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For all but two of Major League Rugby’s original six teams, the next time they take the field will be for the trailblazing league’s inaugural regular season. The same weekend Austin plays at Glendale on CBS Sports Network in the first game of the week, Houston hosts NOLA and San Diego opens at Seattle, Utah plays a club team from Alberta, Canada. Seattle is still trying to get some kind of hit-out before the opener, too.
But for all intents and purposes, the preseason is over and the real stuff will soon be upon us. We’ve learned a lot from the preseason, not the least of which being that people want to see these teams.
Houston opened its temporary home of Constellation Field with a sellout, seeing more than 5,000 fans through the turnstiles. In Glendale, Infinity Park was fuller than usual for the Raptors’ spring opener. Utah set the high mark with more than 9,000 in its preseason debut.
On the field, we’ve learned different things about different teams at different times. We don’t know a lot about what the Seawolves have done, but what is obvious is there’s a loaded roster. Canadian head coach Tony Healy has apparently run into some issues with his visa and may not be at the helm this season. However, there are loads of veteran professionals on the roster, so the sky isn’t falling.
Everyone else has played at least one match against another MLR side. Below are the made-up standings for those games. And below those are what the standings would look like if you included Rugby United New York and the Ontario Arrows, both of whom have played several preseason games against current MLR teams.
New York won’t field a team in the inaugural season but is already officially in for the second season. Ontario is expected to be.
It’s important to remember teams aren’t complete articles, yet. Utah’s play-by-play man let it slip on the air during Saturday’s match against Ontario that Tongan and former San Diego Breakers flyhalf Kurt Morath is expected to join the team, as is Eagle No. 8 David Tameilau.
Former Springbok Pedrie Wannenberg was originally tabbed as a coach for Austin, but he booted up for the Elite on the weekend. Todd Clever is an owner and still well capable of playing at a high level. If those two occupy the Austin back row alongside Hanco Germishuys, the Elite look a lot stouter on paper.
But this isn’t about what we think we know. There’s been plenty of speculation during the never-ending signing period. Now it’s about what we’ve seen. With the current teams, let’s work backwards.
Right now, we know nothing about what the Seawolves have done, because they’ve not yet done anything on the pitch. So they’re at the bottom, preceded by the Elite, by virtue of their 0-3 preseason. Not only have the Elite lost twice to NOLA by lopsided margins, but they also fell to San Diego.
Just ahead of Austin are the Utah Warriors. They have only played one original team so far, Glendale, losing by 27. The closer loss to Ontario signaled improvement and promise. Still, the Warriors are winless.
San Diego’s lone loss came at the hands of Houston, though the Legion were missing some very important players in Mike Te’o and Ryan Matyas. San Diego’s only win is over the worst team that’s played another, but it’s still a win, hence the standing ahead of Utah.
Up next is NOLA. The Gold lost by 18 to the Sabercats, but avenged it a few weeks later, sort of, with a draw in the rematch. The Gold have twice beaten up on Austin, but they were beaten soundly by Glendale. So, because it’s played Houston twice and not won yet, NOLA is below the Sabercats. And because the Gold have banked two wins, both more lopsided than the Legion’s victory over Austin, they’re where they are.
Houston has played far more preseason games than any other, totaling 16 dating back to 2017. But only three have been against MLR originals – a win and a tie against NOLA and a win over San Diego. So the Sabercats slot in above both of those teams and Austin, which has lost to both.
Glendale, like Houston, is unbeaten against peers. The Raptors beat NOLA by 24 and Utah by 27. Those score lines are enough to make them the favorite.
Fold in New York and Ontario, and it gets a bit of a shakeup. New York has won all of its games so far, including beating the Arrows by 17. Houston tied the Arrows in Houston. Therefore, RUNY slots in ahead of Houston but below the impressive Glendale Raptors.
Further, more speculative evidence is the Sabercats’ one-point defeat of New York Athletic Club, a side including several RUNY guys, but not as strong as the MLR side. Squeaking that out, just barely, isn’t a strong result for a professional team several games in.
Ontario slides in at fourth, just below the Sabercats. Houston hasn’t lost and Ontario has, so that breaks the tie. That road win over Utah boosts the Arrows over San Diego, who lost at home to the Houston team Ontario tied.
Will the Seawolves win games this season, slotting somewhere between first and last? Will some late additions vastly improve some teams from the preaseason? Will there be some injuries that take a team down a peg or two? Would New York and Ontario be competitive in this league right now? The answer to all those questions is probably. But, for the first time ever, we have some results to measure the original six against one another. In a couple of weeks, we'll erase it and start the exercise all over again, but this time for real.
|Houston Sabercats||2-0-1||San Diego/NOLA||N/A||NOLA|
|NOLA Gold||2-2-1||Austin (x2)||Houston/Glendale||Houston|
|San Diego Legion||1-1||Austin||Houston||N/A|
|Utah Warriors||0-1||N/A||Glendale Raptors||N/A|
|Austin Elite||0-3||N/A||San Diego/NOLA (x2)||N/A|
|Rugby United NY||1-0||Ontario Arrows||N/A||N/A|
|Houston Sabercats||2-0-2||San Diego/NOLA||N/A||NOLA/Ontario|
|Ontario Arrows||1-1-1||Utah Warriors||New York||Houston|
|San Diego Legion||1-1||Austin (x2)||Houston||N/A|
|Austin Elite||0-3||N/A||San Diego/NOLA (x2)||N/A|