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Major League Rugby Week 4 Recap: SaberCats Stand Alone Atop West

Major League Rugby Week 4 Recap: SaberCats Stand Alone Atop West

The Western Conference-leading Houston SaberCats are the MLR's only unbeaten team after defeating the Seattle Seawolves in an all-time classic.

Mar 27, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 4 Recap: SaberCats Stand Alone Atop West

Major League Rugby’s match of the year award could’ve very well been locked up in Week 4.

And it came in a match with a lot on the line.

With plenty of pomp behind it, Week 4’s showdown between the only teams without a loss yet this MLR season was electric and a can’t-miss scorefest. 

Everything else on the docket this past weekend in the United States’ top professional league also turned out to be pretty good.

Bye weeks start next weekend, and with the first four rounds of the MLR season showing us that the competition looks as competitive as ever, those teams taking next week off are going to need the time away, because it looks as if there won't be any easy games this year.

Here’s a look at what went down in Week 4 of Major League Rugby: 

Houston-Seattle Lives Up To Hype

The unquestioned game of the week heading into this past weekend, the Houston SaberCats’ visit to the Seattle Seawolves in a showdown between the final two remaining unbeaten teams in the league finished as an 82-point barnburner — and with Houston left standing as the Western Conference’s top team.

The SaberCats’ 42-40 win against the Seawolves to open Week 4 on Friday night was an instant classic, sealed when neither of the back-to-back tries in the final six minutes from Seattle’s Ina Futi and Jade Stighling had a conversion to go with them, allowing Houston to skate away just barely and win its first game at Seattle, despite some late drama from the hosts making things chaotic. 

Former Seawolves player AJ Alatimu (who went 6 for 6 on kicks for Seattle and helped end Houston’s season in last year’s Western Conference eliminator) was spectacular against his former club, going 6 for 7 from the tee and blasting for a total of 823 kicking meters, with his boot being a major key in the SaberCats’ win.

The SaberCats had to stave away six Seattle tries, including two apiece from Stighling and Joe Taufete’e, the latter of which was sent the other way from Houston in the trade for Alatimu in the offseason. 

With an opportunity to be 5-0 this weekend heading into their bye in Week 6, the SaberCats are firing on all cylinders and seemingly have all the pieces to be MLR champion. 

And while titles aren’t won in March, Houston’s results to start the 2024 season speak for themselves. 

San Diego Brings Down Old Glory

While Western Conference rivals Houston and Seattle were getting into a slugfest, reigning MLR finalist San Diego somewhat quietly did its job in Week 4 and slid into second place behind Houston in the conference table with an impressive 27-11 victory away at Old Glory DC, whereas The Flags continued to show some head-scratching inconsistencies. 

Weather played a major factor at the Maryland SoccerPlex, as wind and cold affected the match’s flow, with the hosts holding an 11-7 advantage after 40 minutes thanks to a try from John Rizzo and a pair of penalties from Jason Robertson. 

But the Legion’s attack — which has been lacking in the season’s early goings compared to the West’s other top teams — had one of its best stretches of the season in the second half despite the weather conditions, scoring three tries through Viliami Helu, Hugh Roach and Finn Kearns to put themselves three points behind the SaberCats in the Western Conference table and Old Glory at 1-2-1 and seven points, with that victory coming at the Eastern Conference-leading defending MLR champion New England Free Jacks in Week 2. 

San Diego’s defense (league-low seven tries allowed through four matches) is its calling card, but if more point-scoring explosions like the second half against DC happen, it’ll make the Legion even more dangerous as the meat of the MLR season gets going. 

Free Jacks Stay Put In First Place

If the Eastern Conference ends up turning into a two-horse race between New England and the NOLA Gold, the Free Jacks’ results over the past two weeks might just become two of their most important of the season. 

After defeating the Gold in Week 3, New England kept hold atop the East in Week 4 by going on the road to defeat the Chicago Hounds 22-17, with a do-it-all day from reigning MLR Player of the Year Jayson Potroz — two tries, one conversion, one penalty — helping the Free Jacks step forward in the face of plenty of promising (albeit eventually squandered) chances from the Hounds. 

Potroz’s second try of the first half off of the back of a lineout just a few minutes from halftime was important in helping to settle any nerves after Reece MacDonald’s yellow both gave Chicago a penalty try and sent New England down to 14 men, and a try with five minutes to go from Malakai Hala sealed the deal for the Free Jacks and gave them added insurance when the Hounds scored in the last minute. 

New England will be part of the first crop of clubs to take their bye week next week, allowing the reigning league champs to recharge and regroup ahead of their return to play at home against the Miami Sharks in Week 6.

NOLA Stifles Jackals in Arlington

In a clash between two of the biggest early surprises in the MLR this season, NOLA recovered nicely from its Week 3 loss to the Free Jacks by defeating the Dallas Jackals 35-22 on the road, limiting the hosts' damage after they dumped 68 points on Anthem Rugby Carolina just a week previously — even while the Gold were down to 14 men for the majority of the match. 

In one of the weirder games of the season to date, NOLA prop Jarred Adams was sent off in the 14th minute for what looked to be a rather harsh red card, then it lost another starting prop just a short time later when Isaac Salmon went off with a lower-body injury. 

Yet, almost immediately after those two events, the Gold’s game-defining scoring spree began.

From Adams’ red to the end of the first half, NOLA scored five tries and held a 32-15 lead at the intermission, as Taniela Filimone crossed over twice in that timespan, and it was the Gold’s defense in the second half that was the standout as they looked largely convincing even while shorthanded. 

NOLA has never made the playoffs since the club was founded with the league itself in 2018, but to be level with the Free Jacks on 15 points after four matches is a great way to kick off a first postseason push. 

Miami, RFCLA Win Milestone Games

The Miami Sharks and Rugby FC Los Angeles (in their current form after moving from Atlanta in the offseason) can officially mark something off of their checklists — win your first MLR match. 

The Sharks got their win Saturday in a matchup that was going to see one club pick up their inaugural MLR victory regardless of the result, as Miami welcomed fellow league debutant Anthem Rugby Carolina to AutoNation Sports Field, and Miami made its mark at home in dominant fashion with a 50-21 win. 

Uruguay international and Rugby World Cup veteran Manuel Ardao picked up a brace, and four other Sharks joined him in crossing over for tries, piling on the misery for the development-focused Anthem squad that remained winless on just one point with an eye-watering 31 tries allowed in four league matches. 

Meanwhile, for RFCLA, it closed the show on Week 4 across the league with a big victory at home against a MLR original in the Utah Warriors, winning 36-32, as the hosts withstood a late Utah barrage of 14 points scored in the final six minutes to pick up the W. 

Canada international Andrew Coe had two tries, while former Toulouse man Semi Kunatani, USA Eagle Jason Damm and ex-Hurricanes hooker Bruce Kauika-Petersen all followed him with tries of their own to both give Los Angeles’ rugby community a long-awaited return to winning in the MLR and continue the Warriors’ slide down the Western Conference standings.

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