Major League Rugby: Five things we learnt as ill-discipline costs and a high school star signed in NFL Draft

Joe Harvey
Houston SaberCats celebrate a try against San Diego Legion.

Houston SaberCats celebrate a try against San Diego Legion.

As the 2024 Major League Rugby season officially hit the halfway point, Week Nine gave us five more talking points.

Here are five things we learnt including the Indianapolis Colts signing a young rugby star in the NFL Draft.

Legion receive Houston drubbing

The San Diego Legion will be hoping to forget the past two weekends in a hurry. Last round’s 33-32 loss to Utah Warriors was compounded by a 33-0 defeat at the hands of the Houston SaberCats in Texas.

Failing to fire a single shot, Ronan Murphy carried on his fine individual season with two tries, as Jerad Latu and Seth Smith also dotted down.

Davy Coetzer would bag the rest of Houston’s points as Heyneke Meyer’s team retook top spot in the Western Conference with another five-point haul.

After the loss, San Diego are now at risk of falling out of the play-off spots, with the Dallas Jackals and Utah Warriors just a handful of points away from Danny Lee’s team. It has been an unusual season to follow the Warriors.

There was so much hope for a side that had made a splash worldwide with their off-season business. Matt Giteau is yet to appear in a Legion jersey in 2024 and nine weeks in, you are beginning to wonder if it will actually happen.

Ill-discipline damages Los Angeles’ chances

In their 34-12 loss to the New England Free Jacks, RFC Los Angeles received their 14th yellow card of the season.

It is a stat that LA’s head coach Stephen Brett will not be fond of, particularly as his team have played just eight matches.

Olympic gold medallist Semi Kunatani was the most recent man to pick up a sin-binning as New England crossed the try-line on five occasions.

Without this consistent ill-discipline, you are left wondering exactly what the fortunes of the Californian club could be.

Playing an attractive style of rugby, regularly being down a player or two can only be harmful to the team’s chances and ultimately leave them at the foot of the Western Conference.

Colts draft high school rugby star

In a country where rugby rarely breaks through to the mainstream, the Indianapolis Colts picking Laiatu Latu as 15th overall at the 2024 NFL Draft is another moment for the sport to shine.

Just several weeks on from Wales international Louis Rees-Zammit making waves by signing for the Kansas City Chiefs, Latu’s own path to stardom also started with rugby.

Born in Sacramento, California, the 23-year-old began playing rugby over a decade ago and was one of the top rugby players in the country while at Jesuit High School.

“I love that sport with a passion and actually that whole aura around the game. It’s a loving game. You get to play both sides and it’s a non-stop sport, and you get to travel the world as well and experience new cultures and meet different people,” Latu said in a 2022 interview.

Even taking part in a three-day training camp with the Seattle Seawolves in 2021 after temporarily being forced to retire with a neck injury, Latu credits rugby for much of his success.

While Seawolves fans might be reading this wondering “what if?”, the UCLA standout has had his rugby highlights shared across social media and will surely be an ambassador for the game moving forwards.

Latu is not the only rugby player to have been selected at the Draft either.

In the Seventh Round the Buffalo Bills, who previously had Wasps flyer Christian Wade among their ranks, selected Travis Clayton.

Previously playing for Basingstoke RFC in Counties 2 Hampshire in the eighth division of English club rugby, the 6’7” former wing will be linking up with Josh Allen as an offensive lineman in the coming weeks.

The little-known British rugby union player tipped to follow Louis Rees-Zammit into the NFL

Hounds highlight coach development

While MLR’s on-field product is the front-facing aspect of rugby in North America, there is plenty more happening behind the scenes.

The Chicago Hounds were the most recent team to highlight their work in the community by recognising their first-ever class of the Chicago Hounds Coaching Academy.

Community coaches from the Chicago area have had the opportunity to learn from professionals for a number of weeks and will now take their experiences back to their clubs.

It is another fantastic example of teams giving back their region, growing the game from a grassroots level and strengthening the route to professional rugby.

Snapped pitchside with former USA fly-half Will Magie, the team’s CEO/GM James English and incumbent USA head coach Scott Lawrence, it was a moment to savour for a team striving to be best on class on and off the pitch.

Warriors continue upturn in form

Utah’s push to the post-season has continued in Week Nine with a 31-24 win against Old Glory DC.

Ex-Newcastle Falcons fly-half Joel Hodgson scored another 11 points, dragging his team to being three points from third-place San Diego in the Western Conference.

In just two weeks Utah have gone from looking down and out, to real challengers to reach the Western Conference Eliminators. At least.

With the Dallas Jackals maintaining a good pace thanks to a 38-17 win over the Miami Sharks last Saturday, there will be more twists and turns in this play-off push.

READ MORE: Kansas City Chiefs were ‘calling’ Louis Rees-Zammit daily, NFL IPP head states that Wales star is no ‘marketing’ gimmick