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MLR Regular Season Recap

It’s hard to believe that Major League Rugby’s second-ever regular season is already over. With three teams, the Seattle Seawolves, Toronto Arrows, and Rugby United New York, all clinching playoff spots in Week 19 to join the San Diego Legion in the MLR Championship Series, that leaves five teams out of the tournament. Not everyone can qualify, but not making the playoffs doesn’t necessarily equate to a failed season. Here is a look at how each team fared in 2019.

 

Austin Elite Rugby (0-16)

Position: 9th

Table Points: 5

2019 was a tough year for Austin Elite Rugby. While they were unable to win a match and bonus points proved tough to come by, they gave a handful of teams as much as they could handle. They played some of their best rugby early on in the season, dropping their first three matches to the Houston SaberCats, Utah Warriors and Toronto Arrows by a combined 13 points. Their -35 try differential tells the entire story of their 2019 season. One of the bright spots for Austin was the performance of their captain Ben Mitchell. The lock played in 15 of Austin’s 16 matches and punched in three tries on 143 carries the season. Josh Larsen finished the season tied seventh in tackles with 178 while his brother, Travis Larsen, finished fourth in total ball carries with 159.

 

Glendale Raptors (7-7-2)

Position: 6th

Table Points: 43

The Glendale Raptors were never able to string together the wins they needed when they needed them most. A large part of that was due to their performance on the road. The Raptors finished the season with a 1-6-1 record on the road and dropped a match at home for the first time since joining the MLR in its inaugural season. After losing in the MLR Final in 2018, the Raptors finished the 2019 season in sixth place to miss the playoffs. While the season wasn’t one that Glendale will be happy about, there were still plenty of bright spots. While the defense wasn’t always there, the offense was. The Raptors finished the season with 65 tries, the most in the MLR. 13 of those tries came from wing John Ryberg, who lead the MLR in tries and try assists with 12. Harley Davidson, Glendale’s other wing, ranked among the league leaders with eight tries. Both Ryberg and Robbie Petzer finished the season as two of the top eight point scorers in the league with 65 and 85 points, respectively. Prop Luke White finished the season with three tries on a league-high 180 carries, a title he shared with Riekert Hattingh of the Seattle Seawolves.

 

Houston SaberCats (6-10)

Position: 7th

Table Points: 30

Next to the Toronto Arrows, no team finished the season stronger than the Houston SaberCats. They rattled off four-straight victories in two weeks to finish in seventh place, but their season was ultimately derailed by two separate five-game losing streaks. One of the many bright spots for the SaberCats in 2019 was their scrum. Few teams boasted a stronger forward pack than the SaberCats, and that allowed them to be competitive throughout the season. Fly-half Sam Windsor, the MLR’s leading point scorer in 2018, had another strong outing in 2019. He finished second in the league in total points scored with 160, first in penalty goals with 28 and seventh in conversions with 23. Luke Beauchamp finished the season ranked fifth in tackles with 185 while Josua Vici ranked 10th in meters gained with 1,115.3. The SaberCats built up some solid momentum to carry into the brand new AVEVA Stadium in 2020.

 

NOLA Gold (9-7)

Position: 5th

Table Points: 53

The NOLA Gold came out of the gates red hot in 2019 and found themselves in first place for a majority of the season. After falling to the San Diego Legion on May 11, the Gold never regained their footing and dropped the final three matches to end the season on a four-game losing streak and miss the playoffs by two points. That is certainly not the way the Gold had pictured their season turning out, especially after the way they started, but the Gold have a ton to be proud of heading into 2020. They have a 2019 MLR MVP candidate in outside center Tristan Blewett, who finished the season ranked second in tries (12) and meters gained (1,386.7), fifth in try assists (8), and ninth in total points scored (60) without ever kicking a conversion or penalty goal. Fullback J.P. Eloff finished the season ranked third in both points scored and meters gained with 141 and 1,30.9, respectively. Forward Eric Howard contributed nine tries and nine-try assists to finish fourth in the MLR in both categories. Zack Stryffeler ranked second in tackles with 214 while Con Foley also ranked among the top 10 tacklers, finishing with 180. 2019 was just a taste of how good the Gold can be and still be a valuable part of their growth and development as a club moving into 2020.

