MLR Updates – November 2020

*Cole Davis, DTH, Jeff Hassler Sign with MLR Clubs Linked by Ownership and Cocktails*

Only in 2020 you say? Three of Canada’s top backline players, Cole Davis, DTH and Jeff Hassler have signed with sister clubs Austin Gilgronis and LA Giltinis. Cole Davis and Jeff Hassler are going with Gilgronis and DTH to Giltinis. Both teams are owned by the Loyals Rugby Group out of Australia. The terms Gilgronis and Giltinis are trademarks owned by the Giltini Group LLC of Australia. In case other MLR teams come up for sale, they also own the trademark on Gilacolada, Gilgarita and Gilpolitan.

DTH at 34 has already announced his retirement from international rugby, LA will provide some proximity to Canada while enjoying the LA lifestyle and weather. Jeff Hassler had played with the Seattle Seawolves before joining fellow Canadian Moe Abdelmonem at Austin. Hassler at age 28 still has time left in his international career although he had taken time off for travel prior to the 2019 World Cup. Both Hassler and DTH were named the starting wings for Canada in Canada’s final 2019 World Cup match versus Namibia, unfortunately that match never took place due to extreme weather conditions in Japan.

Cole Davis may be the biggest surprise, at 23 years of age he was a key member of the Canada 7s team looking towards the Olympics in 2021. An extended injury had kept him out of the lineup during the latter part of 2020 season but he was a rising star in the Canada 7s group. How this signing affects that future remains to be seen.

At any rate, we raise a glass to three talented Canadians looking to advance their rugby careers south of the border, we’ll toast you with a dram of single malt Gilwhisky (trademark pending).


AUSTIN, TX (November 19, 2020) Austin Gilgronis is thrilled to announce the signing of Canadian speedster, Cole Davis. Davis is capped for both the Canadian International 15s side and 7s World Series squad, he looks to make an instant impact in the AG’s deep winger stable.

“I’m looking to come over and win, make an impact and just play my role,” says Davis. “Winning it all would be huge, you don’t go to a new team without high expectations, so the onus is on us to put ourselves in the running, win games, make the playoffs, and have a run at the title.”

Davis is excited to chase a championship alongside a handful of Canadian teammates down in Austin. He gets coffee once a week with fellow AG signed Canadian winger, Jeff Hassler. Hassler played a role in influencing Davis’ decision to join Austin, as did AG flanker and fellow Canadian Moe Abdelmonem.

“Moe [Abdelmonem] has been down in Austin a couple of years, but I talked with him quite a bit before I signed with Austin actually,” says Davis. “He said he loved Austin and that the team went through a tough spot a couple of seasons back but that he had a lot of belief in the new group and that influenced my decision a lot.”

Sam Harris is loving the depth he’s now got at wing; pairing newcomers Jeff Hassler and Cole Davis with incumbents Rodrick Waters and Frank Halai. Harris loves what Davis brings to the unit, “Cole brings a big, fast and powerful body, and he has a big motor, which means a huge work rate off the ball – constantly looking for holes or mismatches; defensively he’s very confident in his read and tackle effectiveness.”

AG’s head coach Sam Harris also acknowledges there will certainly be a Canadian flare in the AG roster this season with three international-level additions to his roster in Jeff Hassler, Cole Davis join Moe Abdelmonem in Austin with one Canadian addition to be announced, “with four Canadians in the squad, there is a bit of a pipeline forming to Texas; what all four players bring is an international experience.”

Davis hopes to represent Canada in the next World Cup and is still able to represent Canada while playing in the United States for the AGs. Davis sought guidance from Rob Howley and other RugbyCanada officials, “I talked to the national body and coaches before making my decision and they said ‘of course, we want you to play at the highest level no matter where that is and we’re happy to support that,’ so Canada is definitely still a possibility for me.”

Australian Connection

Cole Davis grew up playing hockey in a small town in Alberta and dreamed of being a professional athlete on the ice. In tenth grade, he found rugby, a sport that would not only deliver him his professional athlete opportunity but set Davis on a journey traveling the world. After high school, Davis jumped at an opportunity to ship off to Australia to compete in the Brumbies academy. Davis was immersed in Australian rugby culture and fell deeper in love with the game and the grind. After a year of training with the academy, he earned selection into the Brumbies Under 20 squad, which then caught RugbyCanada’s eye and led the international team to bring the now evolved winger back to compete for country in both 7s and 15s.

Little did Davis know, a few years later it would be the Aussies that would come through for him once again. Amidst AG’s head coach Sam Harris’ vetting process, it was Davis’ former Brumbies coaches that would put in a good word for the hungry Canadian wing. “It was Cole’s 15s tape that caught my eye, but I also have friends that previously coached Cole,” says Harris. “He comes with glowing recommendations and I am attracted to players that have a hunger for improvement, Cole has that.”

A couple of months ago, Cole Davis was fielding phone calls from a handful of MLR teams but it was Sam Harris and Mark Gerrard that sealed the deal on the phone.

“I talked with the two coaches Sam [Harris] and Mark [Gerrard] and I got a lot of belief in what they’re building and what they’ve told me about ownership and it was something I wanted to be a part of,” says Davis. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about the city of Austin and never heard anything bad, and I got the sense that the team that’s building here can do something really special this year.”

Welcome to the AGs, Cole Davis!


AUSTIN, TX (November 17, 2020) Austin Gilgronis is elated to announce the signing of the world-renowned winger, Jeff Hassler. Hassler raised the 2019 MLR Championship with the Seattle Seawolves and brings with him loads of international experience along with an exuberant personality.

