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Monday Morning Fly Half: Fool's Gold

                                                        

With the short international window coming to a close and the Major League Rugby season right on its heels, this week featured some disappointing results for teams that had been enjoying recent bursts of momentum. The USA Eagles got buried by an experimental Irish side. Austin lost without a bonus point, causing their mathematical elimination from the playoffs. But most stunning of all must be the NOLA Gold falling to the Seattle Seawolves in the Sunday night game.

Cooked Eagle

It was ugly in Dublin. 

For the first ten minutes, it looked like USA might have put out the stronger side. They were controlling territory, keeping the Irish pinned against their own try line. Twice the USA chose to forego easy points from the tee to work in the corner. Twice they came away empty handed. But they were winning the momentum battle.

It did not last long. A line break here, a penatly there and Ireland had jumped out to a 10-0 lead despite minimal possession. Then the floodgates really opened.

The Irish would run in try after try. Maul defense, in particular, let the American side down. Every penalty in the middle of the pitch meant a kick to the corner and an all but certain try for the green shirts. 

It wasn't all gloom. Christian Dyer continues a nice debut with the XV national side. Hanco Germishuys got the start this week and capitalized on the opportunity with motivated and effective play on both sides of the ball. Michael Baska also capitalized on his chance, scoring a try in his limited minutes. That makes it two weeks with short but impactful outings for Baska.

Still, it was a disappointent. Coming off a nice performance at Twickenham last week, the 71-10 drubbing quashed the burgeoning optimism that the second half against England had created. If there is anything positive to take away from this weekend, it's that Canada also faired quite poorly. USA and Canada will gather again in the Fall to face each other in Rugby World Cup qualifiers.

Sour Gilgroni

An encouraging recent run of form came up short for the Austin Gilgronis this week in Los Angeles. Playing their Gil-rivals in the second cocktail cup of the season, they fared no better than they did in the first. 

Despite the improved attack we'd seen from Austin since the start of June, they were unable to secure even a losing bonus point against the Giltinis. With that failure, Utah's bonus point loss to Atlanta was enough to ensure that the Warriors would be suiting up for the playoffs.

It's a disappointing finish for Austin, who were in the process of driving a major franchise turnaround. After going 0-16 in 2019 and 1-1-3 in plague-shortened 2020, fans came into 2021 having waited a long time for meaningful late season rugby. Austin were able to provide that this year, but a playoff appearance would have been really special for a city that has had a troubled relationship with its MLR side.

Regardless, it is something to build on for next season. With young star Conner Mooneyham joining veterans Kurt Morath, Will Magie and Zinzan Elan-Puttick in the Austin backline, the Gilgronis have the core of what could be a dangerous team for the next few seasons. Time will tell if they are able to keep that core together. 

Gold Standard

Last week, when the NOLA Gold shocked LA despite missing nine international players, things looked destined for a winnter-take-all showdown with New York in the season finale. Both sides were tied in table points. New York were playing Houston, the last team on the table. And NOLA were playing Seattle, the second-to-last. New York held up their end of the bargain, running amok over Houston 54-19. But NOLA followed up their upset win with an equally surprising upset loss.

It's been a tough year in Seattle. The twice champion Seawolves never found their direction, constantly shuffling critical position selections. They played their first five contests on the road, away from their vaunted fortress at Starfire in Tukwila. But 17 weeks of frustration came cascading out in the Pacific Northwest late Sunday night. NOLA bore the brunt.

True, it is always difficult to play after cross country trips. And also true, most teams have suffered a lingering hangover following big defensive shifts against LA. And true, NOLA were still missing their baseball team's worth of internationals. But few could have predicted just how thoroughly Seattle would beat NOLA when these sides met in the last match of the weekend.

And yet a thorough victory it was. Seattle, to their credit, have met this season's tribulations with no let down in effort or intensity. That intensity was on display Sunday evening, and it held quiet a NOLA attack that looked flat from the start.

For a long time, the scoreboard stayed frozen at 0-0. Seattle fended off some prolonged attacking chances from NOLA without giving up any points. Then there were a few penalty goals exchanged. It was only when the Seawolves dotted down near the end of the first half that one suspected there might be something surprising in the works. It was 13-3 at the half. The second half wouldn't be close.

Energized by their first 40 minutes, Seattle simply outfought a struggling NOLA side for the remainder. Whatever chances NOLA could muster, either the Seawall of old or NOLA's own handling errors got in the way. When the final whistle blew at 30-6 in the Seawvoles' favor, NOLA were sent home without even a bonus point.

That is trouble for them, but it is not the end. They can still eek by New York. But now a win against RUNY is insufficient. A single bonus point is all New York need to move on to the playoffs. Even should NOLA manage to deny them that, they’ll have to win by at least 20 to overcome what is suddenly a -38 point differential. And a stunning NOLA win in LA is nullified by a disappointing loss in Washington.