I am going to a rugby game this Sunday, and I figured I should probably take the opportunity to write a blog post about it.
New England — to the Shield, or to the Sheds?
Your New England Free Jacks carry forward a six-game winning streak, having only dropped one game the entire season to the defending Shield-holders LA. Since that four-point loss they have gone on a tear, beating New York, Austin, Toronto, and Atlanta, all playoff contenders. However, the last two weeks have revealed dubiousness over the longevity of this run. Simply put, the best team in the MLR should not be defeating the NOLA Gold by four, and the Seattle Seawolves by two. Those are not comfy margins, and while the boys got the job done and they are still a lock for the playoffs and certainly favorites for the shield, they are in danger of a late-season collapse that could jeopardize all that they have achieved.
At this point the Free Jacks faithful are left looking for explanations for their drop off over the last two weeks. Either the competition is getting better and they are still good enough to reliably win games, albeit less comfortably, or something has changed with the Jacks, and an adjustment needs to be made. Obviously, the answer is both. Both the Gold and the Seawolves have obviously improved over the course of the season. At the same time, it is not clear to this author what Mathie needs to change to start winning these games in the way that the Free Jacks should.
The Free Jacks remaining schedule is quite soft, with six more games after this Sunday’s matchup, of which only half are against playoff contenders, and only one, versus Atlanta, is against a serious-shield-seeking-side. In light of that, the Free Jacks playoff berth is all but certain. The challenge is in pulling the pieces together for a deep playoff run, and then overcoming Gilchrist’s, sorry, the West’s representative.
Gilchrist Comes for Us All, or, The Tragedy of Rugby New Jersey
New York is in a strange place. They have been bleeding points and have been finally evicted from third place in the East by Toronto, which was a scenario I did not really think possible until three weeks ago. They have picked up two wins out of their last four games, against DC by four points, which, yikes, and a good win against the Gold. They lost a squeaker to Toronto by four, which does not speak well of Toronto’s chances in the playoffs.
And then New York headed out to the LA Coliseum. The Giltinis subjected New York to a historically awful rout, which, reader, does not inspire confidence. LA has apparently had a weirdly strong home advantage this season, only dropping one game to Utah (???) at home, but even so, this was a brutal blow to any hope that New York had to be taken seriously as a playoff team. They need to show this weekend that they are not dead in the water, that they can compete against the best, and any result that shows life will be a success in light of the events at il Colisseo.
What they are playing for
This Sunday’s Hoboken Hoedown Throwdown will reveal much about the state of these two teams. New England should win with a bonus point. Anything less would be concerning, given New Jersey’s recent form. If they fail to achieve that, then serious questions must be asked about the Free Jacks’ ability to make it deep into the playoffs. Their first place position in the East is also under constant threat, as they hold only a two-point lead over Atlanta. Anything they can do to increase that margin would be a big help. It is possible, given their remaining schedule that the Jacks continue their winning streak through the entire season. It is also possible to drop out of playoff contention entirely. The East is not quite as close as the West, but with Toronto’s late-breaking revival anything is possible.
New York should be hoping to at least lose with a bonus point, or even just put some points on the board. New York is in a fight for their playoff lives, as they are now behind the Arrows for the last East playoff spot. Their schedule is slightly worse than Toronto’s for the remaining few games. That means that anything they can take from this game is a win. Even just the confidence boost of scoring some tries against a vastly superior opponent could be a big help as they head into their last run of games.
It should be a fuuun time. Also, as much as it pains me to say it, here’s hoping Dallas pulls it out against DC. It’s only fair.