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Monday Morning Fly Half: Landscaping

 

                                             


In Week 5, Major League Rugby teams finally looked clear of the Covid-rust, putting in mostly high quality shifts. And aside from the weekend opener, they were each thrillers that came down to the final minutes. Excluding Toronto's torching of Seattle, the average margin of victory was a mere five points. And four of the six matches ended with margins less than one unconverted try. 

Separating From the Pack

With the conclusion of Week 5, every team now has at least four games in the books. That means the season is offically more than one-quarter complete. And, after an erractic first quarter, some early trends are starting to emerge that can help us form a picture of the current landscape. 

Pack Leader

LA Giltinis. Who else? The men from Los Angeles have been off to a torrid start. They boast a shocking +86 point differential, which is a full 60 points better than the second best (Austin at +26). Houston actually gave them a run for their money this week, making them sweat for the first time. The SaberCats did it by scoring almost as frequently as the Giltinis scored. But the question remains: can anyone slow this attack down for 80 minutes? We haven't seen it yet. 

Contenders

Austin Gilgronis. Completing the Gil-duo, Austin's defense has been suffocating. The creamsicle wall has conceded only 74 points, best in the league. And that is across five games, compared to some other teams who have only played four. They started the season with two tough losses at the death, but Austin could easily be undefeated alongisde LA at 5-0 right now.

Rugby United New York. In Week 2, RUNY laid an egg. They kept it close through the first half in NOLA, but got blown to smithereens in the second. But that second half aside, New York have managed to play the most balanced rugby in the league. Particularly so since the bye, as NY have iced Atlanta and DC in consecutive weeks. They have the second most table points per game after LA and have done it across a tough schedule of division rivals.

Any Given Day

Toronto Arrows. The Arrows have mostly shaken an early season malaise to emerge as a potent threat. No doubt Seattle noticed, as the Arrows put them to the sword on an early Saturday face-off by the tune of 52-7. They have been exceptional playing in open space, looking nearly unstoppable once they've managed a line break. But the first two weeks were so low-energy that one must question whether that lethargic play or this recent play is the real Toronto.

NOLA Gold. My preseason pick for the Shield, NOLA have been deadly at times. The shredding they gave New York was impressive. But then again, the blundering against Austin and the inability to finish against DC create doubt. The team that put 50+ on RUNY could hang with everyone. Unfortunately, that team is not taking the pitch week-in and week-out. 

New England Freejacks. What is a Freejack? Well, they lost convincingly Week 1, but we didn't know just how strong LA would be back then. They set down Houston without supper and edged Utah. Then dropped a tough one to NOLA. They aren't flashy. There are no fireworks. But other teams seem to struggle against them. Is it luck, or are the Freejacks just a team of hardnosed scramblers that disrupt everyone else's flash?

Old Glory DC. They battled to a draw with NOLA in Week 1, avenging their only loss from plague-shortened 2020. A draw that was nearly a win, having led all game. Then they popped off Atlanta. But since, they got char-grilled by Toronto and lost a battle against New York. However, the return of Jason Robertson to one of MLR's best half-back pairings may bode well for a return to the top tiers.

Fading

Utah Warriors. The inverse of Toronto - Utah started quick with a couple of nice wins over Austin and the Arrows. Since then, they've been sputtering. Always dangerous, handling errors and mental mistakes have crippled them. They've dropped three on the bounce, including to a weakened San Diego. They need to snap out of it soon if they want to stay in the hunt.

Rugby ATL. Started the season with a solid win over Toronto, but have otherwise lacked any inspiring results. They ran roughshod over San Diego, but they've dropped hard fought contests to Old Glory DC, New York and now Austin. They need to find some additional juice in attack if they want to beat the best.

There's Always Next Year

San Diego Legion. Many prognosticators had San Diego as the pre-season favorite. And why not? They came into 2021 having not lost since 2019. But it was not to be. Losing to Houston in Week 4 may have been a real wake-up call on how much work is needed for San Diego to compete this year. This team needs Paddy Ryan back ASAP.

Houston SaberCats. There's always next year for Houston. Never this year. But a win over San Diego and a pretty hard fought loss to mighty LA is probably more cause for optimism than anything we've seen from Houston yet.

Seattle Seawolves. Hate to see the two-time and only-time defending champs down here. But the truth is that losses have been much easier to come by than wins since the end of their last Shield run in 2019. Though granted it was a 7:30am kick off in their home time zone, the bludgeoning at the hands of Toronto this week was (according to Bryan Ray of Americas Rugby News) the biggest margin of defeat in MLR history. Not a record one pictures for MLR's most decorated franchise. And with a -77 overall point differential, pretty safe to say they won't be hoisting the Shield for a three-peat.