Major League Rugby: Five things we learnt as champions stunned, incredible acrobatics and Ma’a Nonu scores

Joe Harvey
Niall Saunders for Rugby Football Club Los Angeles - (credit Dani Halac).

Niall Saunders for Rugby Football Club Los Angeles - (credit Dani Halac).

Week Two of the Major League Rugby season took place over the weekend, with all 12 franchises going toe-to-toe in the early season jostle.

Yet again there was much action to pour over as professional American rugby continues its collision course with the 2031 Rugby World Cup.

Here are five things we learnt at the weekend in the USA.

Old Glory DC beat current champions

Travelling to Quincy, Massachusetts, on Saturday afternoon, Old Glory DC pulled off a stunning 35-34 win over the New England Free Jacks.

An 85th minute penalty kick from Jason Robertson was the deciding factor, the New Zealander coolly slotting the winner to take his tally of points from the game to 15.

DC hooker Martin Vaca scored a hat-trick in the display, the team recovering from last week’s defeat at the hands of the NOLA Gold and showing significant signs of growth under new head coach, Simon Cross.

For Scott Mathie’s New England, it was perhaps not the homecoming they were expecting.

While a win for Old Glory is an immense confidence boost, for New England they have to get back to winning ways against NOLA.

Ex-Harlequins scrum-half scores sensational solo-try

Some of you may remember former Harlequins half-back Niall Saunders.

A product of the West London club’s academy and son of former Ireland international, Rob, Saunders left Quins in 2020.

At the time Saunders had in essence quit full-time rugby, although his career has taken several twists and turns since.

Spending time with the Tel Aviv Heat, Utah Warriors and Rugby ATL, the 26-year-old now finds himself as a team captain of Rugby Football Club Los Angeles.

In his team’s 27-12 loss to the Houston SaberCats, Saunders put his side on his shoulders to register a sensational try.

While losing the game, LA have been promising over two weeks and could well have a first-ever franchise win on the board soon.

Gold, SaberCats and Seawolves remain unbeaten

Following two rounds of action, there are just three teams that are yet to be beaten.

A sign of the league’s competitiveness, albeit early on, these three teams have stood up as best in class.

Starting in the Eastern Conference, Cory Brown’s NOLA Gold look as though they have developed into a team capable of posing questions to whoever they come up against.

Having to come from behind to beat Old Glory DC in Week One, a week later the Gold were business-like in their performance to wrap up a first-half bonus point.

Travelling to New England in Week Three, that game will be a huge litmus test for whether the team are contenders in 2024.

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In the Western Conference the Houston SaberCats backed up their opening weekend victory over the Utah Warriors with a 27-12 win against RFC Los Angeles.

Heyneke Meyer and Pote Human’s team look like they could be contenders.

With a number of returning players and added strength across the board, Houston should be a team to keep tabs on this season.

Finally, Allen Clarke’s Seattle Seawolves impressed yet again on their way to a win against the Miami Sharks in Washington.

Again, Mack Mason pulled the strings with precision, the Aussie gathering another 17 points as his team won 29-18.

Now in Clarke’s third full season at the helm of the Pacific Northwest outfit, Seattle have continually developed under the ex-Ireland international and now seem in the position to seriously push for a title.

While there is still a long way to go this season, the Seawolves look the business.

Legion get a first win of 2024 under their belt

After losing to the Seattle Seawolves a week ago, the San Diego Legion bounced back with a 30-23 win against the Dallas Jackals in Week Two.

All Blacks legend Ma’a Nonu was among the try scorers on Saturday afternoon in Texas as a dominant second-half performance from Danny Lee’s team sent them back to California with five points.

Ex-England and Northampton Saints back Ethan Grayson scored Legion’s bonus-point try, with San Diego now preparing to host their first home game of the season at Snapdragon Stadium this weekend when RFC Los Angeles come to town.

2021 Draft Pick finally makes first league appearance

In 2021 Sam Klimkowski was selected 13th overall by the now-defunct LA Giltinis.

A prop coming out of Notre Dame College, the front-rower had helped the Falcons to a national championship in 2017 but never made an appearance for the 2021 champions.

Traded to NOLA Gold in 2022, Klimkowski has patiently waited to get his opportunity in professional rugby.

Representing the Gold’s Academy in the Fall American Rugby Premiership season, he finally got his opportunity at the weekend as his team hosted Anthem RC.

Joining the fray in the 48th minute, Klimkowski acquitted himself well two-and-a-half years after first joining an MLR team.

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