 

Rugby United New York (11-5)

Position: 4th

Table Points: 54

In their first season competing in the MLR, Rugby United New York qualified for the fourth and final playoff spot in the MLR Championship Series. They established themselves as a playoff contender by using their strong forward pack to bully teams in 2019. A team with an identity like that can win anywhere, and that’s why they only dropped three matches on the road. They received a big 2019 campaign out of hooker Dylan Fawsitt, also known as “The Butcher” who finished the season ranked tied with NOLA’s Tristan Blewett in tries with 12, second in try assists (10), and sixth in call carries with 146. Fawsitt wasn’t the only Rooster on the leaderboard. Connor Wallace-Sims finished the season with eight tries, Nate Brakeley finished ranked fourth in tackles with 197, Ben Foden ranked seventh in meters gained with 1,183.4, and fly-half Cathal Marsh finished ranked ninth in total points scored with 62. RUNY wouldn’t have had to sweat out Week 19 of the season if they were able to muster up a few more bonus points along the way, they finished sixth in the MLR in both tries scored (56) and bonus points (10), but all that matters is that they have a chance to hoist the MLR Championship Shield.

 

San Diego Legion (12-3-1)

Position: 1st

Table Points: 61

With their Week 17 win over the Utah Warriors, the San Diego Legion were the first team to secure a spot in the MLR Championship Series in 2019. They locked up the top seed in the tournament with a Week 19 win over a desperate NOLA Gold team by suffocating them with defense. That defensive effort was a large part of the reason that the Legion put together the season that they did. The Legion only conceded 296 points in 2019, while RUNY, the next closest team, conceded 320. Experienced veteran fly-half Joe Pietersen finished tied for third with NOLA Gold fullback J.P. Eloff in points scored with 141. Fullback Mike Te’o stuffed the stat sheet all season long. He finished the regular season with eight tries, 10 try assists, and 1,121.4 meters gained. Both Pietersen and Nate Augspurger finished with seven try assists apiece. On top of the performance out of their backs, the Legion also received big performances out of prop Paddy Ryan all season long. Ryan helped stabilize the Legion scrum and made a whopping 10  MLR First XV teams over the course of the season.

 

Seattle Seawolves (11-4-1)

Position: 2nd

Table Points: 58

The Seattle Seawolves will go into the MLR Championship Series as the second seed as they attempt to defend their 2018 title. While their title run during the inaugural season was primarily built on the back of solid defense, this season has been a healthy balance of both offense and defense. They’ve conceded 405 points, fifth most in the MLR, but scored a league-high 498 points to balance things out. The Seawolves received big performances from a large portion of their roster, and that’s apparent when you look at the league leaderboard. Wing Brock Staller finished the season as the 2019 scoring champion with 204 points. Mat Turner finished the season with eight tries and 1,265.5 meters gained while Stephan Coetzee finished with eight try assists. Two of the biggest performers for the Seawolves in 2019 were Brad Tucker and Riekert Hattingh. Tucker finished the season leading the MLR in tackles with 242 while coming in second behind Hattingh in carries with 171. His efforts placed him on eight MLR First XV teams. Hattingh finished the season with seven tries, seven-try assists, 178 tackles, 1,212 meters gained on a league-high 180 carries, a title he shares with Luke White of the Glendale Raptors.

 

Toronto Arrows (11-5)

Position: 3rd

Table Points: 57

The Toronto Arrows ripped seven straight victories to close out the season and lock up the third seed heading into the MLR Championship Series in their first year in the competition. With 472, the Arrows scored the second most points in the league in 2019 while only conceding 362, the third least. They picked up the second most bonus points (13) in the league while climbing to an 11-5 record. Fly-half Sam Malcolm finished the season ranked third in points scored with 145 while wing Dan Moor dumped in a team-high seven tries. Peter Milazzo finished the season with 177 while Michael Sheppard finished the season ranked in the top 10 in both carries and tackles with 153 and 178, respectively.

