USA Rugby

MLR Week 2 Recap: Old Glory Hands Free Jacks First Home Loss Since 2022

MLR Week 2 Recap: Old Glory Hands Free Jacks First Home Loss Since 2022

Three unbeaten squads remain in Major League Rugby — and one of them isn't the defending champion, which was carrying a 13-match win streak.

Mar 13, 2024 by Briar Napier
MLR Week 2 Recap: Old Glory Hands Free Jacks First Home Loss Since 2022

Goodbye, long winning streak.

The defending champion New England Free Jacks saw separate runs of victories (both against all opponents and at home) in Major League Rugby play come to a close against Old Glory DC this past weekend, with the Flags showing out and being the league’s unquestioned standout performers of the week for their triumph in suburban Boston. 

Plenty of other teams across the league made noise in the MLR’s second weekend of the season, however.

Three unbeaten teams are left standing after two weeks of play, whereas a club that’s been languishing in the basement of the league for the past two seasons looks much-improved and on its way to a strong 2024 campaign.

The rugby’s getting good in MLR. Good thing we still have 16 more weeks of this to go until the playoffs, too.

Here’s a look at what went down in Week 2 in Major League Rugby: 

The Flags Fly High At New England

Old Glory DC pulled off something this weekend that no MLR club had done since June 3, 2022 — beat the New England Free Jacks at Veterans Memorial Stadium. 

In a breakneck showdown between two Eastern Conference rivals with plenty of hype surrounding it as a rematch of last season’s conference final, the Flags dramatically ended defending MLR champion New England’s 13-match winning streak in a 35-34 classic. 

Coming back from 13 points down in the second half, William Talataina’s try for Old Glory in added time left the game’s fate hanging in the balance, but the converted spot-kick that followed from returning fly-half Jason Robertson sealed the win for the visitors and showed that after a stretch of domination dating back to last season, the Free Jacks are indeed mortal. 

Brilliantly following a lackluster 18-6 loss at the NOLA Gold in its season opener, Old Glory looked excellent (especially in the second half) against New England, as the Free Jacks’ stature as being among the favorites to win another MLR title took a dent, especially considering that they were up 17-0 after 25 minutes (off of the back of tries from Paula Balekana and Reece MacDonald) and largely fell flat the rest of the way.

Seattle Shows Its Class Against Sharks

As the Free Jacks faltered on home soil, Seattle only strengthened its case as being the MLR’s team to beat by following its strong win over San Diego in Week 1. 

The Seawolves greeted the expansion Miami Sharks in their first away trip in club history by way of winning 29-18 in Tukwila, with Australian fly-half Mack Mason — after a 7-for-7 performance off of the tee against the Legion — showing yet again that he’s Mr. Reliable on his spot kicks by once more going 7 for 7 (five penalties, two conversions) with his boot against the Sharks. 

A try apiece in each half from wings Jade Stighling and Jeremiah Sio were added bonuses, as Seattle, which outpassed the Sharks 135-87, ended Week 2 as one of only three unbeaten teams in the league. 

Meanwhile, Miami — which had second-half tries from Tomas Casares and Benjamin Bonasso — still is seeking the first win in its existence, with creation on the attack still something that the club is trying to work out. 

To be fair to Miami, however, Seattle’s gnarly defense, one of the best in the MLR (allowing a league-low three tries through two weeks), doesn’t exactly give the Sharks many favors, either. 

Legion Stifle Upstart Jackals

Reigning MLR finalist San Diego needed a big bounce back performance after losing to Seattle in Week 1, and it got just what it needed by defeating the Dallas Jackals 30-23 on the road at Choctaw Stadium. 

However, the most striking thing about that scoreline is the fact that the Jackals might just be here to stay as potential breakout candidates in their third season of play.

Dallas led 13-11 at the intermission, seeing it be pushed in front within the first five minutes after Juan-Dee Oliver scored, and the Jackals successfully weathered a San Diego response at first as the visitors got a vintage try minutes later from center and All Blacks legend Ma’a Nonu, who’s still doing it at the age of 42. 

