MLR: Glendale Raptors favourites ahead of U.S. rugby final

The Glendale Raptors bounced back from their first regular season defeat to book their place in Saturday's MLR playoff final. Seth McConnell / Glendale Raptors

Dave Williams is taking nothing for granted despite his Glendale Raptors team heading into the inaugural Major League Rugby championships final as firm favourites.

Rugby union in the United States is enjoying a much deserved period in the sporting spotlight thanks to recent U.S. Eagles wins over Scotland and Canada, as well as the success of the Sevens team.

Now, the domestic game gets its chance to prove that MLR really is here to stay. Saturday's final between Glendale and the Seattle Seahawks, held at Torero Stadium, San Diego, will be broadcast live across the U.S., helping the sport make significant strides domestically.

Williams' Glendale beat Seattle in both regular season matches and, having dispatched the Utah Warriors 34-21 in the playoff semifinals, the Colorado-based outfit are looking good for the title.

"We come from a winning culture but this is a brand new league in its first season and it is about us performing on the day," Williams said. "We have a lot of senior players in the team with lots of experience and we will talk about not being complacent.

"This will be a very physical game of rugby between the top two teams and that is just what we want. We lost our last regular season game [against San Diego, 5-23] and it was a wake-up call for us. We got a lot of things wrong that week but we put it right in the semifinal. We realise we cannot win games by just turning up."

Williams was born in England but has been living in the U.S. for 18 years. His love of rugby has taken him all over the country, including a spell with the Boston Irish Wolfhounds and key roles within the national team. He started out with the Glendale Raptors organisation as a strength, skills and conditioning coach in 2011 and is now thoroughly enjoying the head coach role.

"There is an awesome feel-good factor around rugby union in the U.S.," Williams said. "The final is also important as we try to drive the product here in the States."

For Williams, the first season of MLR has been encouraging. With expansion plans already in place, there is a real opportunity to create something that will offer home grown players a regular salary while playing the game they love on home soil.

Glendale, who are based at their purpose-built rugby centre at Infinity Park, have set the standards on and off the pitch for club rugby in the country -- six Raptors players were in the Eagles' squad for their win over Scotland in June -- and a first MLR title would confirm this position.

"We are at a stage where we can really see growth, particularly with the television coverage we are getting," Williams added. "The exposure can only lead to bigger and better things. The big question is, can we keep this progression going? Are the Sevens boys going to do well in the World Cup in San Francisco? And will MLR really take off with a bang next season leading into the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year?"

Williams travelled to England to spend time with leading Premiership clubs, including Bath, before the MLR season started in April. Staff from the West Country club have in turn recently flown to America to see what they can learn from the best sporting franchises in Colorado.

"Going to a club like Bath was great and it gave credibility to what we are doing at Glendale. I am not being arrogant but we are very happy with the way we prepare our players and the structures we have in place. Clubs see our facilities and recognise we have what is needed to be a success.

"It's all about improving the skills of the players in a full-time environment."