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Major League Rugby Is Back: Week 1 Preview

Photo Credit: Colleen McCoskey

The wait is over folks. Week 1 of Major League Rugby is finally here. Three new teams, the introduction of conferences, and some big name signings were the talk of the offseason. Well now it's time for everyone to step up, as they are playing for keeps now. All 12 teams are in action week one, with the week's marquee matchup being a Championship rematch between San Diego and Seattle. Let's take a look at this week's matches.

Colorado Raptors @ Houston SaberCats - Saturday 02/08, 12pm ET/9am PT
AVEVA Stadium - Houston, Texas | TV: ESPNNews

The Raptors rebranded to Colorado and hired Peter Borlase as their new head coach. The SaberCats also hired a new head coach in Paul Healy. The SaberCats didn't make any big signings in the offseason, just enough to solidify their team. The Raptors, on the other hand, made two big signings in former Wallaby Digby Ioane and former All Black Rene Ranger.

Colorado won both of their exhibition contests; one against Rugby ATL and one against the Austin Gilgronis (née Herd). Houston lost both of theirs; one against the Tasman Mako and one against NOLA. These two teams are opposites. Houston succeeds in the set piece, while Colorado is better in open play. If the Raptors can play an open style of game, they'll walk away with the win. If the SaberCats succeed in slowing the game down with the set piece, they'll walk away with the win.

Picks: Aaron- COL (-4), Liam- COL (-7), Craig- COL (-9)

Old Glory @  NOLA Gold - Saturday 02/08, 4pm ET/1pm PT
Shrine on Airline - Metairie, Louisiana | TV: Cox Sports, NBC Sports Washington, ESPN+

We get our first glance at an expansion side when Old Glory heads south to take on the New Orleans Gold. DC made the biggest signing of the offseason by signing Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira. NOLA might have had the biggest loss of the offseason with Tristan Blewett choosing to focus on his academic pursuits.

Old Glory found success in their exhibition adventures. They blew out Navy, before finishing strong after a slow start against Rugby ATL. Meanwhile NOLA had a mixed bag in their exhibition fixtures. They lost to Rugby ATL by a point, before responding with a blowout of Houston. NOLA retains a pretty strong side from last season, while DC might struggle with their depth.

Picks: Aaron- NOLA (-10), Liam- NOLA (-12), Craig- NOLA (-8)

Utah Warriors @ Rugby ATL - Sunday, 02/09 3pm ET/12pm PT
Lupo Field - Life University, Marietta, Georgia | TV: ESPN+

Utah made a change at the head coaching position. Alf Daniels was let go and former Australian international Chris Latham was brought in to replace him. Rugby ATL decided to go the youth route, with only three players on the squad north of thirty. ATL has depth, but lacks in meaningful experience.

Utah had a bad exhibition season. They struggled against the Toronto Arrows and got demolished by the San Diego Legion. Not many details were released for Utah, so Warriors' fans have to hope for the best. Rugby ATL started their exhibition season strong with a win over NOLA, but let a lead slip through their grasp against OGDC. Both teams have a chance to make a statement this weekend.

Picks: Aaron- RATL (-7), Liam- RATL (-14), Craig- RATL (-3)

Rugby United New York @ New England Free Jacks - Sunday 02/09 4pm ET/1pm PT
Sam Boyd Stadium - Las Vegas, Nevada | TV: ESPN+, NESN

The Cold War is in effect... in sunny Las Vegas. The Free Jacks host RUNY in what is technically a home game for them out in Las Vegas where the expected high is 70° F/21° C. RUNY made a splash in the offseason when they announced the signing of Mathieu Bastareaud on loan. Kensuke Hatakeyama, Japan's most capped player, was the big name signing for the Free Jacks.

RUNY had an decent exhibition season. They scrimmaged Toronto in Buffalo and then blew out the New York Barbarians. They got a test from the Arrows, so we'll see how they respond to the Free Jacks. New England's exhibition season involved no outings against current MLR teams, so we'll have to wait and see if they can face the music.

Picks: Aaron- RUNY (-7), Craig- RUNY (-5)

Seattle Seawolves @ San Diego Legion - Sunday 02/09 5pm ET/2pm PT
Torero Stadium - San Diego, California | TV: CBS Sports Network

Championship rematch week one is what it's all about. This right here is the tone setter for season three of Major League Rugby. Can the Legion put the championship game behind them or will Seattle reign supreme? Both teams made splash signings this offseason. The Legion brought in All Blacks legend Ma'a Nonu. While Seattle signed Juan Manuel Leguizamón and got a surprise signing in former Wasps center Ross Neal.

Seattle had a good exhibition season. First, defeating the Crimson Tide, in what looks to become an annual fixture. Second, defeating the Tasman Mako after watching Houston struggle for parts against them. San Diego had a bunch of small scrimmages against local clubs before blowing out Utah in their one hit out against MLR competition. Both teams will bring the fire and this could come down to the last second again.

Picks: Aaron- SD (-9), Liam- SD (-8), Craig- SD (-10)

Toronto Arrows @ Austin Gilgronis - Sunday 02/09 8pm ET/5pm PT
Circuit of the Americas - Austin, Texas | TV: Fox Sports 2

That is not a typo. The Austin Herd rebranded 10 days before the season was to start. Now named the Gilgronis, Austin hopes the rebrand and new ownership breathes life into the team. Austin also made a couple big signings, after the rebrand, to bring in Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurt Morath. Toronto didn't make any big signings but probably made a great under the radar signing in Tomás de la Vega.

Austin had a pretty decent exhibition season considering all the changes they went through. Playing local teams to reestablish community relations and one match against the Raptors. The Arrows had two exhibition scrimmages. One against RUNY, which was basically a controlled practice, and one against Utah. It will take some time to see if Austin's changes have an effect on their performance. Expect Toronto to walk out with the win, but not without a fight from the Gilgronis.

Picks: Aaron- TOR (-16), Liam- TOR (-20), Craig- TOR (-14)

Week one should be an exciting one for rugby fans in North America. The league keeps growing and the standard of play grows along with it. While not a make or break season, this season could go a long way towards dictating the path that Major League Rugby follows.

For those outside the US, all of this week's matches will be broadcast on the USMLR Facebook page.

~Josh Fredlund