USA Rugby

Major League Rugby Week 12 Recap: Missteps Elsewhere Benefitting Houston

Major League Rugby Week 12 Recap: Missteps Elsewhere Benefitting Houston

Houston is turning out to be the biggest benefactor of a couple weeks of chaos across the MLR, though its game against Chicago in Week 12 wasn't easy.

May 21, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 12 Recap: Missteps Elsewhere Benefitting Houston

We mentioned at one point this Major League Rugby season that it appeared that the Western Conference was going to be the more competitive division compared to its neighbor in the Eastern Conference.

Now that we’re three months into the 2024 MLR season, the statuses of each conference have been completely reversed.

The Western Conference is increasingly looking like it’s bound for a runaway No. 1 team — especially following the past two weeks of results — whereas the Eastern Conference’s right to be its top team is hanging a little bit more in the balance after the past month or so of play.

We’re officially two-thirds of the way through the 2024 MLR regular season, and with so little room left remaining for error, it’s put-up or shut-up time across the competition. 

In Week 12 this past weekend, a few teams got the memo that they need to perform to keep their seasons going. 

Here’s a look at all that went down in Week 12 of the Major League Rugby season, part of FloRugby’s coverage and analysis of North America’s top professional rugby league all season long: 

Jackals Hand Seattle Another Loss

Both the Seattle Seawolves and Dallas Jackals were in big need of wins this past weekend to recover from Week 11 defeats, with a little more on the line for Dallas, as the Utah Warriors had been creeping up and threatening to take the fourth, and final, slot in the Western Conference playoffs. 

In a showdown between two of the highest-scoring teams in the MLR, a combined 21 points between Dallas and Seattle wasn’t exactly what was expected, but the final result (14-7) went in the Jackals' favor, as they picked up a crucial victory and dealt Seattle — which quickly is losing ground in the West’s title race — a second straight loss in the process. 

A 14-0 lead at the half was key for Dallas, which got out in front immediately with home support in Arlington; Nic Benn scored a try within five minutes of the opening kickoff, and Dameon Torres added another in the 23rd minute to have the Jackals cruising. 

And, despite featuring the leakiest defense based on total points allowed (289) of any of the eight teams in the MLR currently in playoff positions, it was Dallas’ defense in a unique twist that came up huge as the team’s 14-point margin was enough in a scoreless second half for the hosts. 

Seattle broke through and finally got its first points with less than 15 minutes to play through Divan Rossouw, but the Seawolves couldn’t find more scoring, as Dallas leapt to third in the West table with the victory. 

Meanwhile, Seattle’s deficit to the West-leading Houston SaberCats grew to seven points, with its consecutive losses putting it further and further away from the chance of being the conference’s top seed come playoff time.

Free Jacks Fight To Win Final Rematch

No Reece MacDonald, Jayson Potroz, Wian Conradie or John Poland, no problems for New England? 

Well, despite the loss of all of those playmakers for the current Eastern Conference leader in a critical MLR Championship Final rematch against the San Diego Legion this past weekend, New England was able to patch itself up just enough to pick up the four points on the road at Snapdragon Stadium and keep some distance from hard-charging rivals below them in the conference table. 

A down-to-the-wire classic, not much unlike New England’s dramatic playoff final victory against the Legion last July, the Free Jacks won by the same margin this time around — a single point — in a gutsy 24-23 performance for the short-handed defending champions coming off of their second bye week of the season. 

Down 13-3 at the half, after San Diego’s Tupou Afungia scored a try and Wallabies centurion Matt Giteau had three kicks (a conversion and two penalties) in showing that he’s still got it at age 41, New England needed some magic out of the dressing room in the second half and promptly found it. 

Two tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half through Cameron Davidowicz and Wayne van der Bank gave the Free Jacks some hope by getting them the lead, and another score with four minutes to play from Piers Von Dadelszen seemingly sealed the game for the visitors. 

But the Legion still had some fight, down 24-13, scoring first through Lincoln McClutchie in normal time and then when the clock was in the red through Tomas Aoake, but missed conversions on both tries, when one would’ve given San Diego a dramatic win, and New England was able to survive by the skin of its teeth — battered and bruised and all — what could’ve been a devastating late collapse. 

