USA Rugby

Major League Rugby Week 2 Preview: Free Jacks Trying To Make It 14 Straight

Major League Rugby Week 2 Preview: Free Jacks Trying To Make It 14 Straight

With New England returning home this week as it puts its foot down for a repeat push, Chicago and Dallas will be looking to keep promising starts going.

Mar 9, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 2 Preview: Free Jacks Trying To Make It 14 Straight

After an offseason that featured its share of turbulence, it was well-needed and much-wanted for Major League Rugby to get back to playing matches and kick off its seventh season of play last weekend.

So, what did Week 1 tell us? That the United States’ top professional rugby league is as chaotic as ever.

The defending champion started its repeat bid strongly with a performance that continued a long winning streak dating back to 2023, whereas two clubs that have been stuck at, or near, the bottom of league standings for much of their histories stormed out of the gates and picked up victories. 

Week 2 likely will provide a clearer picture of who the true pretenders and contenders are, but it’s good to be back all the while — and it’s good to see who will step forward and make some noise in the MLR in 2024.

Here’s a look at Week 2 of the Major League Rugby season:

Free Jacks Still Can’t Be Stopped

The defending champions and current class of the MLR, the New England Free Jacks are on one of the best runs of form in league history, as their season-opening romp (46-13) on the road over debutant Anthem Rugby Carolina made it 13 straight match wins dating back to last season for coach Scott Mathie’s squad. 

Returning to Veterans Memorial Stadium in suburban Boston for its home opener Saturday against Eastern Conference rival Old Glory DC — who New England took down in last season’s conference final en route to its first MLR title — the Free Jacks will commemorate their inaugural league championship with a banner-raising ceremony before proceeding to play a match in a venue where they haven’t lost since the 2022 season. 

Fullback Reece MacDonald was named the MLR Player of the Week for the opening round after a brilliant display against Anthem RC, scoring a hat trick. He was a machine in the back line to help the Free Jacks spoil the expansion club’s first match, while center Ben LeSage also pitched in with a brace as one of five New England players who scored tries in the game as the team finished as Week 1’s top-scoring side. 

With six consecutive victories over Old Glory dating back to June 2021, the Free Jacks hold recent history over their East Coast adversary, too, giving it an added advantage at home in an already-tough place to win for visitors.

It’s good times in New England right now, and with home support this weekend, the home squad will be looking to only amplify the idea that it only has one goal in mind — a second consecutive MLR title, which would make it just the second club in league history (along with the Seattle Seawolves in the MLR’s first two seasons) to pull off the feat.

Will Dallas And Chicago Keep Winning?

From being the bottom teams in the Western Conference by a significant margin last season, to kicking off each of their 2024 campaigns with wins, the Dallas Jackals and Chicago Hounds both had encouraging performances in Week 1 that perhaps provided indications that each club is primed for a breakout season. 

The Jackals were particularly impressive in their season opener at Rugby FC Los Angeles, as the former Rugby ATL, having moved ship to southern California under new owners for the 2024 season, saw its first match in the City of Angels end with a surprising 32-29 victory for Dallas, which previously had only won two of the first 32 matches of its existence across the past two MLR seasons. 

Hooker Dewald Kotze scored a hat trick to see himself named to the MLR’s Team of the Week for the opening round, while fly-half Martin Elias showed off a reliable boot in the clutch, as his 78th-minute, go-ahead drop goal propelled the Jackals to a winning record for the first time in club history. 

They’ll host reigning MLR finalists, the San Diego Legion, in Week 2, whereas the Hounds will travel to the Utah Warriors after their own strong display on opening weekend against the first-year Miami Sharks, winning 23-19 in a rainy match in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that doubled as the first professional rugby game played in Florida. 

Flanker Mason Flesch made the MLR Team of the Week, anchoring a flying start for Chicago after a disappointing 3-13 year in its inaugural season in 2023. Two of those wins came against Dallas. 

And with 12 players making club debuts for the Hounds against the Sharks, including reigning MLR Back of the Year (with San Diego last season) Nate Augspurger, a new era of success very well could be on the horizon for the Windy City’s rugby club.

Which Rookie Wins First?

Miami, Anthem RC and Rugby FC Los Angeles all either played their first matches in club history or first matches in new locations this past weekend, though none were able to secure victories in Week 1. 

All three now face MLR originals in Week 2 as they each look for their elusive first wins of the season. 

Anthem, uniquely designed as the USA Rugby- and World Rugby-backed club’s primary purpose is to develop players for the United States' men’s national team, got a taste of what a top-tier MLR team can do in its opening match, when mighty New England romped over them in Charlotte. 

Its second match in club history now sees the group travel to New Orleans to face the Gold, who looked strong, especially in the second half, in an 18-6 win over Old Glory DC. 

Meanwhile, at Miami, whose rainy debut was spoiled by Chicago, the Sharks will be looking for brighter days and a first victory against one of the most established names in American rugby as they travel to Seattle. 

The Floridians — who feature Argentina stalwart Tomas Cubelli, ex-Wales international Rob Evans and plenty more talent in their ranks — bring a strong team on paper, with big backing from its Argentine owners, trying to produce some magic like their well-known countryman, Lionel Messi, has been doing nearby at MLS side Inter Miami. 

Rugby FC Los Angeles rounds out the trio of new or new-look squads, with the MLR’s second try at building a club in Los Angeles (the first of which being the LA Giltinis until their expulsion in 2022) starting off with a loss to Dallas at Dignity Health Sports Park. 

Staying at its home venue to host the Houston SaberCats, who picked up a 22-15 victory over Utah on opening weekend, RFC LA has more in mind this time around, as rugby fans in America’s second-largest city will be hoping to cheer on a win for a home team once again. 

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