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Major League Rugby Week 6 Preview: Is Level Of Play At Its Best Yet?

Major League Rugby Week 6 Preview: Is Level Of Play At Its Best Yet?

Competitive matches each week across Major League Rugby have made for levels of parity arguably not seen at any other point of the league's existence.

Apr 5, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 6 Preview: Is Level Of Play At Its Best Yet?

What has been the most refreshing part of Major League Rugby this season?

It’s the fact that, arguably, the level of play from top to bottom across the league has been at the best standard it’s ever been.

That’s great news for American rugby fans, as for the first five weeks of the 2024 MLR season, they’ve been treated to competitive matches, which included comebacks, tense finishes and more, making for must-watch rugby.

We’re still a long way from deciding a champion in North America’s top professional rugby league, but the ride to get there — if the current standard and pace keep up — will be a pulsating one.

Here’s a look at what to watch during Week 6 of the Major League Rugby season, part of FloRugby’s coverage and analysis of the league:

Houston’s Off, So Who Steps Up?

The MLR’s shining stars to start the season, the Houston SaberCats slide into their first bye week as leaders of the Western Conference and as the only unbeaten team in the league, defeating an in-state rival in the Dallas Jackals this past week to take the Lone Star Shield and improve to 5-0 on the year. 

Houston’s been the total package, and it’ll get a well-deserved break this weekend; the challenge will be left on the other 10 teams playing this week (the San Diego Legion are the other team on bye) to make their marks and make headway toward taking on the SaberCats as the MLR’s team to beat. 

Among the clubs playing in Week 6, the Seattle Seawolves — who can be either level on points with or surpass the SaberCats entirely in the table with a win over the Jackals this weekend — are the only team in the West that can catch Houston this week (albeit with a game in hand, of course), but like Houston found out this past weekend, a matchup with Dallas no longer is the cakewalk it used to be. 

The MLR’s leader in tries scored (25), the Jackals still are on the hunt for that signature win on the year, as they’ve lost to Houston, San Diego and the NOLA Gold — all at, or near, the top of their respective conferences — by three, seven and 13 points, respectively. 

Dallas finally can get that landmark win over an elite team by being victorious against Seattle, but that’s much easier said than done, as the Seawolf's only loss on the season was by two points in a Week 4 classic against the SaberCats, solidifying their place as contenders for the Western Conference throne. 

A Jackal's victory Friday night against the MLR original, however, might just see them ascend to true contenders in their own right.

Refreshed NOLA, Free Jacks Return

Over in the Eastern Conference, the top two spots in the standings remained unchanged last week, even though the table’s top two teams, NOLA and the New England Free Jacks, were off. 

That’s a testament to how solid the Gold and Free Jacks have been this year and to how different the East appears to be than the West, where two clubs are standing tall in the former and almost the entire conference is cutthroat in the latter. 

NOLA is the first of the East’s leaders (with both it and New England level on 15 points at the top of the standings, but the Free Jacks in first on scoring differential) to return to action in Week 6 as it’ll kick off Saturday afternoon’s slate when it hosts the Chicago Hounds at The Gold Mine, followed by the Free Jacks kicking off 90 minutes later when they host the Miami Sharks. 

Both teams — especially New England — should be weary of a potential upset; in Miami’s case, it picked up its first MLR win in Week 4 against Anthem Rugby Carolina, before almost using it as a trampoline for another, arguably bigger, win in Week 5 against San Diego, only losing out 22-21. 

The Sharks have yet to win a league match away from home, and though Veterans Memorial Stadium is a fortress, it is possible to win there, as Old Glory DC proved in Week 2 to end what was New England’s long winning streak at home. 

Meanwhile, NOLA will get Chicago a week after the Hounds suffered an excruciating defeat at the hands of Seattle, in which the Hounds were up 26-0 inside half an hour, but totally collapsed and allowed 34 unanswered points in its fourth straight game without a win (three defeats, one draw). 

Perhaps motivation to get it right this time around could lead Chicago to its first win since Week 1, but on the other hand, NOLA (which has allowed a joint league-low nine tries on the season) has proven capable of stifling out promising teams this season.

League Parity Better Than Ever?

In past years in the MLR, a familiar pattern would tend to develop by this point in the season in which there clearly were haves and have-nots. That is, there were seasons in which one or two of the best teams in the league would emerge as torch-bearers, followed by a mess of teams below them, quality-wise, that were, at best, off the pace of the elites, and at worst, completely incapable of keeping up. 

It makes it a very good thing, then, that in terms of the start of the 2024 season, there really doesn’t seem to be an easy game against any opponent in the MLR — a major step forward for rugby in North America, as its top professional league continues to grow and mold itself. 

Though it’s true that Houston is the league’s best team at the moment, and likely the favorite to win it all at season’s end, the SaberCats’ journey to 5-0 has been far from easy, as they haven’t won a match by more than 15 points, with two of those matches (against Seattle in Week 4 and Dallas in Week 5) decided by less than a try. 

Dallas and Chicago in particular, after poor seasons in the opening years of their existences (Jackals began play in 2022, Hounds in 2023), each look to be dangerous squads that could wreak havoc on the postseason and/or regular-season title race, too. 

And even the expansion sides, Miami and Anthem, are holding their own, with development-focused Anthem RC — which largely was expected to be well behind the quality of everyone else in the league — still looking for its first win and trying to find ways to fix a leaky defense (37 tries allowed) but looking better and better each week doing it as it molds together and builds cohesion, only being down five points with under 20 minutes left to Old Glory in Week 5. 

Snooze fests and/or blowouts are becoming more and more rare in the MLR this season, with guaranteed action and intensity being one of the league’s calling cards thus far. As long as it continues for the rest of the season, we could be seeing a landmark year in professional rugby on the continent. 

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