The first-ever North American professional rugby union league will be launched in the United States in April 2016, it has been announced.
The league, run by PRO Rugby, has been sanctioned by both World Rugby and USA Rugby and will initially feature six American teams from the north-east, California and the Rocky Mountains regions, before Canadian sides will be permitted to enter the following year.
Exact locations of the teams and details of who will coach the respective sides are due to be announced soon.
Each team will be allowed no more than five North American players, opening up the possibility of foreign exports playing in the league.
The teams will play 10 regular-season games each between April and July and the schedule will accommodate the United States national team’s Test matches, usually scheduled for June.
“We welcome North American teams into the international rugby family,” World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said.
“With PRO Rugby in place, US and Canadian players will be able to train year round and play in elite competition, something that has been sorely missing from rugby development in North America.”
The launch of the PRO Rugby league comes after the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup, where the United States lost all four of their Pool B matches to Samoa, Scotland, South Africa and Japan.
Their 64-0 defeat at the hands of the South Africans was the heaviest losing margin of the tournament.
North American counterparts Canada also struggled, finishing bottom of Pool D having been beaten by Romania, Italy, France and Ireland.
“As the fastest growing team sport in the USA, it is the time to have a sanctioned professional competition,” USA Rugby chairman Bob Latham said.
“We are very happy to partner with PRO Rugby in taking this step to popularise the game, to inspire Americans to fall in love with rugby, and to show the rugby world what American players can do.”
The sport is growing in popularity in the nation and PRO Rugby chief executive Doug Schoninger described rugby as "a natural fit for our country".
“Participation and interest in the sport is at an all-time high and the demand for a professional competition is clear,” he added.
The PRO Rugby league isn’t the first venture of the sport into the region as a National Rugby Football League was founded in 2014 and was due to be launched with a match against Leicester Tigers, who play in England’s top-tier club competition the Aviva Premiership, in August of this year.
But the league failed to apply for USA Rugby sanctioning and the match was subsequently cancelled.
An English Premiership match between London Irish and Saracens will take place in New York City on March 12.
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