Major League Rugby: All you need to know about U.S. rugby's newest competition

MLR will kick off with the clash between Houston SaberCats, black, and New Orleans Gold, white, at Dyer Stadium Saturday. Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Club rugby's newest competition will get underway on Saturday when the Houston SaberCats host New Orleans Gold at Dyer Stadium.

Both teams will be looking for a winning start to life in Major League Rugby (MLR) as they embark on a 12-week season that they hope will end in triumph.

As the players finalise their preparations for the big kick-off, ESPN takes a closer look at the tournament to uncover what fans can expect from MLR's debut campaign.

If you live in the United States, you can watch live MLR on ESPN+.

What is Major League Rugby?

MLR is the latest attempt to professionalise rugby union in the United States. The league was formed by existing clubs and business people already involved in the sport.

It is hoped that by building on existing infrastructure the competition will be able to help grow the sport in the U.S. by creating a long-term sustainable model.

As part of that plan, the league will use what it describes as "grassroots marketing efforts" to grow the game in local rugby communities.

How many teams will compete?

For its inaugural season MLR consists of seven teams -- Austin Elite Rugby, Glendale Raptors, Houston SaberCats, NOLA Gold, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and the Utah Warriors.

Plans are already in place to expand the league, with Rugby United New York (RUNY) confirmed to join MLR in 2019. RUNY have already competed in exhibition matches this year to give fans a taste of what to expect when the club becomes a full member of the competition.

The new team should be joined by at least one more new club next year, too, with the Dallas Griffins -- whose coaching panel includes former Bath boss Mike Ford -- and the Ontario Arrows both pushing for inclusion.

How will the champions be crowned?

The seven teams will battle it out over a 10-week regular season before a semifinal stage is held on Saturday, June 30.

Seven days later the inaugural MLR Championship game will be played, with the winner taking home the first ever title.

Players you should look out for

Takudzwa Ngwenya is the undoubted star of this year's MLR. The former Biarritz and Brive wing, who shot to fame at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, will line up for San Diego Legion.

Ngwenya has been joined in Southern California by fellow U.S. internationals Nate Augspurger -- who captained the Eagles to Americas Rugby Championship victory earlier this year -- Mike Te'o and Cam Dolan.

Houston's hopes will rest rather firmly on the shoulders of Olympic gold medal-winning Fiji centre Osea Kolinisau, who has enjoyed a glittering Sevens career.

Tongan international Fetuʻu Vainikolo, meanwhile, will play for the Utah Warriors alongside former NFL player and U.S. international Paul Lasike.