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MLR 2021 Week 1: Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

 

Photo Credit: Josh Fredlund
Photo Credit: Josh Fredlund


It's that time of the year again folks. It's time for season four (or is it three and a half) of Major League Rugby. There were originally set to be 13 teams this season, but Dallas dropped out before the start of the season. So we're going to go with 12 teams evenly split between the east and west conferences. We've got an 18 week season ahead of us with each team playing 16 games and getting two byes. The championship rounds will follow with a semi-final round and a championship final for the MLR Shield.

Before we get to the Championship, we've got to start at week one. It's going to be an interesting season. Fan favorites have left the competition. Everyone still hates the Austin name, but now the Gilgronis have some company in the LA Giltinis. COVID precautions are being taken, but you know it's going to rear it's ugly head at some point. But enough of that, let's get into this week's preview.

Old Glory DC @ NOLA Gold - Gold Mine (Metairie, LA) 

Sunday, March 21st (4pm ET/3pm CT) - Fox Sports 2 (Maybe?)

We are going a little out of order here. The DC at Gold game was scheduled to be the first game to kickoff the 2021 MLR season, but due to COVID protocols the game got pushed back one day. Old Glory comes into this match with a shallow roster with only 37 players named to start. Whereas NOLA come into the game with 44 players on their roster. This season is almost going to be a war of attrition and it doesn't look good for DC.

Now for the game. Old Glory got absolutely run over last season 46-13 in their first ever match in MLR. Their scrum was not good as NOLA had their way. Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira finally got visa clearance and we saw some improvement, including an upset over Seattle. NOLA is a good squad and one of the top teams in the league. They just need to put it together a little more. Miscues have hampered them more then they should've in the past. This game could go either way. NOLA looks to be the more ready team and it will probably show on Sunday. But Old Glory DC could surprise us all.

EoD Picks: Aaron (NOLA by 5), Craig (NOLA by 6), Josh (NOLA by 10)

Rugby United New York @ San Diego Legion - Torero Field (San Diego, CA)

Saturday, March 20th (6pm ET/5pm CT) - Fox 5 San Diego, The Rugby Network

This is going to be a fight ladies and gentlemen. It's east coast vs west coast. California vs New York. These two teams always bring out the best in each other. Both teams have new head coaches. Rob Hoadley left San Diego after last season and Greg McWilliams left RUNY to take care of his wife. It will be interesting to see how both squads respond to both the loss of their coaches and the loss of some key players.

San Diego has been one of the top teams in the league since the start and while things seem a little more even throughout the league this year, it looks like the Legion have the early lead as favorites. RUNY is a scrappy bunch that does the dirty work and works a team from whistle to whistle. This scrap is always entertaining to watch and should go down to the wire again.

EoD Picks: Aaron (SD by 4), Craig (SD by 3), Josh (SD by 5)

New England Free Jacks @ LA Giltinis - LA Coliseum (Los Angeles, CA)

Saturday, March 20th (6:30pm ET/5:30pm CT) - Bally's Sports West, NESN, The Rugby Network

We get our first look at the Sydney, mhm, excuse me... the LA Giltinis and rugby is back in the LA Coliseum for the first time in decades. Another long coast to coast trip to start the season. This time from Boston to LA, as the Free Jacks take on the expansion Giltini squad. Free Jacks captain Josh Larsen looks to lead his side to victory over the new expansion side, while newly named Giltinis captain Dave Dennis looks to lead LA during their first ever match.

This will be an interesting matchup in terms of style. New England has that blue collar workmen's ethic in the air about them. They have that feeling of a team that makes their opponents work for everything and a team that doesn't give up anything easy. Meanwhile, you have the star talent out in LA with Dave Dennis, Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, and DTH van der Merwe. This clash of styles should make for an entertaining match.

EoD Picks: Aaron (LA by 4), Craig (LA by 10), Josh (NE by 8)

Toronto Arrows @ Rugby ATL - Lupo Family Field (Atlanta, GA)

Saturday, March 20th (7pm ET/6pm CT) - 11Alive, TSN, The Rugby Network

This is actual the match of the week. The east is going to run through Toronto in my opinion. They have been the most consistent team in the league the past couple of seasons. The Arrows have managed to keep the main core of their squad intact and have a potent attack that score from anywhere on the field. Lucas Rumball and Ben LaSage lead the Arrows squad as co-captains.

Rugby ATL is an unknown right now. They have the talent to put together a strong season, it's just going to depend on if they do it. The set piece struggled in their preseason game against Utah. The front row got pushed around and they gave up a penalty try as well. If they don't get their act together quickly, they might have to rename the field Arrows Family Field since Toronto will be sharing the stadium this season.

EoD Picks: Aaron (Tor by 2), Craig (Atl by 1), Josh (Tor by 5)

Seattle Seawolves @ Houston SaberCats - Aveva Stadium (Houston, TX)

Saturday, March 20th (8pm ET/7pm CT) - CBS Sports Network

The first CBS Sports game of the week for the MLR 2021 season. This should be an interesting matchup. Seattle played in Aveva Stadium's first ever game and destroyed the field literally. The sod hadn't set yet, which resulted in the turf having giant divots and leading to uncontested scrums. Since then both teams have gone opposite ways; Seattle has taken a step back, while Houston looks to have taken a step forward.

This match will be one to watch the forward packs in. Seattle has had a dominant set piece in years past and Houston is starting to catch up. If the SaberCats can gain even the slightest advantage up front, they'll be able to use the athletic talent they have in their backs to open up the scoring. The Seawolves and head coach Kees Lensing will be looking to break out of last year's 1-4 slump quickly.

EoD Picks: Aaron (Hou by 2), Craig (Sea by 1), Josh (Hou by 7)

Utah Warriors @ Austin Gilgronis - Bold Stadium (Austin, TX)

Saturday, March 20th (8pm ET/7pm CT) - KSL TV App, KXAN, The Rugby Network

The "last" game of week one. Everybody's favorite scrappy team, the Utah Warriors, against everybody's hated nickname, the Austin Gilgronis. The AGs are going to be a tough team this year. They've got a strong squad and looked good in their couple of preseason matches. They've got a number of internationals in their squad and look to be a potential upset pick this season.

The Warriors, can they come out to play? They started strong against Rugby ATL in their preseason tilt, but faded near the end. Paul Mullen brought his trademark scrummaging dark arts to the Rocky Mountains and it looks good for the Warriors. Now they just need to put together a full pull so to speak. Danny Giannascoli and Hagen Schulte look to be a dangerous pairing either as starter and backup or on the field at the same time.

EoD Picks: Aaron (Aus by 5), Craig (Aus by 6), Josh (Aus by 12)

Well, that's the matches for this week. We don't know much and will probably have a better idea of where everyone stands after this week. Will the expected happen or will the unexpected happen? We don't know. And then there's the impact of COVID that has already started to rear its ugly head. This season is getting started strong and looks to be a cracker of a season.

International fans can watch all matches on The Rugby Network (https://www.therugbynetwork.com/).

~Josh Fredlund