Round Two Preview
The first week of the much-anticipated 2021 MLR season did not disappoint in Week One. The weekend was filled with back-and-forth score lines, upsets, and in one match 80 minutes was not long enough to determine a winner. Contenders were put on notice. New teams on the block struck first.
Will last week prove to be an aberration? Or is there change brewing across the league? Read along to find out.
Rugby United New York @ NOLA Gold
Saturday 4 p.m. EST on The Rugby Network
NY escaped its first match with a victory over a serious contender in the San Diego Legion. NOLA came out of the gate as expected — fast and furious — but couldn’t outrun the clock as it had to settle for a draw against Old Glory. Both teams enter Week Two with an incomplete grade.
New York deserves credit for the win over 2020’s top team, but the play from both sides was very sloppy. Certainly the windy conditions had something to do with that. NOLA looked explosive and crisp in many phases, but was turned over in the loose time and again. It felt like a dozen try-scoring opportunities went begging inside its attacking five meter line against Old Glory.
This match is as tough to predict as any this weekend. The pick went against both last weekend, so it stands to reason neither should want to be penciled in as the winner this time around. Sorry NOLA. The prediction goes to the Gold outlasting NY in a thriller, 31-28.
Rugby ATL @ Old Glory DC
Saturday 5 p.m. EST on The Rugby Network
Old Glory and ATL have become quite familiar with one another considering they are still toddlers in the MLR. Including preseason, this will be their third match in a little over a year. The boys from DC won a nailbiter, 31-29 the last time around in each team’s final match before the shutdown.
This is a classic offense-defense matchup of Eastern Conference foes. Rugby ATL played 69 minutes of shutout ball against a Toronto Arrows team that was as explosive as any in 2020. Old Glory will be hungry after the unsatisfactory draw against NOLA Gold. You can bet coach Andrew Douglas will see to it that his boys have improved in the lineout department, a phase that really let the team down in Week One.
While it’s believed Thretton Palamo will be back out there Saturday, Old Glory was dealt a huge blow this week when the results on fly half Jason Robertson’s thumb came back and confirmed a break.
The loss of MLR’s leading scorer in 2020 proves Old Glory’s undoing as ATL has its vengeance, 24-20.
New England Free Jacks @ Houston Sabercats
Saturday 8 p.m. EST on The Rugby Network
The ‘Cats looked much improved in a thrilling Week One victory over Seattle. New England looked dangerous in spurts, but were overmatched versus the LA Giltinis. LA was able to play with fast hands and space out wide, a tactic that Houston can emulate in its own right. With Zach Pangelinan, Sam Windsor, and Matt Freyre — all of whom found the scoreboard a week ago — this team has plenty of speed and pace.
New England will look to put 80 minutes together and keep players out of the bin. After keeping it to 21-17 early in the second half, the Free Jacks’ third card — at 20-minute red card to John Poland — proved its undoing.
Expect the cards to subside, and Beaudein Waaka to build on an impressive debut. However, recovering physically from the first rugby in a year, coupled with back-to-back road matches to open the season proves too much to overcome. Houston wins it, 27-24.
Toronto Arrows @ Utah Warriors
Saturday 9 p.m. EST on FS2 in North America
Overseas fans can watch on The Rugby Network.
Utah held off a game Austin team while Toronto dropped a tough one to Rugby ATL in Week One. Toronto doubled up Utah on the scoreboard the last time these two teams played, almost a year ago exactly. Utah has some fresh faces with plenty of USA caps between them, while Toronto seemed to be missing its offensive identity versus ATL. It stands to reason, as it was its first without Dan Moor and Sam Malcolm, huge pieces of the 2020 attack.
The turnover, the travel, and the motivated Utah squad pile up to make it too much for the Arrows. Utah holds home serve, 26-21.
San Diego Legion @ Austin Gilgronis
Sunday 8 p.m. EST on The Rugby Network
Both of these teams can look back at Week One as games that slipped away. Legion held a number of leads but ultimately dropped the match to RUNY. Austin came up short on a deep penalty kick that would have won it at the death.
The Legion looked disjointed in a sloppy affair that was definitely impacted by strong winds throughout, but surely also rust from the long layoff. Austin looked improved but ultimately took another “L.” Both teams will be hungry heading into this one.
Better conditions and a match played after the layoff get the Legion back on track, 35-30.
Seattle Seawolves @ LA Giltinis
Sunday 8:30 p.m. EST on The Rugby Network
The league’s two-time and only champion Seattle Seawolves are now 1-5 in its last six matches. LA sizzled on debut on Saturday. It’s early and this will not be popular press in the northwest, but this feels like a changing of the guard game in the Western Conference, though Seattle’s mid-week addition of Samu Manoa should not be discounted.
Other teams clicked in phases but only LA impressed for a full 80, a performance that earned the Giltinis the lone double-digit win in Week One. The good times roll in LA, 38-24.
Written by Joe Harvey | Photo by David Becker When Dylan Audsley
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