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January 31, 2015

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Vegas rugby club enters into player agreement with French pro team


Las Vegas Rugby LLC

Seta Tuilevuka dons the jersey of French rugby club Montpellier during a press conference announcing his signing with the team on May 13, 2010.

Seta Tuilevuka has parlayed his success with the Las Vegas Blackjacks amateur rugby team into a roster spot with a professional club team in France.

He might not be the lone local making the move.

The 28-year-old Tuilevuka, a native of Fiji, signed a one-year deal this week with Montpellier Rugby Club in France. The club recently entered into a developmental contract with the Blackjacks that will see the clubs exchange players regularly.

Montpellier will send young French players to sharpen their skills in the U.S. during France's offseason, while giving talented amateur players on the Blackjacks the opportunity to play top-level professional rugby.

"We're hoping it's a win-win for both teams so they can get great professional athletes and we get players that can help build us into the top team in the country," said Rob Cornelius, the president of the Las Vegas Blackjacks.

Montpellier team captain Fulgence Ouedrago was equally optimistic about the arrangement.

"I am really excited about this partnership and happy that Seta is going to join the team next year," Ouedrago said through a translator during a press conference at the Palms to discuss the arrangement.

"It's going to be a great experience for Seta, and we will try to make it a good experience for him."

Cornelius said it is rare for a player from the United States to sign oversees without playing for the United States national team. But that is what makes the agreement so unique.

"This will definitely change my life," Tuilevuka said. "I've heard so much about France, Paris, the Eiffel Tower. These are things I've only heard of and seen on TV, and now I'm going to experience it."

The deal was partially orchestrated by Herve Mazzocco, a retired veteran of European club rugby who saw Tuilevuka's potential. Mazzocco is one of the sport's biggest supporters in town, serving as the Chief Financial Officer for Las Vegas Rugby, a group which promotes the sport in Southern Nevada.

"What I really liked about Montpellier was, where other teams with massive budgets just go and pick the best players left and right, they have a different approach where they like to take raw talent and mold them into great professional rugby players," Mazzocco said.

While most professional European clubs with deep pockets look to countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia for rugby talent, Montpellier was willing to partner with the Blackjacks in an unlikely alliance.

"What they saw is that there's probably the biggest talent base in the world in this country because of the high school and collegiate sports system," Mazzocco said. "This country creates fantastic athletes. Do they all make it to the NFL and NBA? No, so now they recognize there's a talent base that is probably untapped."

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