Photo by Craig Boudreaux
A week after the tightest of finishes defined MLR’s 2021 debut weekend, a few teams distanced themselves from their opposition. A couple of others required dramatic second-half comebacks to secure victory. Who are the emerging contenders, and who still has work to do as we exit the second week of the season? Read along to find out.
New Orleans Blitzes New York En Route to Convincing Victory
NOLA Gold that came out on top of this East-West clash 51-28. RUNY had a clear plan to get the ball wide against the home team, a strategy that worked in spurts but ultimately was its undoing.
In what became a trend throughout the match, wing Jojo Tikosuiva picked off a skip pass from #4 Nate Brakely and took it between the posts for an early 7-0 lead. With the lead in hand NOLA went for points at the next opportunity, a noted change in strategy from the previous week.
The boot of fullback Carl Meyer was good and Gold was up 10-0 just seven minutes in. New Orleans played hard and fast defense, but it came with ill-discipline and penalty after penalty to help RUNY march down the field. The visitors took advantage with an attacking lineout and Ben Foden was free soon after — though perhaps with a little help from a friend.
NOLA would soon have a man sent to the bin for repeated infringements, but playing 14 on 15 proved to be no issue. The speedy Gold attack saw a high desperation tackle from New York earn a penalty try and yellow card of its own. NOLA came right back down the field soon after and got on the front foot with a scrum and eight-take for big Cam Dolan, who bowled over his fellow USA loosie Hanco Germishuys to help put his team up 24-7 just 21 minutes into the match.
New York had plenty of fight left in it though, and scored back-to-back tries before halftime to make it 24-21. Another Meyer PK put NOLA up 26-21 at the break.
Five minutes into the second half Tikoisuva started the frame as he did the first with an intercept-try. RUNY came right back as big impact sub Ben Bonasso made an immediate break to bring his squad back to 32-28.
That was as close as the visitors got, however as it was all Gold from there. NOLA ended the match on a 19-0 run to make the final line 51-28 as Tikoisuva finished off a hat trick for a banner day in the speedy wing’s career.
Old Glory Reserves Power DC to Comeback Victory
Old Glory debuted its home pitch at Segra Field with a comeback victory to thrill the home faithful. Injuries and adjustments saw an entirely new backline from a week ago and Old Glory sputtered in the first half. Rugby ATL pressured Old Glory for the entirety of the stand and seemed to have complete control of the match, up 16-6 at the break.
Tustiala called his own name just moments later to notch his third try in two matches and flip the script, putting Old Glory on top 20-16 and delivering momentum to the home team. The speedy scrummy found the posts at 60’, then big lock Api Naikatini delivered the decisive blow with a try that put Old Glory up two converted scores, 30-16 with just seven minutes to go.
ATL finally found its second-half offense two minutes later with big lock Johan Momsen’s second long, lumbering break in as many weeks setting his team up for the much-needed try. The conversion made for a suspenseful final five minutes, but Old Glory’s defense held and avoided a second consecutive draw for the 30-23 victory.
With USA coach Gary Gold in attendance, Fa’anana-Schultz and Man of the Match Mikey Sosenei-Feagai raised their hands all the way up as the eyed spots in the 2023 World Cup player pool.
‘Cats Flat as New England Bullies its Way to Victory
The New England Free Jacks saw cards aplenty for the second consecutive week. But even a two-man advantage for nearly ten minutes in the first half was not enough to get the Houston Sabercats going in a shutout loss. The Free Jacks struck just a minute into the match and that proved to be the only points scored in a sloppy first forty minutes for both teams.
New England got it rolling in the second half, while the aggressive Free Jacks’ defense left Houston lifeless in response. Fullback Dougie Fife got the scoring started with a beautiful bit of magic from the boots of the Free Jacks. Fife saw a gap in the Houston defense and called for the chip from outside center Poasa Waqanibau. Waqanibau delivered, and Fife played a bit of soccer to keep the ball from going into touch, then dove on the pill in the try zone for the impressive try.