No Hangover For NOLA

The first of the two teams that took down Seattle in its two-game losing streak, the NOLA Gold's next task following that upset victory was to not come out flat in Week 12 against the Utah Warriors. 

Mission accomplished. 

A try inside five minutes and 21 unanswered points sparked red-hot NOLA to a 21-14 victory over the Warriors, and thanks to the Chicago Hounds’ loss this past weekend against the league-leading Houston SaberCats, the Gold moved up to second place in the Eastern Conference table on point differential. 

Winners of three straight, the Gold got in front shortly after kickoff through Malcolm May, while Jarred Adams and Maciu Koroi helped pile it on, and they helped NOLA hold on late after a pair of Utah tries (by way of Lopeti Aisea and Nic Souchon) made it interesting. 

Seemingly stuck in the muck less than a month ago after four defeats in five matches, the Gold have played well enough recently to rocket themselves back up into the East’s title picture. The No. 1 New England Free Jacks sit a reachable four points ahead in the standings. 

A clash with plenty of playoff implications in the East against Chicago awaits in Week 13, but if NOLA can take advantage of their form and catch the Free Jacks in the regular season’s final weeks, watch out.

Houston Escapes The Hounds

While the worlds of other MLR title contenders (see Seattle’s slip in form, New England’s injury issues) seem to be falling down all around them, the Houston SaberCats have stayed reliable and consistent throughout the chaos. 

That’s not to say, however, that their victory over the Chicago Hounds in Week 12 came easily.

Chicago made Houston sweat, but the SaberCats won 23-22 to pick up their fifth straight win and grow their advantage at the top of the Western Conference and give them some extra breathing room toward securing a potential home first-round playoff game. 

A tight first 40 minutes saw Houston up 13-12 at the half, as Andre Warner scored for the SaberCats, and Nate Augspurger and Julian Dominguez scored for the Hounds, but it was Chicago that put its foot on the gas to start the second 40, as both Augspurger and Dominguez completed their braces within five minutes of the second-half starting whistle, giving it a 22-13 advantage and seemingly putting the MLR’s title favorite on the ropes on their own pitch. 

But this is Houston we’re talking about, remember, and it has been near-unflappable this season for a reason. 

Pita Anae-Ah Sue calmed the troops with a try in the 50th minute, and Seimou Smith completed the comeback with a try of his own 10 minutes later to get Houston back the lead; it didn’t give it up from that point forward as the SaberCats outlasted Chicago in one of their toughest challenges of the season yet — though the Hounds were rewarded with two bonus point for their efforts to stay within a victory of first-place New England in the Eastern Conference. 

RFCLA Denies Anthem Maiden Win

Anthem Rugby Carolina had some high-profile visitors this past weekend during their home game against Rugby FC Los Angeles — and they almost got to see a historic moment in the young club’s history. 

World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin, USA Rugby CEO Bill Goren, and MLR CEO Nic Benson were at the American Legion Memorial Coliseum last Saturday as all three were in attendance for a pre-match ceremony to “celebrate the progress” of Anthem RC’s efforts to develop American talent in advance of the 2031 Rugby World Cup in the U.S., per an MLR news release before the match. 

Anthem, a World Rugby- and USA Rugby-backed joint venture that’s prioritized as a development side for the U.S. national team, is yet to win a game in its first MLR season this year, but it came oh so brutally close this past weekend. 

Ahead 19-3 inside a half-hour on RFCLA, Anthem looked to be in business and with an edge that hadn’t been seen previously in their 10 MLR matches beforehand, but 19 unanswered points prior to going into the shed from RFCLA gave the visitors a 22-19 lead at the break. 

Not to be discouraged, Anthem kept its dream of a maiden MLR win alive when Cliven Loubser became a one-man show for the hosts in the second half, scoring a try and booting through his own conversion plus a penalty to give Anthem a 29-28 lead with under 15 minutes to play. But the dream ended, unfortunately for Anthem, in disappointment.  

Former Fiji sevens Olympic gold medalist Semi Kunatani shattered Anthem’s aspirations with a driving try in the 77th minute that put RFCLA ahead 33-28, and it was able to shut down Anthem’s final attempts for a late winner to escape North Carolina with their second straight victory after just one win in their previous eight matches to start the season.

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