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Monday Morning Fly Half: Playoff Preview


Well, folks, we've made it. An 18 week regular season came to a close this weekend, COVID be damned, and our four playoff spots have been awarded. In the west, LA Giltinis and Utah Warriors will provide an encore from this weekend's showdown, albiet with some significant roster changes expected for LA. In the east, Rugby United New York lost well enough to edge NOLA Gold. They'll look to keep their unbeaten streak against Rugby ATL alive when they travel back down to Atlanta for the Saturday night tilt.

Oddly enough, none of our playoff sides will hit the post season with any great momentum. In fact, three of the four lost this last week. The only winner was Utah, who beat this week's playoff opponent. But given how close it was and how far from a premier line up LA offered, Utah can't feel too great either.

Nevertheless, it's time to look ahead to the first Major League Rugby playoff matches since summer of 2019.

The East

The Teams

First place Rugby ATL (11-5) will host second place Rugby United New York (10-6) at Life University on Saturday night. Kick off is at 8pm EST.  


Neither Atlanta nor New York are sides who rely on their attack to win. Both have, at times, looked thoroughly mediocre with ball in hand. But over the long season, New York have probably done a little more offensively than their semi final opponent.

Statistically, RUNY's edge is fairly broad. 448 points (3rd in the league) compared to Atlanta's 401 (7th). The Rooster have dotted down 60 times (4th) compared to 55 for the Rattlers (6th). New York actually lead the league in offloads with 141, whereas Atlanta are only second from the bottom with 77.

But Atlanta have shown moments of brilliance. With an uncertain fly half selection for most of the year, a lack of consistency is understandable. But both Bautista Ezcurra and Adriaan Carelse have had highlight reel plays. On any given night, they have the skill to lead a talented Atlanta side into the realms of dynamic offense. They will have to if they want to match up with NY's attack.

Edge: New York


Measuring defense simply by points conceded, Atlanta would only be second (next to LA). But unbalanced schedules always add extra color. I would argue that Atlanta is actually the best defensive team in MLR, having had to double up against the stronger eastern conference. 

For example, Atlanta lead the league in turnover tackles with 65. That's due in no small part to their capacity to maintain their defensive structures and their proclivity for double tackles. They also lead the league in turnovers won overall. Despite their mundane attacking stats, they finished the season with the second best point differential in MLR at +99. Another testament to their defense. 

New York have been more difficult to pin down. Some weeks, their defense looks awful. They've twice given up over 50 points. The most Atlanta have given up this year is 31. Yet some weeks New York show up on the defensive line. They were first to beat the LA attacking juggernaut and wrote the first draft of the defensive playbook that would be used against them for the rest of the season. Until this weekend, they hadn't given up 30 points in a match since April. They can be as tough defensively as anyone, but they don't do it week-in and week-out the way ATL do.

Edge: Atlanta

Set Piece

Both of these sides have been strong in the set piece all year. Atlanta have been more stable in the scrum, winning a cool 94% of their feeds. That's good for second in the league. New York are only retaining 89%, good for 7th. Though the recent shifting of the New York front row to feature Taulafo at loose head and Tawake at tight head shows promise.

RUNY have won more lineouts, 227 to 202 for Atlanta. Both have prize jumping options in the second row. Civetta and Brakely may be the best jumping second row in the league, but if they are then Momsen and Redelinghuys in Atlanta are not far behind. Where NY stand out in the lineout is through star hooker Dylan Fawsitt. Fawsitt has been a perennial leader in tries scored, almost always from the back of a maul. Combined with RUNY's jumping options, they offer a more complete lineout package.

Edge: Even


This is a very even match. Two well-rounded teams are facing off, one that leans more heavily on defense and one that leans more heavily on attack. Normally, with two teams so closely met, I would lean towards the home team. But New York are 2-0 against Atlanta this year, with neither match being especially close (won by 10 and by 7). I think New York have shown they match up well against Atlanta, and for that reason I give them the edge.

NY by 2

The West

The Teams

The Utah Warriors (10-6) travel to LA to face the Giltinis (12-4). They play Sunday evening at the LA Memorial Coliseum with kick off at 6pm EST.


This is a tough one to adjudicate. It would be easy to say LA is the best attacking team in the history of the MLR. They certainly started the season that way. Statistically, they dwarf the league. 516 points scored (1st), 75 tries (1st), line breaks 93 (2nd). But after scoring 40+ points in each of their first six contests, they've done so only one time since. 

Utah are no slouch in attack themselves. 472 points scored is second best, as is 66 tries. In the previous few weeks they've scored 31 points against Atlanta and 29 against New York. That compares to LA's 16 against New York and 12 against Atlanta. And Utah have shown no signs of abating, popping off 34 in their win over LA this weekend. 

LA may have started the season as kings of attack, but Utah wear that crown at the end.

Edge: Utah


This one is not hard to adjudicate. LA conceded the fewest points in the league. While I might make my case that Atlanta is the true defensive standard setter, I can make no such case for Utah. Utah's opponents have averaged 27 points a game, compared to LA's 17. That is a big difference. Even this week, with LA playing a very experimental roster, Utah surrendered 29. This one simply isn't close.

Edge: LA

Set Piece

In Utah's win this weekend, the set piece was prominent. Even without facing LA's strongest side, it was an impressive display. The scrum got consistent push and the lineout-to-maul seemed to score at will. 

But if you want to exclude this week due to LA's unusual selections, look no further than Utah's game against New York. They ran RUNY off the ball at scrum time, and New York have been at least a decent scrummaging side. 

Statiscally, Utah also have the edge. They're retaining 93% of scrums vs LA's 89%. They've won 257 lineouts, most in the league. LA track at fourth with 244. And Utah have been getting better as the season went on. If there's a place where Utah can feel pretty confident on Sunday night, it's the set piece.

Edge: Utah


Even though I've given Utah the edge in two of my three categories, their deficiency in the third category may be too great to overcome. Whereas the Giltinis may be narrowly worse in attack and somewhat worse in set piece, Utah are far worse in defense. As a practical matter, I'm not sure Utah will be able to slow LA at all. LA's defense should be able to slow Utah at least for some portion of the game.

I see a high scoring affair but in the end I don't think the Warriors have enough to advance.

LA by 10