France's Grand Slam bid came to an end, Cal and Saint Mary's took care of business against the military academies, and this roller coaster of an MLR season had perhaps its most topsy turvy weekend yet.
Here are ten quick notes concerning the past weekend of action:
1. France Just Had To Be.... France
With a Grand Slam beckoning, all that 3-0 France had to do was beat Scotland and Ireland in its remaining two games to finish the competition a perfect 5-0. The young French side, led by new head coach Fabien Galthie, had bypassed all expectations by defeating World Cup runners-up England in Round 1, and then taking down World Cup semi-finalists Wales in Cardiff in Round 3.
After getting off to strong start against Scotland, however, France's prop Mohamed Haouas pulled an inexplicably French move, throwing a haymaker to the jaw of Scotland loose forward Jamie Ritchie, earning himself a straight red card and putting France's Six Nations hopes in jeopardy. They went on to lose the game 28-17 and, just as they did after the World Cup quarterfinal, will be wondering just what could have been if not for a moment of sheer recklessness.
2. England Now In The Driver's Seat
England survived a late Welsh rally to win 33-30 at Twickenham on Saturday. It was a very strong performance from England, save for a late yellow and a late red card which opened the door for Wales to close the gap some.
The bonus point win now sends England to the top of the Six Nations standings, following France's surprising loss to the Scots. With just one remaining game against Italy left to play, England is looking a sure lock to bring home the Six Nations title, even with its first round defeat to France.
3. Major League Rugby Continues To Surprise
If the first four weeks of Major League rugby took us fans on a roller coaster ride, then Week 5 was like doing backflip nose dives in a fighter jet. There were upsets, wild finishes, and the end of a winless streak that dates back all the way to 2018.
The parity across the league is hugely beneficial for the health of the competition and the interest from fans nationwide. The balance from teams 1 through 12 is demonstrating that all of the teams are continuing to improve from year to year, which can only be a good thing for the prosperity of MLR.
4. Only One Unbeaten Remains
The Colorado Raptors (2-3) surprised everyone on Friday night when they toppled the previously unbeaten Toronto Arrows (4-1) 22-19. The win makes it two on the bounce for Colorado, who are now up to third place in the Western Conference and now in the playoff picture.
The San Diego Legion (5-0) , however, did manage to remain perfect after out-dueling RUNY (3-2) in a wonderful contest on Sunday afternoon, winning 24-20. What's more impressive for San Diego is the fact they managed to take down one of the league's best teams with a handful of players out due to injury, including Ma'a Nonu, Nate Augspurger, and JP du Plessis among others.
5. The Drought Is Officially Over
Perhaps the biggest storyline in the MLR this weekend was Austin Gilgronis' (1-3-1) comeback to take down the Houston Sabercats (1-4) on the road on Saturday night. Having come so close to a victory on so many occasions in the past two years, the AG's finally got over the hump and pulled a W, ending their winless drought at 22 games. The win also puts Austin right back into the mix in the West, and should they carry some momentum out of this victory, there's no telling how far they could go.
6. California Kings Take Care Of Service Academies
The two biggest matchups of D1A rugby over the weekend took place at Witter Field in Berkeley, California, as the Saint Mary's Gaels took on the Navy Midshipmen before the Golden Bears squared off with the Army Black Knights.
Both Navy and Army have outstanding programs this season, but neither was good enough to topple California's best, as Saint Mary's defeated Navy 43-25, and Cal dispatched Army 62-22.
The wins both indicate that the Gaels and the Golden Bears could be on another collision course to decide the West, as they did a year ago when Cal edged SMC on the final play of the game.
7. Lindenwood Gets Back On Track; Ark State Losing Its Way
After suffering its first loss of the season two weeks ago against Life, the Lindenwood Lions bounced back in a big way on Saturday, defeating the Arkansas State Red Wolves 43-8. The clinical performance by the Lions was a much-improved outing from their last Mid-South contest, and bodes well for them ahead of their rematch with Life in a few weeks.
For the Red Wolves, Saturday's loss makes it two blowout defeats in a row following their 36-5 losing effort against Navy the week prior. It's a far cry from the Arkansas State team that took down Life just four weeks ago, and with little time remaining before the playoffs, the Red Wolves need to rediscover their mojo.
8. Old Glory DC Is An Absolute Contender
Old Glory DC (4-1) pulled off a great comeback to defeat Rugby ATL (2-3) in perhaps the game of the weekend in Week 5. In front of another packed house, the men from DC erased an early two score deficit to come back and win a shootout with ATL 31-29. That's now four straight wins for DC, who have established themselves as not only one of the league's most entertaining, but also one of its very best teams.
9. Another Loss For Seattle
Well, just when we thought the Seattle Seawolves (1-4) were turning it around and getting back to their winning ways, the Utah Warriors (2-2-1) came in and crashed the party. Utah's 33-31 win in Seattle was massive for them as they duke it out in a tightly contested Western Conference.
For Seattle, questions have to be asked. How does a team go from winning back to back MLR titles to losing four of its first five games to open the season? Thankfully, nobody besides San Diego has a winning record in the West, so the Seawolves are by no means out of the picture yet. However, they are going to need to step their game up sooner rather than later.
10. Coronavirus Now Impacting Rugby Worldwide
The coronavirus has already led to the postponement of the Singapore and Hong Kong HSBC 7s stops, and now it's rearing its ugly head toward the Six Nations. Italy's remaining fixtures in the competition have been cancelled, and now the pivotal France vs Ireland match will cancelled as well. The aim is for the matches to all be played at later dates in the year, but who knows how that could really shake out?
For now, we may see the end of the Six Nations before the final weekend even takes place. It's a pity too, because heading into Round 5, all three of England, France, and Ireland have a shot to still win the title.