USA Rugby

Major League Rugby Week 8 Preview: No Rest For New England After Big Win

Major League Rugby Week 8 Preview: No Rest For New England After Big Win

The defending MLR champion Free Jacks, one week after ending the Houston SaberCats' unbeaten season, have another test against a Western Conference squad.

Apr 20, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 8 Preview: No Rest For New England After Big Win

So, what’s the New England Free Jacks’ reward for picking up a win in probably the biggest match of the Major League Rugby season to date last weekend?

Playing the top team in the other conference in yet another potential preview of a postseason clash, of course.

The defending league champions have one loss by a single point; otherwise, they’d be standing tall right now as the only undefeated team in the MLR seven weeks into the 2024 campaign.

It’s an impressive run of form, but there’s never really a true off week when you’re playing an opponent in the MLR — a sizable development in North America’s top professional rugby league and a testament to the league’s parity.

Champions and trendsetters rise to the occasion, however, and those chasing glory will have to step forward in big ways throughout the year.

Here’s a look at all you need to know about the Major League Rugby slate of games for Week 8, all part of FloRugby’s coverage and analysis of the league this season:

Another Best-On-Best Clash

One week after one of the most-anticipated matchups of the MLR season to date, another high-profile showdown that could act as a preview of the league final is on the horizon. 

Last week, the New England Free Jacks added strength to their claim of being the best team in the MLR by going on the road and defeating the Houston SaberCats in a 47-35 dogfight, handing Houston its first loss of the campaign in the process. 

And this week, with New England hosting the Western Conference’s current top team in the Seattle Seawolves on Saturday afternoon, the defending MLR champions have another chance to prove themselves against one of the best in the competition this season. 

Both clubs are white-hot, leading their respective conference tables, with New England on a four-match winning streak and Seattle on three.

The Seawolves, after taking control of the No. 1 spot in the West following a Houston bye week in Week 6, emerged to take a five-point lead ahead of the pack after the SaberCats’ defeat. Seattle got the job done on its end this past weekend, romping past Rugby FC Los Angeles. 

Seawolves captain Riekert Hattingh — the MLR’s No. 2 career try scorer of all-time — scored a brace in that game. Seattle will need him, and the rest of its attack, to produce against a Free Jacks group that just put up a statement offensive clinic on a previously unbeaten side, with Reece MacDonald (six tries, second in the league) strengthening his league MVP candidacy by crossing over and getting on the scoresheet against Houston. 

Things should get a bit wild at Veterans Memorial Stadium — and the winner will have the right to be, arguably, the MLR’s undisputed No. 1 team.

How Does Houston Respond?

Houston enters this weekend in a situation it hasn’t had to face yet this season — coming back from a loss. And the SaberCats looked especially off-kilter against the Free Jacks, too. 

Houston missed 32 tackles in the loss to New England, and the usually sure-footed Davy Coetzer (who did have a pair of tries, despite his struggles) missed five of six kicks at goal, both of which hurt Houston, as the visitors ran riot for seven tries, including a hat-trick from Wayne van der Bank. 

A victory alone won’t get Houston back to the top spot in the Western Conference, as Seattle (which has played one more match) is five points ahead, but the SaberCats do have a big opportunity to restore their confidence and get back to form with their game Saturday afternoon at Old Glory DC — the only team that has toppled the Free Jacks this season.

The Flags, who had a bye last weekend, have the appearance of one of the MLR’s top teams on their day but have been plagued by inconsistency over their past few matches, winning one, losing one and drawing two since their victory on the road against New England. 

But the Free Jacks may have provided a blueprint for everyone else in how to dissect and dismantle the SaberCats, and depending on what Old Glory takes from the film, it could follow suit.

Still, Old Glory also must be wary of a Houston squad that may want to play with a mission and purpose to rise up, especially in the brutal West, where each of the top three teams (Seattle, San Diego and Houston) all have had winning streaks of three or more matches this year. 

But if difference-makers, such as top point-scorer Jason Robertson and center William Talataina-Mu, can bring the energy, Old Glory may be in the hunt for another upset this weekend over one of the MLR’s top title contenders.

Chicago’s Quiet Rise

With Old Glory off and the NOLA Gold losing on the road to the San Diego Legion last weekend, the Chicago Hounds, quietly took advantage, finishing Week 7 as the new No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, albeit with a game in hand over everyone below them, besides last-place Anthem Rugby Carolina. 

Still, that’s no shot at the second-year club, which already has equaled its win total (three) from its inaugural season and plays an exciting style of rugby that’s already had them close to some major upsets this season. 

Chicago romped over Anthem by a 59-26 margin last weekend — its highest-scoring performance in club history — as Dylan Fawsitt and Jason Higgins both had hat tricks, ensuring that there was no hangover following a strong victory over East rival NOLA in Week 6. It also shows that the Hounds can close the show effectively when they have a big early lead, following a disastrous Week 5 performance against Seattle, in which Chicago ran out to a 26-point first-half lead, only to give up 34 unanswered points and lose.

Considering that the Free Jacks will have their hands full against Seattle this weekend, Chicago has a chance to gain ground on the East leaders against Rugby FC Los Angeles, especially with RFCLA’s dreadful form seeing it only win once in six games and sit last in the West as of this writing. 

A three-match winning streak could go a long way for the Hounds as they chase not only just playoff qualification, but also hosting a playoff match — both achievements of which would be milestone in club history.

How To Watch Rugby Matches In the United States On FloRugby

The Investec Champions Cup will stream all its matches on FloRugby and the FloSports app in the United States. FloRugby and FloSports also are the U.S. home to:

FloRugby also is home to match archives and match replays. 

Join The Rugby Conversation On FloRugby Social