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Monday Morning Fly Half: The Lament of Jackals and Rattlesnakes

Week 3 gave Major League Rugby fans one thrill after another. Instant classics in Atlanta, New Orleans, San Diego and Dallas all ended in heartbreak for the home sides. But Austin defended the castle, outfighting the Warriors to remain ascendant in the early season.

For the 0-3 Jackals, there is a lot to be happy about. For the 2-1 RugbyATL Rattlesnakes, there is, perhaps, a little bit to be concerned about. And for the home teams, better luck next week! 

Evolution of the Jackal

Dallas Jackals should be feeling about as good as an 0-3 team can feel. Making MLR history with their franchise’s first ever home game, the Jackals outplayed cross-state rival Houston SaberCats through 75 minutes. But the final five belonged to the ‘Cats, who leave Dallas with a stunning victory at the death and a 2-1 record.

I must say, I like what Houston brought this week. I had been questioning their ambition and creativity in attack. The introduction of a slew of USA 7’s stars into the starting line-up seemed to give them new life with ball in hand. Danny Barrett, a force at 6, led the way with both relentless ball hawking and play making carries. 

That, combined with a scrum that had Dallas on roller skates, was probably the most complete all-around performance of the Houston season. 

Nevertheless, the Jackals should be pleased with what they’ve done. They scored more points against the physical and formidable Houston defense than LA and NY combined. This was done in part through domination of the maul, which ended up being more impactful than their equivalent failing at scrum time. But Adriaan Carelse is running quite a show in the Jackal 10 shirt, and he was at his finest on Saturday. His individual play making was impressive, but equally impressive were his instincts for when to run and when to pass. Combined with the veteran boot of English rugger Henry Trinder, which kicked from hand with military-grade precision, the Jackal attack looked as developed and dangerous as any in the league.

Where Dallas must look is to its inconsistent defense and its hapless scrum. They were lucky Houston didn’t use the scrum even more effectively - they often pulled the ball back despite having the Jackals in retreat. And sloppy defense in the high pressure final minutes of the game allowed the Houston tries which first equalized and then won the match. 

The Jackals face another tough test this week, as they host undefeated Rugby New York. They may very well be 0-4. But they then face a little more manageable string of Utah and NOLA. Put me down for saying they have at least one win by the time the final whistle blows against the Gold. 


With nine table points, Atlanta technically remain atop the East. But having a game in hand against undefeated New England and New York, the Rattlesnakes effectively dropped into third when they fell to New York on Saturday afternoon.

In Atlanta’s case it was them making the big comeback. An unanswered point onslaught tore through New York, demolishing the early RNY lead. But the Empire State struck back, with the final two tries of the game and the victory.

It was an untidy performance from RNY, who muffed several chances with handling errors. But it would be unfair to Atlanta not to observe that it was the ATL line speed contributing to many such errors. This Rugby ATL iteration seems like a Scott Lawrence team thrown into fast forward. They do everything faster and more aggressively. 

Normally, one would think that a good thing. But Atlanta are overdoing it. If the outside of the defensive line is routinely meeting their attacking counterparts before the ball arrives, they are creating both pressure and opportunity for the attack. True, it leads to handling errors and turnovers and negative plays. But it also opens holes in the line, especially if line integrity degrades in the rush. 

New York felt both sides of that two-edged sword. They bent under the pressure, but most of their big attacking chances came because they were able to get the ball free through the overly-aggressive end of the Atlanta line. To NY’s credit, they did a great job of keeping the ball alive and exploiting the openings created by ATL’s charge. And Samoan Ed Fidow has been the find of the offseason so far, a one-man big play machine. But Atlanta are going to remain susceptible to big plays as long as their outside rushers give up shape for aggressiveness so frequently.

Home Team Disadvantage

Tough week for the home teams, who managed only one win from six contests. But at least they gave their home crowds some quality entertainment, with four of the five losses ending within a 5-point margin.

Next week doesn’t look much better for the home sides. They bring a combined 6-8 record into the week, with the visitors boasting a combined 10-3 record.