLR Academies Can Be Anything, Which Is OK

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MLR Academies Can Be Anything, Which Is OK

Pathway 404 and NOLA Academy players line up pre kickoff.

Definitions of what an academy is and is not in Major League Rugby remain fluid, and few things illustrated that than last week’s doubleheader meeting between academies from Rugby ATL and NOLA Gold.

The two-game meeting might have showcased young players, 18-20, but this wasn’t the case as really it became a meeting of older prospects, some of whom have been out of college for a few years.

This is not to criticize such an approach— those players need game time and to be seen as much as anyone else — but it does seem to strain the definition of “academy” as it’s commonly understood. 

Most rugby academies, even those that support professional clubs, concentrate on a younger demographic.

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But this is the United States. Professional rugby hasn’t really been around for very long. Players are coming from colleges all over the country, or straight from high school, or form amateur clubs, or football, or overseas. They’re a very mixed back, and MLR teams may scout and sign them, but they don’t know what they have, really.

OK, so on to the showdowns in New Orleans. There, Rugby ATL’s Pathway 404 team demolished the NOL:A Gold Academy in the first game, and this was the likely upshot on paper, too. Pathway 404’s lineup in the first game was much more well-known, and with captain and former Saint Mary’s standout Tommy Wallace showing how a smart, skilled winger can change a game, new signing Lincoln Si’i helping win a few tightheads, and with draft picks John Scotti and Mike Matarazzo making Rugby ATL’s GM looking pretty smart, they won big.

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Against a slightly more high-profile NOLA group, Pathway 404 struggled and were in danger of losing before a couple of late tries put it away. 

There were some younger players showing well also, with scrumhalf Sid Shoop, who was playing for South Greenville HS not that long ago, operating the 404 attack quite nicely.

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The games had an important function in just getting these players some competition — for some the first true competition in close to a year. They gave their coaches an idea of where those players are in their development, and did a nice job in showing that the draft picks and major signings actually had a reason for that status.

But academies? More like A teams, or development squads. How we name things matters. That’s why Pathway 404’s name is so effective—it covers a multitude of levels without using a name, Academy, that carries a more specific meaning.

Pathway 404 is playing the Utah Warriors Academy this coming weekend.