Major League Rugby returned to action for the first time in 373 days on Saturday, and it looked a lot different than the last time we all saw it.
A lot has happened in the last year. The Colorado Raptors’ decision to withdraw from the competition last April was an indication that the already wild offseason was only going to get wilder. MLR expected two more teams – the Dallas Jackals and the Los Angeles Giltinis – to join for the 2021 season, and held their first-ever collegiate draft.
The changes kept coming early into 2021 when the Jackals made the decision to sit this season out and push their inaugural season to 2022. This meant having to redistribute all of the players that were going to play for Dallas in 2021 and having to reshuffle the schedule just two months ahead of the season.
COVID never stopped shaking things up either. With different rules in every part of the continent, teams packed their bags and moved to places where they can play. The Toronto Arrows moved in with Rugby ATL in Georgia, and the San Diego Legion ditched Southern California for Las Vegas until restrictions are lightened up and they can head back home.
That’s where MLR returned on Saturday afternoon. Rugby United New York kicked off opening weekend with a 36-29 victory over the Legion in the desert. It was the first of five matches that would take place Saturday and was the first match of the weekend to be featured on The Rugby Network, the MLR’s new streaming service.
Roughly half an hour after RUNY and the Legion kicked off, the Los Angeles Giltinis and the New England Free Jacks were getting things started 275 miles west in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The competition’s newest team also looked like the competition’s most complete team as they defeated New England 42-27 in a wire-to-wire victory. The polished performance from the Giltinis can most likely be chalked up to the month they spent together as a team in Maui for preseason training.
The final three matches were getting started while the Giltinis were taking care of business in California. Down in Georgia, Rugby ATL and the Toronto Arrows were squaring off in, “The Roommate Bowl” while the two-time defending champion Seattle Seawolves were in Houston for the CBS Sports Match of the Week. Just down the road in Austin, the Utah Warriors and the Austin Gilgronis kicked off what would be the final match of the first day.
Toronto and Atlanta went down to the wire with Atlanta hanging on for a 21-14 victory. Houston held off the Seawolves and emerged with their third season-opening victory in as many seasons with a 30-24 win over the defending champions while the Utah Warriors escaped Texas with a 30-28 victory over the Gilgronis as a hail-mary of a penalty goal that would’ve won the match for Austin was just short and a little right of the uprights as time expired.
The final match of the weekend kicked off roughly 18 hours later down in The Big Easy when the NOLA Gold hosted Old Glory D.C. in a match that was supposed to raise the curtain on Round 1 but was pushed back a day due to the league’s testing and COVID-19 tracing policy.
The Gold and Old Glory traded blows and ended Round 1 with a 26-26 draw after a highly entertaining 80 minutes of rugby.
With four of the six matches in Round 1 being decided by seven points or less, it looks like we are in for a highly-entertaining few months of rugby.