It took nearly every match of Major League Rugby’s 2021 season, but the playoff picture is finally set.
When it came down to it, there were only two matches that had real, significant playoff implications in the final round of the regular season. Rugby United New York and NOLA Gold squared off for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on Saturday afternoon while Rugby ATL’s match against the New England Free Jacks on Sunday evening left the door open for an MLR Final to be played in Atlanta.
Prior to all of that, though, was a unique Thursday night showdown between the Seattle Seawolves and the Houston SaberCats in the Pacific Northwest. Both Houston and Seattle had seasons they’d like to forget about, but it was the Seawolves who put all of the pieces together in the final two weeks of the year to finish their 2021 season on a high note. Just a week earlier, the Seawolves effectively ended NOLA’s chances of making the playoffs with a 30-6 victory over the Gold to pick up their third win of the season. On Thursday, Seattle closed out the season on the right foot with a 40-21 victory over the last-place SaberCats.
The second match of the weekend was arguably the most important one as NOLA and RUNY locked horns for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A lot had to go in NOLA’s favor for them to make their first appearance in the MLR Championship Series. Not only did they need a victory, but they needed to keep RUNY from picking up any bonus points and they needed to win by at least 20 points. The Gold had to play perfectly on Saturday afternoon. NOLA only checked one of those boxes with their 35-32 victory over RUNY. As a result, RUNY will play in the Eastern Conference Final and NOLA will again be watching from home.
The third match of the weekend saw Old Glor D.C. knock off the Austin Gilgronis 29-25 on Saturday evening to finish the season on a two-match winning streak. A five-match losing streak spanning from May to July eliminated Old Glory from playoff contention, but D.C. was able to right the ship in the final two weeks of the season to pick up their sixth win and go into the offseason with some momentum. While the Gilgronis found themselves in the mix in Round 17, a loss to the top-ranked Giltinis bumped them out of contention heading into the final round of the season. Expect Austin to be right back in the middle of everything in 2022.
With the Western Conference Final already set heading into Round 18, Saturday evening’s match-up between the Los Angeles Giltinis and the Utah Warriors was an appetizer ahead of next week’s main course. Utah jumped out to an early lead and the Giltinis walked it down to take their first lead of the match with only a few minutes to play. Just as the Warriors have done so many times this season, they scored at the death to pick up a 34-29 win over the Giltinis and go into their playoff matchup with some momentum. Knocking off the Giltinis when it counts will be a tall order for the Warriors, but they have the pieces to be able to do it.
The three teams in the playoffs with the Giltinis have all beaten LA over the course of the regular season. While LA is likely still the odds on favorite to hoist the shield come August 1, the potential for some upsets in the next two weeks exists.
The final match of the weekend saw Rugby ATL fall to the New England Free Jacks 22-19. The win was New England’s tenth of the year, and while they weren’t able to sneak into the playoffs, they are in about as good of a spot as anyone heading into the offseason. Even with the loss, Atlanta finished the regular season in second place as could host the MLR Final if they take care of business against Rugby United New York and Utah knocks off the Giltinis.
Even with the playoff stage set, there is still so much that can happen with just two weeks to play. Lock in for what is sure to be a wild ride.