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NFL-linked American rugby group plans to hire star players

A new American rugby union competition linked to the NFL is aiming to shake up the sport by hiring star players and adjusting the game’s rules to ‘Americanise’ it.

The National Rugby Football League (NRFL), which has ties to American football’s NFL, is to be launched in 2022, with a salary cap equivalent to the £7m (€8m/$13.3m) ceiling in England’s Premiership Rugby.

Designed to fill the gap during the NFL’s off-season, the eight-team NRFL would run from April to July. “Our ambition is to be the biggest league in the world,” Michael Clements, the NRFL commissioner, told UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph.

The NRFL has already established a relationship with leading rugby agent Hilton Houghton, who represents South Africa captain Siya Kolisi and several other Springbok stars.

“They want to make it the Hollywood of rugby…This won’t be a dumping ground for international players. It will be more like the IPL with a sprinkling of stardust on top of largely domestic squads,” Houghton said.

Among the league’s backers is the NFL Alumni, an association for retired American football players. The league plans to bring in crossover athletes from the NFL, and to adjust several laws to increase its appeal for American audiences.

“To truly reinvigorate the game means modifying the laws so we can Americanise it,” Steve Ryan, the league’s managing director, said.