Two players loaned to Anthem R.C.

Ivan Pula (left) Junior Gafa (right)

On January 19th 2024, World Rugby, USA Rugby and Major League Rugby announced that there would be a “strategic partnership to launch a new MLR expansion club in Charlotte, North Carolina, named Anthem Rugby Carolina (RC)”. 

The new organization is to be operated as a partnership between the three governing bodies. “The launch of Anthem R.C. is a game-changer in this shared journey to grow and enhance the game of rugby in the US, offering a clear pathway for player development and greater opportunity for USA Rugby as North America gears up for the Rugby World Cup,” said Nic Benson, CEO of MLR.

This new development pathway within the MLR means more opportunities for USA eligible players across the league. Anthem’s inaugural roster features many players from other MLR franchises, including the Free Jacks who loan two players, Ivan Pula and Junior Gafa for the 2024 season or a period thereof.

Ivan Pula (prop) was drafted in the 2022 MLR Collegiate draft, and subsequently spent the 2023 MLR season as a contracted player with the Free Jacks, with the exception of a short loan period to the USA Hawks (USA rugby’s development side), playing matches against South American teams. Ivan, originally from Yelm Washington represented the USA selects in 2021 on a tour to Uruguay where he caught the eye of the Free Jacks coaches.

“Ivan paved the way for the loan model last year – utilizing the game time available through a short term loan to the Hawks to make significant shifts in his game and physical development,” said Tom Kindley, Free Jacks General Manager. The opportunity for Ivan to get regular game-time is vital for his development, this year he will get the opportunity to compete for regular game-time at MLR level as a developing American Prop.” 

Junior Gafa was drafted in the 2023 Collegiate draft from Brown University and will spend a period of the 2024 MLR season with the Charlotte Anthem. Before joining the Free Jacks in 2023, Junior Gafa was a 4 year member of Brown University football team and senior year captain, testament to his athletic ability. 

“Junior and Ivan are both athletes with significant long term potential. This arrangement with the Anthem provides an opportunity for the players to accrue MLR playing experience, and return to us further along the development process than they would have been with less certain playing opportunities in our environment. Young American players need to play to develop their trade so it is a great scenario for everyone.”

Both players are expected to return to the Free Jacks in the near future and we wish them all the best as they take on a new challenge in North Carolina.

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