New England was playing for bonus tries and point differential after that as it secured the 32-0 road victory and evened its record on the season to 1-1.
Utah Puts Toronto Away in Second Half to Secure Victory
A close game early on saw Utah take control and defend home with an impressive 39-24 victory that made the team 2-0 after two weeks of action.
The match started with a battle of penalty kicks as Utah’s #10 Hagen Schulte notched two before Toronto answered to make it 6-3. That score held until 31’ when the big boot of Schulte put Utah in attacking territory with a lineout at the Arrows’ five meter line. The Warriors executed and hooker Samu Malolo notched the first try of the game.
Utah won the scrum battle throughout the day and made it look easy in powering Toronto over moments before the halftime break. Schulte took the penalty advantage to boot Utah down once again, and this time it was flanker Lance Williams who benefitted with the try after the powerful Warriors’ maul. Heading into the break it was all Utah, 20-3.
Utah was first to strike after the break as Malolo made a big break, nearly scoring from 35 meters out. A couple quick phases gave him another opportunity at the back of the ruck, and he picked to notch his second try of the game.
Toronto did hit back with consecutive tries to close the gap, 27-17 with plenty of time to play. However, Mikey Te’o crashed across the line at 62’, and that wrapped things up for Utah, as it finished off the 39-24 victory.
San Diego Returns from the Dead to Steal Victory from Austin
The favored San Diego Legion squad was staring an 0-2 start in the face. The 2019 season’s runner-up and 2020’s lone undefeated team had yet to score a point 60 minutes in. Things looked bleak for the Legion, down 11-0 heading into the final stand. That’s when the Legion’s big-game experience came through and it showed its championship mettle.
Big Travis Larsen — an Austin Elite player in 2019 — barreled across the line at 62’ to deliver the Legion’s first points of the match, and the successful conversion made it 11-7. Now 70 minutes in, a wild sequence decided the game and could have significant ramifications as the season wears on.
With Austin attacking deep in San Diego territory the Gilgronis looked to end the match with a decisive try , but Dylan Audsley ripped the ball from his fellow Eagle Will Magie. The Legion tried to play it out of space on the short side when reserve prop Faka’osi Pifeleti made the bizarre decision to try to kick through the Austin defense. The ball found Gilgronis hands and Mack Mason instantly went into attack mode with a kick of his own over the defense.
That was recovered by Ryan Matyas who had nothing but green grass in front of him. A shoestring tackle brought him into touch though and the ball went back to Austin, still in attacking territory.
San Diego took the lineout off an overthrow, and this time made serious strides and flipped the field all the way to the Austin seven meter line. A pop off the deck from Joe Pietesen found scrummy Carlo de Nysschen, who dummied and found the gap to give San Diego its first lead with just seven minutes left in the game.
It was tense until the final whistle, but the Legion held and evened its record to 1-1. A heartbroken Austin side drops to 0-2, with just five combined points separating the team from victory in the first two weeks of the season.
LA Signals Its Arrival with Blowout Win Over Seattle
One week after an impressive win over the New England Free Jacks the LA Giltinis completely dismantled a proud Seattle Seawolves side.
LA found itself in attacking territory just two minutes into this match and did not hesitate to execute with a maul that sent hooker Mahe Vailanu into paydirt. It took only another two minutes for the Giltinis to see a similar situation, and this time a little bit of creativity saw big lock Luke White crash across the line.
Scrum half Harrison Goddard was next up to score, then Riekert Hattingh notched a much-needed try for Seattle near the 20-minute mark. However, the relentless LA attack put this one out of hand before halftime as three unanswered tries made it 38-7 heading into the break.
The margin got as big as 50-7 before Seattle found some offense and got the game as close as 50-26. There would be no dramatic comeback on this day however, as LA finished the night with a 57-26 victory.