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Major League Rugby Week 13 Recap: Chaos At The Top of East Table

Major League Rugby Week 13 Recap: Chaos At The Top of East Table

The Eastern Conference has completely been thrown into disarray over the past few weeks, with the surging NOLA Gold pushing the New England Free Jacks.

May 28, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 13 Recap: Chaos At The Top of East Table

It was a holiday weekend in the United States, but the clubs of Major League Rugby had no time to rest.

After all, there are playoff slots still up for grabs and crucial points to be won.

The Eastern Conference has been completely thrown into disarray over the past month, whereas the Western Conference still has a dominant force reigning supreme - for now. 

There’s just over a month left before the MLR’s postseason gets underway, and with nothing yet official, there’s so much still left to play for.

The quality of play is approaching its best, and the tension is growing with each passing week. The burning question, however, is which clubs will step up and thrive under the pressure.

Here’s a look at what went down during Week 13 of the Major League Rugby season, part of FloRugby’s coverage and analysis of North America’s top professional rugby competition all season long:

Sharks Shock New England

Just recently in danger of completely falling out of the playoff race with a 1-5 start to the season, the Miami Sharks have revitalized their debut MLR campaign with three wins from their last five matches, and two in a row after Week 13 — with this past weekend’s triumph being the biggest victory in their club’s short history. 

In a monstrous win in front of home support in south Florida, Miami pulled off a walk-off stunner over the Eastern Conference-leading, reigning MLR champion New England Free Jacks by defeating them 15-13, with former Free Jack Tomas Casares scoring the match-tying try with the game clock in extra time, right before Santiago Videla booted through the subsequent go-ahead conversion moments later. 

A gritty win for the Sharks, who handed New England its first road loss of the season thus far, the four points put Miami four points back of fourth-placed Old Glory DC (which holds the conference’s final playoff spot) in the East table with five regular-season weeks left to play and a showdown between the two still to come in the penultimate Week 17 next month. 

Meanwhile, while New England’s midseason injury concerns to major playmakers like Wian Conradie and Reece MacDonald have been well-documented, three defeats in five have put the Free Jacks in serious jeopardy of losing the top spot in the East, as they hold just a one-point lead at the front following Week 13’s matches, meaning New England will need to find a spark to keep it at the forefront of discussions as a title contender.

Surging NOLA Stifles Hounds

Speaking of New England’s dwindling leading point margin at the top of the East, the NOLA Gold have been the biggest pusher of last season’s champs over the past month, and the Gold further proved that they’re a serious threat to the East’s crown by taking down a contending rival in the Chicago Hounds on the road this past weekend.

NOLA went to the Windy City and had just about the best weekend it could’ve, winning 25-13 on Sunday afternoon in a game in which it both denied the Hounds a losing bonus point and set itself up to overtake New England for the Eastern Conference’s top spot as soon as next weekend. 

Samoa international Ed Fidow secured a brace for the visitors, while Taniela Filimone added another in the Gold’s fourth win in a row, making them the East’s team in the hottest form after an early-season slump saw them in danger of losing control of their season. 

NOLA looks to be in business toward qualifying for the MLR playoffs for the first time in club history (since 2018), whereas Chicago — which is still nine points clear of fifth-place Miami, making it in solid shape to make the postseason in its own right — is now in danger of missing out on a home conference semifinal playoff match if its form doesn’t improve, with NOLA’s victory also doubling as the Hounds’ third straight defeat.

Seawolves Recover — Barely

The Houston SaberCats, the dominant leaders of the Western Conference and favorites to take the MLR title, were off in Week 13, meaning the Seattle Seawolves could gain some (temporary) ground on first place in Week 13 after two underwhelming defeats back-to-back to the NOLA Gold and Dallas Jackals. 

And while Seattle did pick up a much-needed win against Old Glory (26-24) on Friday night, trouble probably won’t be over for the Seawolves anytime soon. 

Seattle announced prior to this week’s game that five players — captain Riekert Hattingh, vice captain Charles Elton, Mason Pedersen, Pete Malcolm and Kara Pryor — had suffered season-ending injuries over the prior few weeks, and to make matters worse, three more Seawolves suffered apparent injuries against The Flags; the most notable injury was to USA Eagle prop Olive Kilifi, who injured his leg and left the match on a stretcher. 

But despite missing multiple major pieces to its squad, Seattle pushed on and got it done, thanks to tries from Cameron Orr, Mahonri Ngakuru and Monate Akuei Gai, the latter two of which got Seattle ahead after a 16-11 second-half deficit. 

A bye week will come at just the right time for bruised and battered Seattle, as it will be off in Week 14, and with the end-of-season push on the horizon, it’ll need to be as recharged as possible to keep hold of a top-two spot in the West. 

San Diego Retakes Third in West

Three defeats from four entering this weekend indicated that the San Diego Legion were in danger of spiraling after pushing Houston and Seattle at or near the top of the West table for much of the first half of the season, but a rivalry fixture against Rugby FC Los Angeles this weekend gave the reigning Western Conference champion an opportunity to get back in form. 

It’s safe to say that the Legion saw that chance to get their mojo back and took it. 

San Diego retained the Cali Cup with a 27-19 win over RFCLA on Sunday afternoon, storming back from a 19-7 halftime deficit with 20 unanswered points, as the Legion came alive on away turf late to bounce back from their loss to New England last week. 

That early hole San Diego found itself in against RFCLA was primarily due to the fact that it went down to 13 men after a pair of yellow cards, creating a sequence in which former Fiji Olympic sevens gold medalist Semi Kunatani scored a brace, but the Legion also managed to score a try, while two men down through Tiaan Loots. 

Back to full strength in the second half, San Diego then proceeded to put its foot down and hold RFCLA scoreless for the final 40, while getting the try bonus point in the process with three more five-pointers. 

Ten points clear of fifth place in the West, San Diego has gone through some bumps over the past few weeks, but with Seattle sputtering, there is a window for the Legion to take second and play in front of home fans for their first playoff game — if they string together some wins in the regular season’s final weeks, that is.

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