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Monday Morning Fly Half: Don't Mess with Texas

Major League Rugby's week 1s are not for the faint of heart. In 2018, a previously non-threatening Seattle Seawolves side dusted the San Diego Legion in front of what would become MLR's most iconic crowd at Starfire. In 2019, expansion team RNY (then RUNY) went cross country to beat the Legion while Seattle outlasted Glendale in a rematch of the inaugural Shield Championship. In 2020, the expansion New England Free Jacks put rival RNY to the sword in a windy match out in Las Vegas and the SaberCats bested the heavily favored Colorado Raptors. In 2021, Old Glory DC surprised everyone earning a draw with NOLA in which they controlled the entire match.

Cue 2022, which might have the most shocking opening stanza yet.

SaberCats HOOOOO!

Well well well. Last year, it took until week 8 for the eventual-champion LA Giltinis to log their first loss. In 2022, it would only take until minute 80. The Houston SaberCats, long a poster child of underperformance in Major League Rugby, got the tenure of their new front office off to a banging start. Despite LA charging out to an early lead thanks to new addition Hanco Germishuys's first try with the club, Houston would largely control the entire affair on the way to a 21-11 win in front of the Aveva faithful. They held the ball. They hammered it forward. They utilized their size in the set piece. And that was pretty much all it took.

LA, for their part, looked uninspired. Harrison Goddard, one of the stars of 2021, seemed almost disinterested with what little ball he had. Buried under the weight of three yellow cards (two with a significant overlap), this particular Giltini was served flat and left an unpleasant aftertaste.   

Anytime a last place team comes into the new season and puts the reigning champs in a box, it's an impressive feat. The 'Cats have some celebrating in store. But all is not well in Houston. Despite a long list of unsuccessful campaigns, the SaberCats have actually always done well in openers. In fact, they haven't lost a season-opener since their very first match in 2018. So an opening week win doesn't necessarily translate into season-long success

What's more, Houston really should have scored more points. They spent over six minutes with a two-man advantage, during which they were unable to score a single point. Though an optimistic appraisal might find that the pressure Houston applied during that period sapped LA for the rest of the game, a more realistic assessment will be forced to admit that Houston showed little creativity in attack. Without the advantage of three cards, it’s unclear if Houston would have scored at all.

But those are concerns to watch for Houston going forward, as we wait and see if they can finally make a run at playoff glory. For now, the king is dead. Long live the SaberKing. 


There are few good images one can conjure in which a Gilgroni and a Jackal have meaningful interactions, so instead I am going to reach into Austin culture-at-large and summon the long horn as it stampedes its way over the Dallas newcomers 43-7.

Look, few people thought Dallas were going to win this one (25% on Superbrew in the Earful of Dirt pool). And to give credit where credit is due, I thought Dallas showed some spirit. Youngster Campbell Johnstone scored the match's first try for the green and white, dotting down a grubber off the foot of Henry Trinder. Moe Abdelmonem nabbed a nifty steal early.

But in the end, the Jackals could not hold off the stampede. Almost literally so, as Austin's scrum marched down the field at will, overpowering the Jackals in a way not often seen at a professional level. Like their Houstonian cousins, the Austin set piece control made the contest unwinnable for the opponents. But in Austin's case, new additions powered some exciting attack chances as well. Though Jackal defense may be not be the toughest test, Austin fans will still be excited to see the likes of Marcel Brache connecting with Julian Dominguez on the wing for a highlight reel try.

Next week Austin head to the east coast for a face-off with Old Glory, which may prove a better benchmark for their abilities. But after one week, both Houston and Austin can rightly say they have their sights set on bringing a Shield to Texas.

In-season, Out-of-shape

I often find myself discussing the oddity of MLR's opening weeks. Beyond surprising score lines, some of which I've already highlighted, we can point to other questionable occurrences. When there is virtually no pre-season, the first few weeks are as unpredictable as a pre-season should be. And you get results which may not reflect mid-season form.

For example, I noticed something peculiar this week. Many of the contests had notably different second halves from first halves. Atlanta ran roughshod over Old Glory, who had kept it close through 40. Austin buried the Jackals, who at least looked like they'd kept it within reach in the first half. San Diego and Utah went on a scoring spree after a combined eight first half points. And, of course, Houston actually managed to score a few tries against LA when they could not do so against 13 Giltinis in the first half.

What does that tell me? Maybe nothing. But maybe it's an indication that fitness levels are still below standard. It wouldn't be surprising, coming off a long winter and with how little pre-season play we've seen. 

If so, it suggests some caution in over-extrapolating from week 1. In any sport, such over-extrapolation would be folly. But particularly so when week 1 is closer in spirit to NFL's pre-season then to NFL's season opening tableau. 

All this to say, stay tuned for a lot of up and downs yet to come in MLR 2022! And I, for one, am pumped to be back.