Round Eight Recap
Every week provides fresh storylines across the league, and Week 8 may was the most exhilarating yet. LA is undefeated no more, Utah and Toronto needed extra time to finish their wins, and every game was decided by a single possession. Read along to catch up.
NOLA Gold Holds on for Another Tight Victory
Saturday provided yet another gut wrenching win for NOLA over Houston at the Gold Mine, home to perhaps the most dramatic team in the league. Someone up Coach Osborne’s blood pressure medication.
After some early sustained phase play was aided by a penalty, NOLA executed its lineout and maul to perfection, drove across the try line and notched the game’s first points five minutes in. Houston came back with two penalty kicks, then the New Orleans maul came into play again to deliver the home team’s second try.
NOLA used its lineout to attack again, this time with the score coming in a bit looser play. New Orleans connected and tossed the ball off the top of its lineout, fly half Timothee Guillimin found space and offloaded to Julian Dominguez who took it inches from the try line. NOLA received a penalty try as Houston tried to slow the ball down, and found itself up 21-6 23 minutes into the match before Sam Windsor slotted his third penalty kick a few minutes later.
New Orleans seemed like it might actually make an easy day for itself, but the defense broke just before halftime. Houston had a scrum from its own 22, found wing Paula Balekana, who exploded down the sideline, offloaded to Nick Boyer, and Boyer took it the rest of the way for the five-pointer just before the break.
The 21-14 advantage held for New Orleans 20 minutes into the second stand before Balekana did what he has done so many times for his squad and notched a try to close the gap after a great build up off the set piece. Windsor’s conversion knotted things up as the game headed into its final frame.
Balekana struck again at 70’, found space and executed with a beautiful little chip kick. Boyer recovered and flipped it back to the Fijian for the score in the corner to give his team its first lead of the match, 26-21.
New Orleans calmly regrouped and was quickly in attacking territory inside Houston’s 10 meter line. Number 8 Cam Dolan quick-tapped, got the ball within two meters from line, and a couple of picks later the Gold tied the match. The conversion was good, and New Orleans held on for the final moments for yet another nail biter of a victory.
The bonus point puts the Gold on top of the East as we near the halfway mark, 24 league points to 23 over New York. NOLA will hit the road to visit struggling San Diego Saturday night.
New England Snaps Austin Win Streak with 22-18 Victory
The New England Free Jacks overcame Austin’s stout defense to secure an important victory Saturday night. After nine minutes of trading blows, the Gilgronis were camped deep inside New England territory and eventually found wing Conner Mooneyham, who raced down the sideline and dotted down in the corner.
Austin added a couple of penalty kicks and looked like it might cruise to a two-possession lead at halftime. New England scrum half John Poland had other thoughts and found space off the lineout, delivered to wing Harry Barlow who dotted down and cut the gap to 11-5 heading into the break.
Austin again looked like it might take control of things early in the second when scummy Pele Crowley took advantage of a New England man in the bin and scored to extend his team’s lead at 46’. The Free Jacks came right back with an Erich De Jager try to tighten things up 18-12.
This time it was Austin who had its man sent to the bin and New England who capitalized a moment later with a Wian Conradie try. The conversion was no good, and Austin held on to the slim one-point lead before New England struck yet again to snag the advantage with 12 to play.
The Gilgronis had little chance at a comeback as it had two men sent to the bin in the waning moments, giving the Free Jacks more than enough of an advantage to hang on to the 22-18 victory.
Rugby ATL Takes Inaugural Fire & Ice Cup
Days after announcing the Fire & Ice Cup — a token of the camaraderie and partnership that enabled Toronto to participate in this MLR season — Rugby ATL won a tight match over the Arrows to take the Cup and complete the season sweep.
Toronto got off on the wrong foot with an early yellow card, and Atlanta capitalized on the ensuing lineout and maul. The Arrows came right back though with a charge down and recovery for a try by lock Mike Sheppard, then struck back with a man still in the bin.
Rugby ATL regrouped and got the ball down in Toronto territory, setup with a 5 meter scrum that #8 Jason Damm took advantage of with a take and try. Mark O’Keefe, playing #12 this week, picked up a loose ball, broke a couple of tackles and outraced the defense to put his team up 19-14 just before halftime.
Atlanta took the momentum two minutes into the second stand with a well-executed maul off the lineout, drove across the try line and extended the lead to 26-14. Toronto wasted little time with the response via a chip, chase and offload to Gaston Mieres to make it a one-score game again, 26-19.
