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Major League Rugby Week 14 Recap: Record Crowd Sees Free Jacks Come Up Big

Major League Rugby Week 14 Recap: Record Crowd Sees Free Jacks Come Up Big

The first official playoff fates of MLR teams were decided this past weekend, and the New England Free Jacks got a big win in front of a record crowd.

Jun 3, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 14 Recap: Record Crowd Sees Free Jacks Come Up Big

The Houston SaberCats are in, Anthem Rugby Carolina is out.

It’s true: after 14 weeks of play in the Major League Rugby regular season, we finally have teams in and out of playoff spots.

Many, many more postseason fates are still to be decided over the season’s final four weeks, but for the meantime, let’s see what went down in another critical weekend of play in the MLR.

After all, what happened this past weekend could end up proving vital to the quickly approaching Decision Day later this month.

Here’s a look at what went down this past weekend, all part of FloRugby’s coverage and analysis of North America’s top professional rugby league: 

Record Crowd Sees Free Jacks Topple Dallas

The New England Free Jacks have had their share of ups and downs this season in their quest to be the second repeat champion (after the Seattle Seawolves did it in the league’s first two seasons) in MLR history, but the team’s support in suburban Boston hasn’t wavered — and the Free Jacks faithful showed up in a big way to help their club pick up a crucial victory over the Dallas Jackals this past weekend. 

Rugby’s equivalent to the Dallas vs. Boston matchup we’ll soon see in the NBA Finals, a club record 4,821 fans packed into Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch New England take a 26-24 victory and build its Eastern Conference-topping lead to six points heading into Week 15. 

Reigning league MVP and club captain Jayson Potroz (who has been bothered by injuries this season) looked as good as new. He scored a try inside the game’s first 10 minutes to get the party started, and the Free Jacks led by as much as 26-10 — thanks to tries from Andrew Quattrin, Wayne van der Bank and Ethan Fryer — in the second half, before a late Dallas rally helped the visitors get a losing bonus point. 

New England can become the East’s first team to secure a playoff position next week against Old Glory DC, and after plenty of adversity this year, the Free Jacks unquestionably will be looking to get the job done and rest when they can for the title push ahead of them.

Houston First To Clinch A Playoff Spot

The first team officially in for next month’s MLR playoffs is confirmed, and if you’ve been following the league all season, it’s zero surprise that the Houston SaberCats are the ones who have earned that distinction. 

Once again faced with what on paper seemed like a tricky task this past weekend — playing the NOLA Gold, winners of four straight, on their home pitch in the rainy Bayou — Houston once again responded to the challenge with lethal force and a statement win that solidified it yet another time as the team to beat in Major League Rugby. 

In the SaberCats’ 21-7 victory, they stifled a NOLA attack that had begun to find its footing throughout its run in form (scoring 29.5 points per game during its four-match win streak going into this week) while winning their sixth match in a row and 11th overall, the latter of which is a club record. 

Houston was lethal from the opening whistle, going up 21-0 within 20 minutes, thanks to tries from Andre Warner, Ronan Murphy and Keni Nasoqeqe.

NOLA’s comeback hopes went even further south in the second half when Olajuwon Noa was sent off halfway through the period, making the Gold short-handed the rest of the way. 

Needless to say, Houston didn’t budge and held down the fort in executing a scoreless second half on both sides, getting it officially to the postseason with about a month to spare. 

Houston can clinch a home first-round game next week with a victory and San Diego Legion loss (with no bonus point), though the Legion get winless Anthem Rugby Carolina, meaning the SaberCats’ next goal may have to take some time to be achieved.

Old Glory Pummels Anthem, Up To Third

Feeling the heat of the Miami Sharks gunning for the East’s fourth playoff spot that it owned entering this round of games, Old Glory DC got a weekend it needed against hapless Anthem, ripping them apart 47-29 at home as, combined with Miami’s big loss to Rugby FC Los Angeles, it created a nine-point gap between DC and Miami. Plus, the Flags surpassed the Chicago Hounds (who were on bye this week) on scoring differential, too, taking third place with 30 points in the East, while putting second-place NOLA (on 34 points) on notice. 

Prop Steven Longwell had a hat trick in the second half for DC in its shootout victory over the development-focused Anthem side, which is in serious danger of going winless for an entire campaign. The anthem also officially became the first club to be eliminated from playoff contention this weekend. 

Willie Talataina-Mu, Connor Buckley, Facundo Gattas and Quentin Newcomer were the others to cross over for Old Glory, which ripped open the game late after the two teams were even at 12-12 after 40 minutes.

Siaosi Nai had a brace for Anthem, but its awful defending was its Achilles’ heel once again. The Anthem allowed at least 40 points in a single match for the eighth time this season — and second time alone to Old Glory, which defeated Anthem by a 46-32 margin in March.

RFCLA Leaps Above Utah In The West

Rugby FC Los Angeles still has some major work to do over the final four weeks of the regular season if it wants a chance at the MLR playoffs, but the squad got one step closer to contending for the Western Conference’s final postseason spot this week by dominating the Miami Sharks 45-15, ending the expansion club’s two-game winning streak.

RFCLA has quietly played some of the best rugby of any club in the league over the past month, winning three of its past four matches. 

A 10-10 stalemate at halftime turned into a 35-5 second-half demolition by the West Coast club, as five players scored tries, helping RFCLA pick up the try scoring bonus point and surpass the Utah Warriors (who lost 27-20 to San Diego this past weekend in their fourth straight loss) for fifth place in the West standings on scoring differential with 27 points. 

RFCLA is six points down of the Jackals for the West’s fourth, and final, postseason slot, but its chances of gaining ground on Dallas next week are slim, as RFCLA must travel to Houston, whereas the Jackals host the Hounds. 

Still, there is a clear window for RFCLA that’s been created by its strong play over the past month, and if that form rolls over into June, perhaps we could be talking about a late party crashing of the West’s playoff setup in the coming weeks.

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