Round 17 was an important one around Major League Rugby.
Not only did it officially end the season for the Toronto Arrows and the San Diego Legion, but some of the results also ended the pursuit for the playoffs for a few teams and threw one final wrench into the Eastern Conference playoff picture as well.
The first match of the weekend has huge implications for the home side as the Houston SaberCats traveled up to the Northeast to take on Rugby United New York. After dropping a tough one to the New England Free Jacks and falling out of the second playoff spot in the Eastern Conference the week prior, RUNY needed to take care of business against the last-place SaberCats to ensure that they remained in the mix for a playoff berth. They did that, and more, by administering a 35-point beatdown in a 54-19 victory over Houston.
RUNY’s win, combined with NOLA Gold’s stunning 30-6 loss to the Seattle Seawolves, bumped them back into the second playoff spot in the east with one week to go. Now NOLA, one of MLR’s founding clubs, will not only have to defeat RUNY on the road in Round 18, but they will have to pick up a bonus-point victory while also defeating them by a big enough point differential that they overtake them in the standings for their first-ever playoff berth.
Winning on the road is hard enough, but picking up a bonus point victory by a huge margin over a playoff quality team is a lot to ask for. It’s not the first time that the Gold has been in this situation before, though. In 2019, a four-game losing streak to close the season saw them fall from the top of the table to fifth place. Their spot in the playoffs turned into a spot on the couch.
Sound’s a little like their 2021 season, doesn’t it? The Gold has a tough task ahead of them on Saturday afternoon, and if they don’t rise to the occasion they’ll watch RUNY play in the playoffs for the second consecutive (kind of) season while NOLA goes back to the drawing board for Year 5.
The second match of the weekend saw Old Glory D.C. knock off the San Diego Legion 38-29. While this match had no playoff implications, it put an end to Old Glory’s five-match skid and sent San Diego into the offseason with a 6-10 record and a bad taste in their mouths. For the Legion, it was the cherry on top of a weird season that saw them play home matches in Las Vegas, Los Angeles at the Coliseum, Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, and the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center before they were allowed to return to their home grounds at Torero Stadium for their final two home matches of the season. The fact that they were even able to complete their 16 matches with no real interruptions – and win six matches in the process – was a success. Old Glory has the chance to end their season on the right foot on Saturday evening when they host the Austin Gilgronis.
A match that did have massive playoff implications took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday evening between the Giltinis and the Gilgronis. Austin would need to defeat LA to have a shot at a playoff spot in the Western Conference. A victory on Saturday combined with a Utah Warriors loss to Rugby ATL would have left the door open for a meaningful match against Old Glory in the regular-season finale. It looked as if that was actually going to be the case. The Gilgronis led 17-12 heading into the half, but a spirited second-half performance by the Giltinis saw LA win the match 31-17 to sweep the season series between the two clubs set the stage for the Western Conference final against the Utah Warriors.
The second-place Warriors were in action against Rugby ATL shortly after LA knocked off Austin to help Utah secure a spot in the playoffs for the first time since MLR’s inaugural season. This was a meaningful match for both sides, and it was Atlanta that handled business with a 41-31 victory to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference final for a date against either RUNY or NOLA. Atlanta will close their regular season against the New England Free Jacks on Sunday evening while the Warriors and the Giltinis will square off for a preview of the Western Conference final in Utah before the real deal in LA the following week.
The Free Jacks got MLR’s Sunday slate started with a 28-17 victory over the Toronto Arrows to improve to 9-6 on the season. Had RUNY lost, this would’ve meant that the Free Jacks could have been had a shot at the playoffs in Round 18 if NOLA and RUNY played to a draw and they picked up a bonus-point victory in the regular-season finale. Instead, they will play playoff-bound Rugby ATL and try to win their tenth match of the season, which is a fantastic accomplishment in itself.
The loss served as the end to the Arrows 2021 season. They finished with a 5-11 record, which isn’t bad when you take into consideration the fact that they played 16 consecutive road matches. Their willingness to uproot their entire operation and move to Atlanta for the season was one of the biggest reasons that Major League Rugby’s fourth season could operate as smoothly as it did. It was not the year that they’d hoped for, but people should realize how big it was for them to even play this season given the circumstances they were under. Winning five matches makes it all that much more impressive.
How about the Seawolves in Round 17? We already touched on the pressure their 30-6 victory over NOLA puts on the Gold heading into Round 18, but the win serves as a testament to Seattle’s mettle as well. Even in the midst of a tough season, the Seawolves put together a solid performance to play the role of the spoiler on Sunday evening. They now have a chance to end the season on a two-match winning streak when they host the Houston SaberCats in both club’s regular-season finale on Thursday evening.