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Major League Rugby Week 3 Preview: Is NOLA a True Title Contender?

Major League Rugby Week 3 Preview: Is NOLA a True Title Contender?

The cluttered Western Conference could get a clearer picture this weekend, whereas over in New Orleans, something fierce may be brewing in the Bayou.

Mar 15, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 3 Preview: Is NOLA a True Title Contender?

Two weeks into the Major League Rugby season, what have we learned?

We’ve learned no team is unbeatable, the title picture still is being figured out and the parity and quality in the top professional rugby league in the United States might be as good as ever.

It’s still very early into the 2024 season, but we have a lot to take away from what’s been seen so far. 

Week 3, however, could be a weekend in which a jumble of very good teams could be whittled down to just a select few top–tier contenders.

Here’s a look at Week 3 of the Major League Rugby season:

Which Old Glory Will Arrive?

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. 

Old Glory DC had a dreadful Week 1, failing to score a try at the NOLA Gold, putting up a measly six-point effort. 

But in Week 2 in a rematch of the Eastern Conference final against the defending MLR champion New England Free Jacks, the Flags instead had the appearance of title contenders, coming back from a 17-0 first-half deficit (and 13 points down in the second half) to win 35-34 and end both the Free Jacks’ 13-match winning streak and nearly two-year home winning streak. 

Fly-half Jason Robertson’s walk-off conversion kick — following a try from William Talataina in added time — got Old Glory the biggest win of Week 2 and immediately back into the conversation as a team to keep tabs on for the weeks ahead under first-year coach (and ex-Edinburgh flanker) Simon Cross. 

It’ll host the Chicago Hounds this weekend in its season, and club, debut at the Maryland SoccerPlex in suburban city of Germantown, and some important names will need further standout performances to help keep DC’s mojo going, especially off of the back of its first playoff appearance a season ago. 

For instance, the Zimbabwe-born Robertson — who was one of the top-producing point scorers in all of MLR during his first stint with Old Glory from 2020-2021 — seemingly has picked up right where he left off in his return to the United States, scoring a try against the Free Jacks and going 5 for 5 on conversions, including booting through the game-winner. 

On top of that, the sudden emergence of Argentine hooker Martin Vaca (who had a hat-trick against New England last weekend) after he signed for the Flags in the offseason from French side Narbonne is another storyline to watch, with DC trying to avoid the hangover against a solid Chicago squad that will be trying to bounce back from a loss at the Utah Warriors this past weekend. 

NOLA’s Year To Step Forward?

In the conference featuring the defending league champion, the NOLA Gold’s presence atop the Eastern Conference table after two weeks may feel a bit strange at first glance. 

But if you’ve been watching the Gold over the past two weeks, you know that it is a unit that could cause some serious trouble in the regular season. 

As mentioned previously, NOLA stifled Old Glory in Week 1, then the Gold went out and ran roughshod over first-year club Anthem Rugby Carolina, blasting out to a 24-0 lead, before eventually holding on to win 34-19 at The Gold Mine. 

Five players scored tries last week, and a promising group under rookie head coach Cory Brown is 2-0 for the first time since the 2019 season. The team has allowed the joint-fewest tries (three) and the fewest points allowed (25) of any club in the league this year. 

Week 3 has two very important questions NOLA needs to answer, however, and it could be big in determining the projections for the remainder of its season. 

First, the Gold have probably the toughest away trip of the weekend, as they trek to New England in a big fixture for supremacy in the East, made even harder by the fact that the Free Jacks likely are packing some added frustration from their last-minute, streak-breaking loss to Old Glory. 

Second, NOLA will need to go into battle without the services of Samoa international and flanker Olajuwon Noa — suspended four matches following his red card against Anthem — and find someone else to fill the void, something the club needs to find out quickly, as it’ll need all the help it can get against New England. 

The Gold have lost their past five matches against the Free Jacks, including when they were on the receiving end of a 50-3 beatdown by New England in their most recent meeting last May. 

Seattle, Utah Clash In Cluttered West

Early indications point to the Western Conference being the MLR’s stronger division, and with five of its six teams sitting on six points or better, it’s easy to see why. 

Some of the usual suspects at or near the top, such as the Houston SaberCats, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors are around, but the Dallas Jackals have been the league’s biggest surprise thus far, taking down Rugby FC Los Angeles (the former Rugby ATL, which moved to the West Coast this past offseason) in Week 1 and having a strong showing against the reigning MLR finalist Legion to follow it up the week after. 

And with all due respect to the Southern California clash between the Legion and RFCLA going on this weekend in San Diego, the Week 3 game with the potential biggest implications between Western Conference teams is Utah-Seattle, which will meet at Zions Bank Stadium in suburban Salt Lake City. 

The Warriors had a bonus-point win against the Hounds last week to help them stay in third place in the West, and Utah can surpass the second-place Seawolves in the standings with a victory — and potentially take first place in the conference, if leading Houston stumbles at home against the first-year Miami Sharks. 

Meanwhile, Seattle is one of three unbeaten teams in the league and has a player who seemingly can’t miss a spot kick right now in Australian fly-half Mack Mason, with him going a 14 for 14 on his kicks throughout the first two weeks of the season to play an integral role in each of the Seawolves’ victories. 

It’s bound to get good, as it usually is when these two MLR originals take each other on, and the West could have a clearer picture of its contenders at week’s end. 

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