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Major League Rugby Week 10 Recap: Chicago Beats Injury-Stricken Free Jacks

Major League Rugby Week 10 Recap: Chicago Beats Injury-Stricken Free Jacks

Elsewhere across the league, Wallabies legend Matt Giteau won in his club debut with the San Diego Legion, while Houston took down a surging Utah side.

May 7, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 10 Recap: Chicago Beats Injury-Stricken Free Jacks

The Major League Rugby playoff race isn’t quite as tense as it will be in a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean teams aren’t already making statement performances to influence the pecking order down the line.

A major potential swing at the top of the Eastern Conference occurred this past weekend in Week 10, whereas the continually tight Western Conference stayed that way, as all eight future MLR playoff spots still are up for grabs.

With over two and-a-half months of high-octane rugby being played now, the fatigue and body wear surely are setting in in some form across every club. But how each club handles their circumstances down the line will prove integral to how the rest of the MLR season will go.

Strap in.

Here’s a look back at all that went down in Week 10 of the  Major League Rugby season, part of FloRugby’s coverage and analysis of the top professional rugby league in North America all season long:

Hounds’ Huge Win Shakes East

Sure, the New England Free Jacks were missing key players such as Wian Conradie, John Poland and Reece MacDonald, and their absences certainly are impacting the defending MLR champions as they try to stay atop an increasingly crowded Eastern Conference. 

But the missing pieces on the other bench didn’t matter to Chicago, which seized the opportunity and pulled off one of the biggest wins in club history with a 26-20 triumph over New England at Veterans Memorial Stadium. 

Now winners of four straight matches, the Hounds got revenge for their 22-17 loss to the Free Jacks in Chicago in March by striking with a try less than 10 minutes in through No. 8 Conall Boomer, holding a 13-8 halftime lead and getting just enough second-half insurance via a try from Mac Jones and eight points from the boot of Dylan Fawsitt to pick up a table-shaking victory. 

The Free Jacks still lead the East as of this writing, but Chicago shortened its gap to them to just three points going into Week 11, leaving the door open to possibly overtake the team that largely has run the East for much of the season. 

To make matters worse for New England, injury concerns didn’t exactly get better, either; last season’s MLR Player of the Year, fly-half Jayson Potroz, also appeared to suffer an injury late in the match, and his status for the future is unclear. 

While it has been a nightmare few weeks for New England, Chicago and the rest of the East’s major contenders might as well be living in dreamland as they make their second-half pushes for playoff positioning.

Legion Survive In Giteau’s Club Debut

It’s now official: the San Diego Legion are 1-0 in the Matt Giteau era — and what an opener it was. 

The Wallabies icon, who had 103 caps for his home country and is one of the best players in Super Rugby history, returned to rugby Sunday after a three-year retirement and came off of the bench to boot through a vintage penalty and conversion kick, helping the Legion stop a two-game slide with a dramatic 30-24 victory over the Dallas Jackals at Snapdragon Stadium. 

Sharing a kit with former Toulon teammate and All Blacks legend Ma’a Nonu, Giteau’s five points in the game’s final stages were vital, as San Diego, third in the West, got a vital victory with plenty of potential postseason implications against West fourth-place Dallas; his 64th-minute penalty made it 23-19 to the Legion, giving them a little extra wriggle room

A Jackals response two minutes later via a Tomy Malanos try (with no conversion), however, put the Texans in front. 

San Diego had one last surge, and it came at just the right time. Djustice Sears-Duru scored in the 78th minute to give the Legion the lead and ultimately the win, with Giteau kicking through the subsequent conversion that followed for the cherry on top. 

The Legion lost ground to West front-runners Houston and Seattle during the past few weeks, but the win over the Jackals puts them six points above the West’s playoff cutoff line as of this writing - and it’s likely we haven’t seen the last of the 41-year-old Giteau making an impact in the side this season, either.

SaberCats Stifle Utah’s Momentum

Perhaps a “prove it” type of game for Utah and a potential trap game for Houston, Warriors-SaberCats went from having little in the way of hype surrounding it about a month ago to becoming arguably the most intriguing matchup of Week 10, considering Utah’s strong recent form and the Western Conference-topping SaberCats being, well, as good as they’ve usually been this season. 

But once again, Houston showed against Utah (in a 29-24 triumph) that when it is faced with a challenge, championship-caliber rugby often follows. 

Emerging SaberCats star Seth Smith — getting his first MLR start at the age of just 18 — scored the first try of the match in a tense opening stanza in which the first 25 minutes were scoreless.

Houston started getting cozy within 10 minutes of the second half starting, as Sam Hill and Drew Wild both got over to make it 22-3 to Houston at the 50-minute mark.

Utah wasn’t discouraged, however, and got a quick response minutes later from Frank Lochore and another from Matthew Jensen shortly after, setting up the stage for a potentially wild final 20 minutes.

A Houston try from Dom Akina allowed the SaberCats to keep the Warriors at arm’s length when Phil Bradford scored a try for them in the 75th minute. 

Houston needed a gutsy win like this past weekend’s to keep on top of the West, prepare itself for the likely many playoff challenges to come and further strengthen its late-game execution for the weeks ahead. After all, if the SaberCats truly are the favorite to win the MLR this season, they’ll need to be prepared for anything and everything that is thrown at them.

Seattle, DC Swat Away Newcomers

Two MLR clubs that have seen a thing or two across their several seasons in the league — the Seattle Seawolves and Old Glory DC — have proven veteran leadership and some extra cohesion in their ranks. 

Both of those attributes undoubtedly helped each side as they shooed aside expansion clubs Anthem Rugby Carolina and the Miami Sharks, respectively, in Week 10. 

Seattle kicked off the round Friday night as the massive favorite over Anthem, the winless USA Rugby- and World Rugby-backed side with a main focus on developing players for the USA Eagles, but a slim 10-8 lead for the Seawolves at the intermission indicated that perhaps the visitors from Carolina were going to try and make things interesting in the final 40 minutes. 

That didn’t happen, as Seattle quickly stepped on the gas, scoring three second-half tries without reply, before Anthem got a late consolation and dropped to 0-9 on the year in a 29-13 loss, inching it closer to the dubious mark of being the MLR’s first winless side since Dallas in 2022. 

Over in Maryland, an East Coast clash between Old Glory and Miami ended 13-10 in favor of The Flags, but it didn’t lack in action — especially late. 

In a crucial game with plenty of implications for the fourth, and final, playoff spot in the East, DC was in danger of a second draw in four matches and third on the season, as the game was tied 10-10 in the dying embers.

However, substitute Jason Robertson showed why Old Glory coaxed him back after three years away from the nation’s capital with a clutch penalty in the 79th minute, giving the hosts a much-needed win after they failed to pick up a victory for the entire month of April. 

Chicago is up next for DC in Week 11, giving Old Glory another chance right away to make another statement in the Eastern Conference table.

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