Latest Episode:

Monday Morning Fly Half: Exit Velocity

In order to escape Earth's gravity and make it into orbit and beyond, a spacecraft needs to reach "escape velocity." Any slower, and the spacecraft will ultimately crash back down to earth like a rugby ball tossed into the air.

With the end of the regular season approaching, teams are looking to reach playoff velocity, breaking free of table gravity and launching into the playoffs. Some teams are already cruising along in orbit - Austin, New England and Atlanta. Several others, however, are fighting to ramp up and emerge from the pack. Week 12 may wind up being critical in determining which teams find their way to the stars and which are left with more terrestrial endings. 

Freejacks Stay Hot

New England win their 7th in a row, this time stealing one from rival RNY 29-26 in Hoboken on Sunday afternoon. 

In one of the season's more entertaining affairs, New York took a quick lead only to see New England surge ahead. New York would respond with a streak of their own tries, powered by Nick Civetta's and Dylan Fawsitt's second half play, re-taking the lead. But in the 76th minute, New England struck for a final time, scoring in the corner off a cheeky grubber.

It was an exciting, high-energy match in which the regional bad blood felt palpable, even through the screen. The team that could muster the greater share of energy seemed to gain a tangible edge. And that momentum shifted back and forth, first New York, then New England, then New York, then New England.

The final play will also, no doubt, create some controversy during the week. New York players claimed that a Freejack boot kicked the ball from New York's ruck, which was camped on the New England try line. The ball bouncing free allowed the 'Jacks to gain possession, clear the ball and end the game. Watching it live, I personally was amenable to the official decision. Seeing the photographic evidence after the fact, I've come to suspect a cynical play was, in fact, missed. Either way, the decision not to go to the TMO on such a crucial moment in the game, one which literally decided the outcome, was a strange one.

But that may not be the only controversy. The broadcast on FS1 had issues of its own, first running through several minutes of garbled audio before having the whole thing go off-air for some minutes. Coverage was eventually restored, but for a marquee, big-market match-up on national TV, it's not the unprofessional hiccups you hope for.

In any event, the score is final and in the books. New England continue their run of league-leading form. But NY, at least, register two bonus points in the loss, putting them ahead of Toronto in the final eastern playoff spot.  

SaberCats Defend Their Den

Houston defended their home grounds with a convincing win over visiting Toronto 29-17, in a contest with important playoff implications.

Toronto have been playing well, winners in four of their last five. But, after their slow start, some streaking will be required for the Arrows to get back into a playoff spot. They came into the week in a virtual tie for third with RNY (though with a game in hand against the New Yorkers). 

Based on that run of form, most people (at least according to SuperBru winning expectations) were tipping Toronto for the road victory in Week 12. 

But Houston are also in a playoff hunt, also battling for third place. Some impressive wins (LA in Week 1) link up with some humiliating losses (Week 9 against Austin) to form a  SaberCat picture that's hard to place in the MLR 2022 pantheon. 

This weekend, the 'Cats made a case for themselves as a worthy post-season side. 

Both Houston and Toronto play a similar style. They rely on consistent, fundamental rugby backed by physicality and courage. Given that stylistic preference, this game came down to execution. If you want to win a contest of fundamentals, you need to execute those fundamentals better than your opposition. Simple as that. On Saturday, Houston executed better than Toronto. 

The first try for Houston was emblematic. After a penalty was awarded to Houston near the Toronto try line, Houston decided to tap and go from the penalty mark. They did not do this quickly, mind you. Both teams had plenty of time to set up. But then Dean Muir tapped the ball, picked it up, and proceeded to run straight over the Toronto try line defense for a try. It's hard to overestimate how psychologically important that kind of little victory can be. It was as isolated and visible a contest of fundamentals as can be orchestrated in a fixture. Houston was running with the ball, Toronto had the tackle the runner, and Houston won it thoroughly. Because they continued to do that for most of the night, they came away the big winners.

Toronto, disappointingly, fail to even register a bonus point in the loss. Houston, however, notch the bonus point victory and stay hot in the middle of the western playoff race.

Seawolves Hunt at Altitude; Legion Falter

Seattle went up to Zion on a hill to beat fellow-original-franchise Utah 20-14. It was a closely contested match, with Utah leading 14-13 in the second half. Riekert Hattingh seemed to will his team to victory, scoring both of Seattle's tries. 

But it was Utah's mishaps that leave the worst taste from this one. The Warriors had the better of the scoring chances, yet couldn't quite complete some of their best opportunities. It was a story that played out all night, but the final five minutes were particularly excruciating. Utah were knocking on the try line door and lost the ball forward, giving possession back to Seattle. Then, a few minutes later Utah stole a lineout and had a final chance to score for the win, yet mystifyingly kicked the ball away, ending the game. Even had the kick not gone into touch, it would surely have gone back to Seattle and directly into touch thereafter. A mental error that put the game on ice and perhaps Utah's diminishing playoff hopes as well.

But Seattle grab a key road victory, staying even with Houston through 12 weeks. 

Also vying for the third spot in the west, San Diego were not so fortunate. They could not withstand the serpentine onslaught of Rugby ATL at home in the late game Sunday. Without the registration of a bonus point in the loss, San Diego fall behind both Houston and Seattle, who remain drawn at 31 table points each. San Diego stay put at 28, now looking up at a postseason berth.