USA Rugby

Major League Rugby Week 9 Recap: SaberCats Shut Out Legion, Take Back West

Major League Rugby Week 9 Recap: SaberCats Shut Out Legion, Take Back West

Houston is on top in the Western Conference after a statement win over San Diego, whereas an injury crisis is bothering defending league champ New England.

Apr 30, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 9 Recap: SaberCats Shut Out Legion, Take Back West

It’s 50% down and 50% to go in the 2024 Major League Rugby season.

It's hard to believe we’re already halfway through the regular season in North America’s top professional rugby league, but as they say, time flies when you’re having fun.

The best way to describe the MLR right now, at this stage of the competition, is a jumbled mess — in the best of ways. Few games are ever surefire wins before kickoff, with eight of the league’s 12 teams currently holding records of over .500 or better at the halfway mark.

If the first half of the campaign was this good, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the second half — especially as the race for the MLR’s revamped playoff system kicks into high gear.

Here’s a look back at all that went down during Week 9 of the Major League Rugby season, part of FloRugby’s coverage and analysis of the league all season long:

Houston Runs Riot Over San Diego

In one of the biggest statement wins of the Major League Rugby season to date, the Houston SaberCats not only picked up a huge win over a Western Conference rival in the San Diego Legion on Saturday but did it in style by defeating San Diego by an eye-popping 33-0 — the Legion’s first shutout lost in team history since joining the MLR for its inaugural 2018 season. 

It was pure domination for Houston at SaberCats Stadium and a victory which allowed the Texan club to take sole possession of first place in the West at the regular season’s halfway point, with the team’s 34 points seeing it a point ahead of the Seattle Seawolves in the table. 

Ronan Murphy had a brace for Houston while Jerad Latu and 18-year-old local product Seth Smith joined him as those with tries, with a penalty try to boot, making it five in all for the hosts in a dream day for the SaberCats and a living nightmare for the Legion, who have now lost back-to-back matches after starting the season 5-1 and fallen eight points adrift in the West standings (where they currently sit third) behind Houston. 

Meanwhile, the SaberCats — now 7-1 and recovered nicely from their first defeat of the year to the New England Free Jacks earlier this month — needed big performances like this past weekend’s to further prove its worth as the West’s favourite and results like Saturday’s go a long way in signifying to the rest of the league that they mean business.

Utah’s Hot Streak Continues

One of the MLR’s best-performing teams throughout the month of April was Utah, which went from being in danger of falling out of playoff contention just a few weeks ago to being right on the doorstep of the West’s top four. 

The fifth-placed Warriors, who had an injury-riddled start to the season that contributed to them sputtering out of the gates, closed the show on their 3-1 month with a strong 31-24 victory Friday night against Old Glory DC at home, improving to 4-4 on the year and putting further pressure on the Dallas Jackals (who are only one point above the Warriors in the table following the conclusion of Week 9) and the slumping Legion around the cutoff zone. 

Frank Lochore, Mika Kruse, Dylan Nel and Kieran McClea were the try scorers for Utah, which got out to a 21-0 start against The Flags and staved off the away team’s late fight, with Jason Robertson, Martin Vaca and a penalty try being tallied for Old Glory in the final 20 minutes of action. 

With a burst of momentum and good form, Utah has a chance to make some noise during the latter portion of the regular season and solidify its spot in the playoffs, and its second-half journey starts with a doozy of a matchup in Week 10 — at home against West-leading Houston.

Free Jacks Win Despite Injury Crisis

The leader of the Eastern Conference by six points at the halfway mark of the season, New England’s biggest issue as of late has come from within its own squad — that is, by way of staying healthy. 

The reigning and defending league champion, who had already lost former Ireland youth international and veteran scrum-half John Poland to a season-ending pectoral injury in March, got some more bad news last week when it was ruled that elite No. 8 Wian Conradie — an All-MLR First Team pick in 2023 and a three-time Rugby World Cup squad member for Namibia — suffered a season-ending knee injury during a man of the match performance against Seattle in Week 8. 

And then this past weekend in a cut-and-dry 34-12 victory over Rugby FC Los Angeles, the Free Jacks’ injury concerns went from bad to worse. 

Star back Reece MacDonald, who has been one of the top players in the MLR this season, scored his seventh try of the year with a diving effort early in the second half against RFCLA but appeared to injure his arm in the process and did not return as his team still cruised to its sixth win of the year. 

New England has not provided an update on MacDonald’s future status as of this writing, but if he’s also bound to miss some significant time, the Free Jacks will need even more new names to step up in his absence in order to continue on their path to a possible repeat. 

NOLA, Dallas Bounce Back From Slumps

The NOLA Gold probably had the most to prove of any MLR team entering Week 9 as a three-match losing streak threatened to derail what had been a promising start to the season in the Bayou. 

A 40-5 win against Anthem Rugby Carolina certainly doesn’t hurt in terms of getting rid of any bad vibes in the ranks. 

The Gold piled it on after Anthem struck first via an early try from David Still, going for 40 unanswered points on the road from then on out as Taniela Filimone did the most damage with a pair of tries. A bye week for Week 10 can help the Gold regroup — as can a weaker Eastern Conference — but things won’t get much easier upon their return as the Seawolves, who NOLA is yet to play this season, await in Week 11. 

Over in the West, Dallas went through its own three-game slide earlier in the season but has since been reenergized and picked up back-to-back victories, the latter of which came this past weekend when the Jackals defeated the Miami Sharks 38-17 in a potential trap game. 

Miami, which stunned NOLA 42-27 in Week 8, wasn’t able to do the same against Dallas as the Jackals were up 21-0 at the half and weren’t in any real danger of losing the lead the rest of the way as five different players scored tries, including one from midseason signing and 22-year-old former Harlequins flanker Makeen Alikhan. 

Dallas needed that victory with Utah hot on its tail in the West table, setting the stage for a possible hectic fight for playoff positioning involving the two clubs over the weeks ahead.

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