You are here
The second week of Major League Rugby’s sophomore season ushered in the Americas Rugby Championship era. For about six weeks, all nine teams will struggle to replace players lost to international duty. The dynamic is one of the bigger storylines to follow as the league settles into its chosen window.
Couple the ARC absences with early injuries and teams still waiting on some of their foreign players to arrive or have their visas approved, and week two tested depth charts greatly. New Orleans now sits alone atop the league at 2-0, and 2018 runner-up Glendale is sitting near the bottom of the table at 0-2.
The Raptors have at least gathered two bonus points, while the Austin Elite have just one. Two weeks in, the Elite appear at first glance in danger of settling at the bottom, but they’re really just a few kicks away from 2-0. Utah's lineup will get stronger throughout the season, and an early road win will go a long way toward playoff push.
San Diego exercised some scrum demons from last year, vanquishing the defending champions in the process. The Legion proved they can win ugly without their best player, as Tai Enosa had to carry the water when Joe Pieterson left with an apparent concussion in the first half.
UTAH WARRIORS 17-9 AUSTIN ELITE
The Utah Warriors started off their season with a big road win, taking down the Austin Elite on Friday night. The new-look Warrior pack pushed Austin around in the first half, nabbing two tries from loosies. Ara Elkington capped off an 11-phase try first, and former Hawaii linebacker Lance Williams scored the second.
For the Elite, a reshuffled lineup saw four changes not forced by availability or injury. Head coach Alain Hyardet appears to be unsettled on a number of position battles. As well, Austin is sill waiting on the visas of several players to be approved, and like everyone else they’re effected by the ARC.
Still, the Elite had every chance to win the game. For the second-straight week, kicking partially undid them. Timothee Guillimin took over the kicking duties from Mickael Romera, who this week was on the bench after leaving points on the tee in Austin’s one-point, season-opening loss to Houston.
Guillimin missed two penalties, and Marcelo Torrealba, the Chilean scrumhalf starting in place of Romera, offloaded to Utah’s Jeremy Misiailegu meters short of scoring a try. Had he kept the ball and the Elite cashed in on the pressure on the possession, they could have taken the lead late.
What did we learned: Utah has improved in the forward pack and at scrumhalf. Imported front rowers Logan Daniels and Franco van den Berg were impressive in their MLR debuts, the former a Kiwi hooker and the latter a former South African U20 prop. Utah flyhalf James Semple was hobbling around with a significant limp, but he had good service from scrumhalf Ian Luciano. The New England College product hails from Australia, and he’s an upgrade.
NOLA GOLD 40-31 GLENDALE RAPTORS
The NOLA Gold have been undefeated since the end of the 2018 season, winning the offseason and starting 2019 2-0. Like against Toronto in the season opener, the Gold got off to a good start and threatened a blowout Saturday against Glendale.
The real difference in the game was the kicking of New Orleans fullback JP Eloff. Both teams scored five tries and converted three, but Eloff slotted three penalties and Glendale’s Robbie Petzer none. Though the Gold were missing five players to international duty and Glendale just three, the Raptors being without the trusted boot of Will Magie made a difference.
NOLA veteran Taylor Howden was probably the man of the match in attack, scoring two tries off of a pair of highlights. Newcomer and three-time World Cup veteran Kane Thompson was probably the man of the match in defense, leading he charge in stifling the usually lethal Glendale maul.
What we learned: Glendale might be the only team in the league to have gotten worse over the offseason. The losses of Sam Figg, John Quill, Ben Landry, Bryce Campbell and Seth Halliman haven’t been properly accounted for, though the Raptors have gotten deeper at both halfback positions. Oh, and we learned NOLA is for real. If GM of the league is a thing, it should go to Ryan Fitzgerald right now. Not only did he improve his starting 15 over the offseason, he built a team that can withstand the international losses.
SAN DIEGO 17-13 SEATTLE
In San Diego, the Legion delivered the defending champion Seattle Seawolves their first loss of the season in very Seattle-like weather. A rare Southern California downpour had a significant impact on the game, making handling and changing direction a challenge for both teams.
The boot of injured Seattle flyhalf Ben Cima was missed, as the Seawolves lost the territory battle throughout the first half. Shalom Suniula slid over from inside center to fill in for Cima. One of his wayward kicks led to a San Diego try, and another botched kick to touch ruined a prime scoring opportunity.
Two electric Eagles made their season debuts for the Legion, impacting the game positively. Mike Te’o scored a brilliant try off a quick lineout, and reserve flyhalf Tai Enosa spelled the injured Joe Pietersen well off the bench.
What we learned: the league is going to be competitive. With Seattle barely edging Glendale last week, Glendale losing at NOLA, Toronto playing NOLA close, RUNY beating San Diego, and San Diego beating Seattle, it appears the league will have more parity this season.