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Monday Morning Fly Half: How the West Was Won

Four undefeated teams came into Week 4. Only two left that way. The Freejacks dropped a hard-fought battle in LA and Seattle fell short after leading Austin at halftime. Austin remained the cream of the crop, increasing their league leading point differential to +102, a full 58 points better than second-best Rugby New York. But the Roosters, too, stay undefeated, giving the Jackals a thorough workover in Dallas. 

Fastest Guns in the West

The Western Conference saw two premier match ups this weekend, both of which lived up to expectations. 

In Houston, the SaberCats fought nobly against San Diego Legion, but were ultimately unable to best the visitors. After opening the season with a ho-hum, possession based attack, Houston have evolved quickly. Their 7s stars seem to be contagious with energy and ambition. I think they're close to putting it all together. But they couldn't quite get there this week.

Emblematic of Houston's struggles, the 'Cat scrum half Dillon Smit was eager to press the attack with flat passes just shy of the line of gain. To Houstonian dismay, the would-be receivers were not fit to the task. Many a promising assault was knocked away. They'll have to find a balance between the safety of their opening matches and the derring-do of their recent ones if they're to rise to playoff levels in the west. 

For the Legion, Joe Pietersen remains the ageless wizard. Along with Nate Augspurger, who is playing at or near his career best form, the Legion had enough magic to tame the 'Cats physical defense, which does seem to have suffered some since the infusion of 7s veterans. With the win, they jump into second place. A place they should hold when they meet Old Glory in Week 5.

But the marquee match of the week had 3-0 Seattle hosting 3-0 Austin. For the first 40 minutes, it looked like it would be a celebration in Tukwila. The Seawolves had a gutsy and impressive first half, keeping the Gilgronis from crossing the whitewash and dotting down their own try for a halftime lead. 

But Austin came out hot in the second half, overcoming the wet-ball handling errors that had been plaguing them since kick-off in the rainy Washington evening. Withstanding both the ongoing rain and the Seawall defensive pressure, Austin controlled possession and gave the Seattle defense enough different looks to eventually push a few tries through for the road win.

In the end, all four of these sides can feel satisfied with their performances. All four remain valid contenders for playoff spots. Yet, after four weeks, the division seems Austin's to loose.

The Proper Way to Drink a Giltini

I was encouraged to see the mythical Giltini drink actually for sale at LA Coliseum this Sunday when New England came calling on the defending champs.

New England are a team that could match up well with LA. They are big and physical, which has been an important feature of the sides that have had success against the 'Tinis. They capitalize well on mistakes, which could be leveraged against an LA side that takes risks. 

Unfortunately for the Freejacks, they left out one key input for the LA-beating formula: dominating possession. When Houston beat LA in the season opener, they commanded 62% possession. They combined physicality with denial of opportunity to quiet LA. In that first match, it felt like LA never even had a chance to run an offense.

For stretches, New England managed the same. They were even leading in the middle of the second half, having demonstrated how effective they could be against the Giltinis if they held onto the ball. But they couldn't keep it out of LA hands long enough, eventually allowing the home side the opportunities to strike that they needed to win. According to the MLR app, New England had to put in a full 274 tackles, despite having a 56/44 edge in possession. Notwithstanding that this would be an outrageously high tackle number, and is perhaps an error in the app, it still gives a sense of how relentless the LA attack can be. New England had to keep it out of their hands just a little bit more if they were to win. 

They didn't do it, and so the Freejacks take their first loss of the season. It remains to be seen if other teams will have better luck with it.  

Proving Grounds

Austin have been the class of the season, but their schedule hasn't been the most difficult. That is about to change. After beating previously undefeated Seawolves this week in Seattle, the Gilgronis host the Giltinis, travel to Atlanta, and then host New England for their next three contests. 

If they can stay undefeated through that stretch, doubters will be hard to come by.