Major League Rugby: Five things we learnt as Matt Giteau FINALLY debuts and USA Eagles squad takes shape

Joe Harvey
Wallabies legend Matt Giteau after his San Diego Legion debut. (via John Matthew Harrison)

Wallabies legend Matt Giteau after his San Diego Legion debut. (via John Matthew Harrison)

Another weekend has gone by, and with it, another round of action in Major League Rugby.

While plenty of eyes were on Croke Park and the south of France, in North America, rugby’s sleeping superpower took another step forward.

Here are five things we learnt from Week 10 of the 2024 MLR season.

Hounds test title credentials

The result of the weekend. The Chicago Hounds stunned defending champions the New England Free Jacks in their own backyard.

After a tight opening 30 minutes the Hounds set about their business ruthlessly, with Dylan Fawsitt, Maclean Jones and the boot of Adriaan Carlese helped the visiting side to a 26-20 win.

When Chicago’s season started, it was an almost muted affair. Beating the Miami Sharks in their opening game of the season, it took five more outings for Sam Harris’ side to taste victory.

From that point onwards it has been an endless string of success, and the side are now firmly second in the Eastern Conference. Only three points behind the Free Jacks, you sense that the only way is up for the Hounds.

Finally, Matt Giteau is back on the pitch!

It was only a week ago in Week Nine’s Five Things We Learnt that Matt Giteau’s return was questioned.

Within hours it was confirmed that the 103-cap Australia legend was making his San Diego Legion debut last weekend in the team’s 30-24 win over the Dallas Jackals.

A closely fought contest at Snapdragon Stadium, Giteau’s influence proved to be a decisive one after the 41-year-old was introduced to proceedings in the second half.

Slotting a penalty and then converting Djustice Sears-Duru’s late try, it was a relaxed return for someone that has had an extended break from rugby.

Young Viking is top cat

In Week One of the 2024 season, the Houston SaberCats’ Seth Smith became the youngest ever MLR player.

Nine weeks on from that season opener against the Utah Warriors, Smith became the league’s youngest-ever starter against the same opposition and was named Player of the Week as the Texas side topped the Western Conference.

Scoring a try, making 17 tackles and 56 metres in his team’s 29-24 win, the teenage hooker’s stock is only rising, and it is becoming clearer that we could have a generational talent on our hands. Remember the name.

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Test matches are around the corner

Last Thursday USA Eagles head coach Scott Lawrence released his Extended Player Squad for 2024.

With Test matches against Romania and Scotland quickly approaching in July, it’s always intriguing to pour over the selections and see who the future of the Eagles could be.

Bristol Bears playmaker AJ MacGinty is back in the squad, while Anthem RC’s Conor McManus and Lucas Gramlick are rewarded for bright starts to this season.

Games this summer will see a mid-season break in MLR action and allow the competition’s best local talents to challenge themselves in a new environment and continue to take the Eagles out of the despair of missing out on last year’s Rugby World Cup.

As ever, there are several surprises in the squad.

Notably, the selection of Ospreys back Toby Fricker, who has only played once for the Welsh side this season due to persistent injury. There are also selections for collegiate duo Dominic Besag and Erich Storti. Both helped Saint Mary’s College to D1A National Championship over the weekend and Besag has already captured the attention at Test level, having made his debut a year ago.

Cardiff Met’s Stefan Crimp is also named among the squad after impressing for the Welsh university this season and could well be in the class of 2031 when the World Cup hits US shores.

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League highlights mental fitness

Partnered with UK-based mental health charity LooseHeadz, MLR have relaunched their Mental Fitness campaign for the 2024 season.

With 43 ambassadors across the league’s teams and officials that have volunteered to help tackle the stigma surrounding mental health within their communities.

Rolling out a comprehensive campaign where players discuss their own mental fitness, it could well be a strategy that helps people recognise with what they are grappling with internally.

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