“From the coaches’ opening pitch they’ve preached this mantra of having fun and enjoying not only playing rugby but this uniquely experiential city,” says Hassler. “That was exactly what I was looking for, and I think the team they’re building in Austin that’s made up of characters that are wanting to have a really memorable experience this season.”

Hassler scored 25 tries in 88 Pro14 appearances with the Ospreys from 2013 to 2018 and became a household name in Wales. His decision to not re-sign with the club following the 2018 season came as a surprise to many, but inside Hassler had lost a bit of passion for the game. “It started to feel like a job, and that’s never what sports were supposed to be for me,” says Hassler. “I think I was just ready for something new.”

A well-timed phone call from Canadian international teammate Phil Mack fell on open ears from Hassler. The Seattle Seawolves’ player-coach Mack lured in Hassler with a half promise, “Come play with me in Seattle and we’ll have a run at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and if it doesn’t work out we’ll hang em’ up.” Hassler signed on the dotted line, scored 8 tries in 16 Seawolves appearances, won the MLR Championship, and started all four matches for Canada at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

This offseason Hassler got another call from his agent. AGs head coach Sam Harris had expressed interest in Hassler. “I knew Austin had been in a bit of disarray the last couple seasons but in talking with some of the Canadian boys there was word that things were really getting turned around,” says Hassler. “I’ve been really liking the signings and the buzz around the team and I just can’t wait to get down to Austin.”

Sam Harris liked what he had heard from Hassler, “Jeff adds to the AGs weirdness with this alternative lifestyle and his wild spirit he’ll fit right into the city’s wavelength,” Harris laughs. “Jeff comes from a different angle, he’s a fierce competitor who can sniff out an opportunity and he’s a premier finisher.”

When asked if the head coach had purposefully signed flamboyant characters Harris countered, “Ok while it may appear that I have actively recruited characters, I actually just intentionally looked for good blokes that work hard and are hungry for success,” says Harris. “Fortunately a high percentage of these guys have charismatic personalities.”

Jeff Hassler is yet another unique personality to join the AGs, another Canadian in the club, and one more crossover athlete coming from the college football ranks. From 2008 to 2010, Hassler was a star running back for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team. Hassler turned down opportunities in the CFL to pursue rugby and found his way onto the Canadian national team just two years after making the switch. “I still love football and I give football a lot of credit for building some of the physical attributes I use as a rugby player today.” Hassler joins fellow former college football players turned rugby players Dominic Akina and Rodrick Waters and fellow Canadian Moe Abdelmonem on the AG roster.

Hassler hopes to win a championship in Austin, but more than anything he wants to make the most of his time exploring Texas. “Lifting that shield in Seattle was the first real championship I had ever won and if we can do it down in Austin it will be so sweet,” says Hassler. “But there are so many small victories to be had in Austin and for me, that’s what I’m looking forward to most.”

Hassler loves to explore, whether it’s hiking, sailing, scuba diving, bungee jumping or flying. Well Jeff, you’re in the right place.

Welcome to the AGs, Jeff Hassler!


The LA Giltinis will tap into the vast international experience of Canadian high-performer DTH van der Merwe after signing the 61-Test standout for two years.

Today’s announcement is a huge boost to the new Major League Rugby club because he offers proven class, leadership and stability ahead of the season kick-off in March.

Van der Merwe, 34, will be one of the best credentialed North American talents in MLR with his pedigree of four Rugby World Cups and stints at four top clubs in the United Kingdom.

One of Canada’s all time great winger-centre proved a prolific try-scorer (38) over a 13-year Test career (2006-19).

Van der Merwe is excited to be part of MLR’s expansion and the significant role the Giltinis can play in the growth of United States and Canadian rugby.

“It’s a wonderful and rare opportunity to be part of a brand-new franchise where you help set the mottos, the goals, the way the team is run and how high it flies,” van der Merwe said.

“I only see big benefits for Canadian and US rugby because, in the years down the line, kids at school will be looking at the Giltinis and MLR players with the thought, ‘I want to be like them’.

“Personally, I’m really buzzing to play in the sun in a city so fanatical about sports because Los Angeles was the only place I wanted to be being so close to home in Canada.”

In March, van der Merwe finished a decorated career with Scotland’s Glasgow Warriors where he set the all-time try-scoring record (54 in 123 appearances) with his pace and evasive running.

He won two PRO12 titles with the Warriors (2014-15) and Welsh club Scarlets (2016-17) so the finisher knows what a winning culture looks like.

“I was part of the Glasgow Warriors in the early years and when they built into a team that sold out their stadium and had sponsors queueing,” van der Merwe said.

“(Head coach) Darren Coleman speaks with that same passion and vision for the Giltinis and it’s exciting we can set up strongly and benefit future generations.

“To now be a part of MLR, I can hopefully help lay a bit of a path for young North American players into the future.”

A tune-up at the World Tens in Bermuda (in October-November) was perfect after a longer than expected break, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Father-of-three van der Merwe will be refreshed when he hits MLR.

“DTH was one of the first players on the radar for the Giltinis and the introduction came through a mutual friend from my time in Canada coaching in Calgary,” coach Coleman said.

“He has been Canada’s premier back for years and I’m really excited to have him part of the new franchise.

“He’s a genuine athlete, fast, agile and aggressive, and he’ll be a great mentor for younger backs in our squad.”

The Giltinis will kick off their MLR campaign on the weekend of March 20, 2021, with tickets being available by the end of this year.

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