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Major League Rugby Week 17 Preview: New England, NOLA Clash With Big Stakes

Major League Rugby Week 17 Preview: New England, NOLA Clash With Big Stakes

One top seed is confirmed, and six of a possible eight teams have punched their playoff tickets ahead of the penultimate week of the MLR regular season.

Jun 21, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 17 Preview: New England, NOLA Clash With Big Stakes

We’re almost to the finish line of the 2024 Major League Rugby regular season, and the stakes ahead of the playoffs couldn’t be higher.

As teams across the league are trying to secure their playoff futures and fight for higher seedings ahead of when the conference semifinals begin July 20, just two weeks of the regular season remain for clubs to make moves up their conference tables.

One top seed is confirmed, the other could be this weekend. Six of a possible eight teams have punched their tickets to the postseason, and two more could seal the deal over the next few days.

And, no matter what happens, there’s bound to be some chaos.

Here’s a look at the penultimate round of the Major League Rugby regular season:

Where Things Stand

With two weeks remaining until the MLR’s conference semifinal matches, the postseason setup across both the Eastern and Western Conferences is largely set in stone already, with a few changes possible over the final games prior to the playoffs. 

All four Western Conference playoff sides have been confirmed — the Houston SaberCats, Seattle Seawolves, San Diego Legion and Dallas Jackals — with Houston clinching the top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs after defeating second-place Seattle by a 28-25 margin last week. 

The Legion (who are five points back of the Seawolves in third place in the West table) are the only team that can catch Seattle for second place over the final two weeks, but they must be careful not to slip up and allow Dallas (at seven points back of the Legion) to go on a late run of good form and surpass them for third at the death. 

Over in the East, two playoff sides have been confirmed - the New England Free Jacks and NOLA Gold - and two more can join them at the conclusion of this weekend, if Old Glory DC and/or the Chicago Hounds handle business and prevent the fifth-place Miami Sharks (currently eight points adrift of the fourth-place Hounds for the final playoff spot) from giving themselves a shot to qualify on the regular season’s final day. 

New England, the defending MLR champion, can clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs if it leads the Gold by six points or more following the end of Week 17’s games, while NOLA can also secure a home playoff match if it’s six points or more ahead of everyone else in the East after this weekend. 

Anthem Rugby Carolina, the Utah Warriors and Rugby FC Los Angeles all have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Can San Diego Pass Seattle?

San Diego is in an interesting position over the final two weeks of the regular season, and there is a path for the defending Western Conference champion to leapfrog the Seawolves and get a home playoff fixture. 

It’s by no means going to come easily, though. 

The Legion will play at their home ground, Snapdragon Stadium, in their final two regular-season matches, getting a murderer’s row of a double to close out the show against Houston this weekend and Seattle the next. 

The SaberCats clinching the West’s top seed this past weekend was perhaps the best thing that could’ve happened for San Diego, however; with no more incentive for Houston to throw out a strong lineup, it wouldn’t be surprising to see SaberCats coach Pote Human roll with a second-rate XV against San Diego in order to give his stars some rest ahead of a push for the league title as the favorites on paper. 

Meanwhile, there’s a ton for the Legion to play for this weekend — with kickoff against Houston coming at 3 p.m. Pacific on Sunday — as a win over Houston could make them five points or fewer behind Seattle in the West on the final day, potentially setting the stage for a match next weekend where the winner gets a home playoff match next month. 

Of course, San Diego’s predicament could’ve been a lot easier had it not ended its three-game winning streak at the hands of Chicago last week. And, considering Houston blanked the Legion with a statement 33-0 drubbing in April, there’s absolutely no guarantee San Diego is going to break down the SaberCats, even if they play a rotated squad. 

But a path is there for the Legion to play knockout rugby in front of home support, and with their playoff spot secure already, what do they have to lose?

NOLA Can Make More History

The last of the five remaining original MLR teams to make the postseason, the NOLA Gold have had nothing short of a spectacular season and have more than deserved a playoff spot, with first-year coach Cory Brown likely worth a shout as the league’s potential coach of the year, too. 

But, in kicking off Week 17 on Saturday afternoon, the Gold have the opportunity to stamp their feet down as the potential new top threats in the East. 

The top-seeded Free Jacks come to New Orleans this weekend, where they’ll likely have to deal with sweltering Bayou heat (high temperatures are forecast in the low 90s for Saturday) and humidity against one of the hottest squads in the MLR in the Gold, who have won six out of their past seven matches and whose midseason surge has them looking like a dangerous squad few will want to play when playoff rugby arrives. 

New England won the first matchup against NOLA this season in Week 3, but the Gold did open that match with a 14-0 lead, before the Free Jacks stormed back to win 27-21. 

The Free Jacks have been hammered with injuries since then, losing the likes of Wian Conradie and John Poland for the year, but stellar midseason signing Jed Melvin — who secured a hat trick in New England’s Week 16 victory over the Utah Warriors and earned MLR Player of the Week honors in the process — has helped soften the blow. He’ll be a crucial piece down the line for the Free Jacks, who can go into Week 18 worry-free with the clinched top seed in the East by beating NOLA this weekend. 

But not many teams in the MLR have played better rugby than the Gold over the past couple of months, either, and for a group that’s already had a landmark season, they can add to the memories made with a statement victory this weekend.

How To Watch Top 14 In The USA

The Top 14 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. 

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