Toronto threatened again deep in Atlanta territory, took advantage of a miscommunication at the fringe of the ruck to score near the goalposts, and the Taylor Adams conversion tied the game up at 26 apiece with 17 minutes left to play. Adams was good again with the boot, this time from penalty range to put his team up in the final moments.
Now in stoppage time, Atlanta calmly executed its lineout, but the maul was well-defended by Toronto. It took a number of picks and crashes but 82 minutes into the match, Atlanta finally notched the decisive try to win the game. The win keeps Atlanta tied with New England at 21 league points, three behind East-leading NOLA.
Utah Shocks Old Glory to Steal Late Victory
It was a slow start but an explosive finish in Utah as the Warriors needed extra time to finish off Old Glory DC. The teams exchanged penalty kicks through the first 12 minutes before Josh Whippy picked off a DC pass and took it to the house for a 10-3 lead.
Old Glory didn’t waste much time in response when Thretton Palamo floated a huge skip pass out to Renata Roberts-Tenana. The wing then offloaded to Doug Fraser for the try in his first match back with the team after a knee injury. While the conversion was no good, fly half Jason Robertson atoned for his miss moments later by slotting a drop goal and putting his team up 11-10.
The teams traded tries throughout the next stand with a pick from Utah after some sustained play in DC territory, then Jamason Fa’anana Schulz made himself a human missile in response to fly across the line at 33’. Robertson’s conversion was good and the 18-17 lead held well into the second half. At 49’ the DC fly half floated a chip kick over the Utah line, caught by Robert-Tenana at pace to dot the ball down between the posts for a 25-17 lead.
Utah had new life at 56’ when Api Naikatini was issued a yellow card and the Warriors responded a phase later, receiving a penalty try from the ref when the maul was collapsed. Old Glory was up just a point when it notched a try of its own at 73’, but the conversion was missed from the left-hand has, giving the Warriors just enough life in the final moments.
Well into stoppage time now, Utah earned a scrum at DC’s five meter line and went to work. The home team methodically pounded away with its forwards before it found a streaking Mike Krusé who dotted down next the posts. Hagen Schulte’s conversion was good, and Utah won the match at 83’, 34-33.
The win moves Utah into second place in the Western Conference, while Old Glory has some catching up to do if it’s going to get out of the East’s cellar.
Rugby United New York Ends LA’s Undefeated Streak in Dramatic Fashion
The Los Angeles Giltinis trekked across the country with its undefeated record on the line versus New York. It was clear from the early going that LA would not run away with a victory as it had so many times this season.
What was billed as an offensive affair quickly turned into a defensive slugfest. It took 27 minutes for the game to get its first try when DTH van der merwe notched his league-leading eighth of the season. New York kept building throughout the match, striking slow and steady before taking a lead 51 minutes in with Dan Hollinshead’s fourth penalty kick of the match.
LA’s Luke Burton replied with a PK of his own moments later as the drama began to build, then it was Hollinshead again, 15-13 New York. Things looked bleak for the home team when Samu Tawake was pinged for a yellow card, setting Burton up at 70’ to give his team the lead again.
However, Kyle Sumsion, who had a huge day in relief of the injured Juan Manuel Leguizamon, put New York on the front foot and deep in LA territory. A desperation high tackle gave Hollinshead a shot at goal once again and he calmly slotted his sixth PK to make it 18-16 entering the final moments.
The stout New York defense held from there, and the Giltinis were undefeated no more. New York actually dropped in the standings in spite of the impressive victory as the team now stands a point behind NOLA Gold. LA still sits alone at the top of the table with 31 league points heading into its match versus second place Utah.
Sea Wall Rises in Victory over Rival
The Seattle Seawolves are looking more and more like the team that notched two MLR championships, and picked up its second win of the season by taking the rivalry match over San Diego.
The Seawolves steadily built a 10-0 lead in the first half before Cecil Afrika found Cole Zarcone for a much-needed Legion try just before halftime. San Diego got on the front foot in the second half and took a 15-10 lead when Cam Clark made a break and offloaded to his center mate Bjorn Basson.
Those were the final points for the visitors however, as Seattle came right back with a try in the corner from Suliasi Tamaivana. Fly half AJ Alatimu finished things off for the Seawolves with a couple of penalty kicks, and that was all Seattle needed as the defense held ground for the rest of the match.
Seattle will try to get out of last place in the league next week verus Old Glory, while San Diego tries to right the ship at home versus NOLA Gold.
We’re disappointed and saddened to announce the withdrawal of the New York
(Nov. 27, 2023) – Major League Rugby (MLR), which represents the highest
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Davey Wilson When Jayson Potroz
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