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Major League Rugby Week 17 Recap: Playoff Field Finalized With 1 Week Left

Major League Rugby Week 17 Recap: Playoff Field Finalized With 1 Week Left

The top-seeded teams lost, and a 96-point shootout occurred during penultimate week of the MLR regular season, which saw the final playoff spots confirmed.

Jun 25, 2024 by Briar Napier
Major League Rugby Week 17 Recap: Playoff Field Finalized With 1 Week Left

The eight teams that will be duking it out in next month’s Major League Rugby playoffs have been confirmed.

It took months of wear and tear and box-office rugby for us to get here, but the squads that will be playing knockout-round matches for the biggest prize in North American rugby more than deserve their spots.

Week 17 of the MLR season was about settling some lingering scores and ironing out some more potential scenarios heading into the teams’ regular-season finales next weekend. 

Between a 96-point blockbuster and both conference’s top-seeded teams going down, for example, it’s clear there’s still plenty to play for, even as the postseason field is set in stone.

Time may be running out on the MLR’s regular-season slate, but don’t think for a minute that any punches are being pulled prior to the playoffs.

Here’s a look at what went down during the penultimate week of the MLR regular season this past weekend:

Gold Get Step Closer to No. 1 Seed

The NOLA Gold’s magical late-season surge is only getting better and better by the week. 

And if they play their cards right in Week 18, the Gold will be able to claim the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage for the playoffs, too. 

NOLA gave itself everything to play for this upcoming weekend by defeating the top-seeded New England Free Jacks by a 27-17 margin at The Gold Mine in Week 17, putting it two points adrift of the defending MLR champions in the East table with one regular-season game to go. The win gave the Gold a big chance to surpass them for first place in the competition’s final round before the playoffs. 

New England talisman Reece MacDonald got the scoring started less than five minutes in through a penalty, but the Gold then ripped off 19 unanswered points, as Cam Dolan, Jonah Mau’u and Taniela Filimone all got over the try line before the halftime whistle. 

Tom Florence’s red card with just over 20 minutes to play made things a bit hairy for the hosts late, but NOLA withstood New England’s last charges to clinch a playoff quarterfinal match at home for next month and put the pressure on the Free Jacks in Week 18. 

NOLA will face Old Glory DC on the road next weekend, whereas New England will host Anthem Rugby Carolina in its final regular-season matchup of the year.

San Diego Ends Houston’s Streak

It had to end sometime, and while the Houston SaberCats already have locked up the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed and will have home-field advantage in the postseason all the way through the championship game, the San Diego Legion ensured that Houston wouldn’t be riding a long win streak into the playoffs.

The SaberCats’ eight-game win streak, dating back to mid-April, was snapped by the Legion in a 37-24 result in San Diego, with the hosts helped by a brace from Tiaan Loots and another try in support from Charlie Hewitt, as they outscored Houston in both halves. 

Despite the result — an undoubtedly impressive one for the Legion with the postseason on the horizon — not much changes in terms of the postseason outlook for the West, especially after the Seattle Seawolves took care of business at home against Rugby FC Los Angeles with a 29-12 victory.

Houston clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference, and while San Diego’s victory in Week 17 did make it technically possible for it to surpass Seattle for second in the standings next weekend, the Legion would have to obtain the maximum five points and make up a scoring differential of 102 points when it hosts Seattle on Saturday in both teams’ regular-season finale, making it next to impossible.  

Old Glory Clinches Playoff Spot

Did Old Glory DC make a statement in qualifying for the playoffs following its match against the Miami Sharks on Saturday? Not exactly, but The Flags had a target to reach and hit it to seal a spot in the postseason. 

Despite Miami defeating DC 17-12 in a must-win game for the expansion side in order to keep its slim playoff hopes going, Old Glory’s John Powers became a hero for his team by scoring a try in the 73rd minute of action, a try that put DC in losing bonus-point territory and, therefore, a spot in the playoffs, when the final whistle blew after the Chicago Hounds near-simultaneously got past an early challenge from eliminated Anthem Rugby Carolina. 

It’s now back-to-back playoff appearances for Old Glory — which won its eliminator game last season, before dropping the Eastern Conference final to New England — as it can still pass Chicago in Week 18 for the East’s No. 3 seed, though DC would need the Hounds to drop points against the Sharks at home. 

Meanwhile, for Miami, four wins from its past six games is nothing to disregard, and while the Sharks were unable to play knockout-round rugby this season, a promising expansion campaign should put South Florida’s professional rugby club in a solid spot for the future.

Utah Wins Shootout Over Dallas

The Dallas Jackals already clinched a spot in the playoffs and had nothing to lose this weekend, but neither did the Utah Warriors, who simply are playing for pride, as they’re out of playoff contention. 

Those conditions resulted in one of the wildest scoring sprees of the 2024 MLR season, as the Warriors emerged victorious in a wild 50-46 barnburner at Zions Bank Stadium. 

The floodgates opened immediately, as Utah led 33-24 after 40 minutes in a breakneck first half, of which by then, Michael Manson and Kieran McClea already had braces for Utah, and Samuel Tuifua had one himself for Dallas. 

The Warriors then ripped off 17 more points right out of the dressing room without reply from the Jackals, who found themselves down 26 points in the final 15 minutes off the back of what ended up being a four-try day from New Zealander wing Manson. 

Despite the time crunch, Dallas had four more tries in its bag before the final siren to put itself within four — getting within one more try of what would’ve been one of the most stunning comebacks in MLR history — but the Jackals didn’t have any more minutes to spare to put them over the Warriors at the depth. 

Utah impressively showed no interest in packing it in and getting on with the offseason a couple of weeks early.

Chicago Survives In Hairy Fashion

There’s been some internal turmoil with the Chicago Hounds lately, as head coach Sam Harris departed the club by mutual consent earlier this month, while interim coach and former England hooker Rob Webber will be departing the club at the end of the season in order to take a coaching position on the staff at Saracens in the English Premiership, per RugbyPass

That instability almost contributed to a stunning defeat at the hands of winless Anthem Rugby Carolina this weekend, but Chicago recovered in the nick of time, to avoid what would’ve been a devastating loss. 

With just over 10 minutes remaining, Chicago was down 29-24. The development-focused expansion side unquestionably was the better team on the park in Charlotte on Saturday, and Anthem’s maiden win of its existence was in sight. 

Dylan Fawsitt came to the rescue for the Hounds with a late brace, however, and not only got Chicago the win, he also helped clinch its playoff spot in the process — the club’s first in its second season of play. 

A victory in front of home support over Miami in Week 18 will give Chicago a date in the quarterfinals with either New England or NOLA, depending on how the rest of the matches involving Eastern Conference clubs shake out, though the Hounds also must be careful not to give up ground to fourth-place Old Glory, which can surpass them in the standings.

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