 

Utah Warriors (2-12-2)

Position: 8th

Table Points: 21

The Utah Warriors’ 2019 season wasn’t the one that they had in mind, but they came up on the wrong end of a lot of unfortunate bounces. Despite scoring 50 tries on the season, they finished the season with a -19 try differential but deserved a better fate in a handful of matches that they played in 2019. Four of their losses were by four points or less. Combine those matches with the two that resulted in draws and that’s six matches that really could have gone either way. The Warriors still have several of their top performers rank among the MLR’s league leaders. Center Tim O’Malley finished the season with 134 points while only scoring two tries. Saia Uhila racked up 142 carries while Lance Williams finished top three in tackles with 201 and fifth in carries with 156. Utah also got consistent production out of wing Fetu’u Vainkolo, who finished the season with six tries, 13 line breaks and five try assists in 15 matches.

 

2019 League Leaders:
Points

Brock Staller – Seattle Seawolves – 204

Sam Windsor – Houston SaberCats – 160

Sam Malcolm – Toronto Arrows – 145

Jean-Pierre Eloff – NOLA Gold – 141

Joe Pietersen – San Diego Legion – 141

Timothy O’Malley – Utah Warriors – 134

Robbie Petzer – Glendale Raptors – 85

John Ryberg – Glendale Raptors – 65

Cathal Marsh – Rugby United New York – 62

Tristan Blewett – NOLA Gold – 60

 

Tries

John Ryberg – Glendale Raptors – 13

Tristan Blewett – NOLA Gold – 12

Dylan Fawsitt – Rugby United New York – 12

Eric Howard – NOLA Gold – 9

Mike Te’o – San Diego Legion – 8

Mat Turner – Seattle Seawolves – 8

Connor Wallace-Sims – Rugby United New York – 8

Harley Davidson – Glendale Raptors – 8

Dan Moor – Toronto Arrows – 7

Riekert Hattingh – Seattle Seawolves – 7

 

Try Assists

John Ryberg – Glendale Raptors – 12

Dylan Fawsitt – Rugby United New York – 10

Mike Te’o – San Diego Legion – 10

Eric Howard – NOLA Gold – 9

Tristan Blewett – NOLA Gold – 8

Stephan Coetzee – Seattle Seawolves – 8

Dylan Taikato-Simpson – Glendale Raptors – 7

Joe Pietersen – San Diego Legion – 7

Nate Augspurger – San Diego Legion – 7

Riekert Hattingh – Seattle Seawolves – 7

 

Tackles

Brad Tucker – Seattle Seawolves – 242

Zack Stryffeler – NOLA Gold – 214

Lance Williams – Utah Warriors – 201

Nate Brakeley – Rugby United New York – 197

Luke Beauchamp – Houston SaberCats – 185

Con Foley – NOLA Gold – 180

Riekert Hattingh – Seattle Seawolves – 178

Josh Larsen – Austin Elite Rugby – 178

Michael Sheppard – Toronto Arrows – 178

Peter Milazzo – Toronto Arrows – 177

 

Carries

Riekert Hattingh – Seattle Seawolves – 180

Luke White – Glendale Raptors – 180

Brad Tucker – Seattle Seawolves – 171

Travis Larsen – Austin Elite Rugby – 159

Lance Williams – Utah Warriors – 156

Michael Sheppard – Toronto Arrows – 153

Dylan Fawsitt – Rugby United New York – 146

Harley Davidson – Glendale Raptors – 144

Ben Mitchell – Austin Elite Rugby – 143

Saia Uhila – Utah Warriors – 142

 

Meters Gained on Carries

John Ryberg – Glendale Raptors – 1,566.7

Tristan Blewitt – NOLA Gold – 1,386.7

Jean-Pierre Eloff – NOLA Gold – 1,380.9

Dylan Taikato-Simpson – Glendale Raptors – 1,274.1

Mat Turner – Seattle Seawolves – 1,265.5

Riekert Hattingh – Seattle Seawolves – 1,212

Ben Foden – Rugby United New York – 1,183.4

Luke White – Glendale Raptors – 1,159.2

Mike Te’o – San Diego Legion – 1,121.4

Josua Vici – Houston SaberCats – 1,115.3

Written by: Colton Stickler, Lead MLR Correspondent