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The United States government has been shut down for just over a month, and the ripple effect has reached a number of Major League Rugby teams. With the season kicking off Saturday, some are still waiting for the visas of overseas players to be approved, and a visa issue has caused a last-second coaching change for the defending champions.
For the second year in a row, the Seattle Seawolves have seen their first-choice head coach fail to get a visa. Anton Moolman was announced as Seattle’s head man in October, but the South African’s visa didn’t come through, and former head coach of the women’s 7s national team Richie Walker has taken the reins. Walker is a longtime Atavus coach, and he led the San Diego Old Aztecs prior to the Eagle women.
Before the inaugural season, Seattle announced Canadian Tony Healy as its head coach. His visa was denied as well, prompting the Seawolves to tab Phil Mack player/coach. He led them to the championship, earning coach of the year honors. Healy filed suit with the Seawolves in an attempt to recoup wages lost when he left his job to join the team.
In Houston, a handful of overseas players are waiting for their paperwork to be approved. Austin has also been waiting. In New York, Ben Foden was the last player to get the okay. His ballyhooed signing was announced in July, and he just arrived in New York last week.
The timing of the hiccup is compounded by its confluence with the Americas Rugby Championship. With teams losing domestic players to the USA and Canada for up to six weeks, the absence of foreign players leaves the cupboards relatively bare.