A three-try surge from the Legion in the second half helped them put the game away, however, as Blair Cowan, Marcel Brache and Ethan Grayson all crossed over in a stretch of 19 unanswered points in the first 20 minutes, before the Jackals got two tries without the extra points late in consolation. 

Still, for Dallas to hang with an established power in the Legion for so long, especially after only two wins combined in their first two seasons, it looked like another massive step forward for the club and another building block to being contenders after an impressive Week 1 win over Rugby FC Los Angeles.

NOLA’s Gilded Start Continues

Currently 2-0 for the first time since the 2019 season, few probably expected the Gold to be the ones leading the Eastern Conference after two weeks, but NOLA’s got something cooking in the Bayou under first-year coach Cory Brown. 

A 24-0 first-half blitzing against sputtering Anthem Rugby Carolina was what the Gold utilized on their way to a 34-19 win at The Gold Mine, with five players (Dougie Fife, Jonah Mau’u, Alex Lopeti, Damian Stevens and JP du Plessis) finding tries on the day. 

USA Rugby- and World Rugby-backed Anthem — with its main purpose being to develop players for the United States’ national team — continued to show major leaks in its defense, as its 14 tries allowed through two weeks are by far the most in the league, but that’s no discredit to how lethal NOLA looked at times this past weekend, either, especially as it built its lead up to as much as 34-7 in the second half. 

A massive “prove it” type of fixture looms next week for NOLA, as the Gold visit the Free Jacks, but if they can follow Old Glory’s lead and bring it to the defending champions in their own backyard, we potentially could be in the midst of a golden season for the Gold.

Houston Goes Top Of The West

The “Saberboks” sure are fun to watch sometimes, huh? 

Earning their moniker as a play on the Springboks due to a heavy South African presence in the squad — which includes their head coach, former Bulls coach Pote Human — the Houston SaberCats had the look of a team that had it all to be MLR champs with a 27-12 win over Rugby FC Los Angeles to make them 2-0 in the league to start the season. 

Unsurprisingly, the South Africans who took the pitch for Houston played a big role in its victory; fly-half Davy Coetzer booted through two conversions in the first half, with the latter try scored by countryman and ex-Stormers lock Marno Redelinghuys, and all 13 points tallied by the SaberCats in the second half were earned by South Africans. Coetzer had two penalties and another conversion in support of scrum-half Andre Warner’s try in the 64th minute. 

Holding RFCLA scoreless for the final 40 minutes at its own home ground, Houston’s bruising style was brutally effective, and it’ll have a golden opportunity to continue to stay first in the Western Conference and start its season 3-0 as it hosts Miami next week prior to a crucial clash with Seattle in Week 4.

Warriors Take Down the Hounds

When the Chicago Hounds scored the first try of their match against the Utah Warriors two minutes in, it looked as if the MLR original was going to be in some major trouble against the second-year side. 

But the Warriors’ response to the Hounds’ early punch in the mouth was superb, and Utah now has its first win of the season after defeating Chicago by a 29-15 margin in Week 2. 

Utah’s Zion Going and Saia Uhila both scored first-half tries after Chicago’s Julian Dominguez got the party started with a try not long after the opening kickoff, and after leading 14-10 at the half, the Warriors built upon their cushion late in the second half. 

Phil Bradford and Jesse Hamilton scored tries in the final 20 minutes to get the bonus point and shoo away the Hounds once and for all after they briefly took a 15-14 lead following a try in the 54th minute from Zurabi Zhvania. 

The outlook of the Western Conference should become more clear in the next few weeks, as it appears early on like the tougher conference table to top, and Utah’s place in a crowded field featuring Houston, San Diego, Seattle, and even upstart Dallas, still is being figured out. 

A lot of questions about the Warriors may be answered when the Seawolves visit Zions Bank Stadium in Week 3. 

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