The Rise of NOLA Gold

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NOLA Gold
Sunday February 10, 2019 - NOLA Gold player JP Eloff kicks the ball in the NOLA Gold v Seattle Seawolves match of the Major League Rugby 2019 season, played at Archbishop Shaw Field, Marrero, Louisiana. (Photo credit MLR/Craig Boudreaux)

NOLA Gold has been on a hot streak to begin the 2019 season.

We are three weeks in to the 2019 season and there have been many surprises, but none like NOLA Gold. Three teams currently have undefeated records, but only NOLA has played every week so far this season.

NOLA has come out of the blocks strong with a blistering attack that has allowed them to not only win every match, but secure try bonus points every week as well. New Zealand born Taylor Howden has been on top form this season, managing tries in the past two weeks of competition.

However, the true breakout star for the start of the 2019 season is JP Eloff (see main photo).

Eloff currently has a 77% kick completion, including a perfect six kicks at goal against Seattle last weekend. His play from the fullback position has been nothing short of exceptional and makes for a strong contention for him to return to an Eagles jersey in the near future.

Other winners from the first three weeks of MLR:

Toronto Arrows-

For many USA rugby fans, navigating the Arrows lineup can be a little difficult. Unlike many of the US MLR teams, there just aren’t that many names Americans are familiar with. Even with that, Toronto has started well in MLR. The Arrows achieved their first win on road against Austin Elite this past weekend.

Even in their loss to start the season, Toronto managed to secure a valuable losing bonus point on the road against NOLA. This is something that neither team from last year’s Championship match managed in New Orleans.

Utah Warriors and Rugby United New York-

These teams are listed together because their advantage has been the same. While the other teams have been slugging it out, missing players for the America’s Rugby Championship, Utah and RUNY have played only one match apiece.

They both managed wins in those matches, with Utah over Austin and RUNY over San Diego Legion. Utah managed to deny Austin a losing bonus point, but RUNY won over an arguably stronger Legion. Both teams will be back in action this week so we will be able to get a better feel for the quality of these two teams.

San Diego Legion-

San Diego is the only three match team besides NOLA to have a winning record and a positive points differential. This was highly in danger against the Houston Sabercats, with the Legion trailing 13-3 with only eight minutes remaining.ย ‘Rugby magic’ ensued, with Keni Nasoqeqe and Nate Auspurger saving the day with beautiful tries to allow San Diego to carry the day.

The Legion’s other win was by taking down last year’s MLR champions the Seattle Seawolves.

Houston Sabercats-

Houston closes out our list having played only two matches so far this year. With that, they have been impressive. The Sabercats opened their season winning on the road against Austin with a plus time kick to pull ahead and win the match.

Last week, they just barely lost on the road to San Diego with a 10 point lead at the 72 minute mark. Upsetting as it was, they salvaged a losing bonus point and look to improve heavily on their last place finish from a year ago.

Two Steps back in 2019 MLR:

Seattle Seawolves-

Playing in Seattle is entering a fortress. Teams do not leave there the way they came in with the raucous sold out crowd and the sea wall defense ‘leaving a mark’.

Unfortunately for the Seawolves, not every match is played at home. Of three matches this season, Seattle already has more away losses than in all of 2018. They won their home opener in a narrow scrap against the Glendale Raptors, but since then their luck has turned for the worse.

The only way to win championships is to find a way to win on the road and if Seattle wants to successfully defend their title, they will need to as well.

MLR Teams that are in danger:

Glendale Raptors-

Starting off on the road is always difficult. Starting off with two losses out of two matches makes it even more so. The Raptors have not been able to find their stride so far this season, losing on the road to the Seawolves and NOLA Gold.

This is not helped by the absence of their 9/10 pairing Shaun Davies and Will Magie. The loss of try shark Hanco Germishuys has only added to the difficulty for the lite Raptors team.

Hopefully all will be well once the team is at full strength again, but only time will tell.

Austin Elite-

Of any team in Major League Rugby, the Elite are in the most danger. They have had three home matches to start the season and have lost all three of them. That equates to 1/3 of their home matches for the season as losses. To add to the frustration, only one of the three teams; Utah Warriors, were in the playoffs last season.

Home losses to the Houston Sabercats, and Toronto Arrows have been devastating for Austin.

The opportunities have been there with Austin leading two of their three matches with less than six minutes to go, but have not been able to live up to their name and close out their matches.

The Elite must do some soul searching to get their season back on track before it is fully derailed. Fortunately they have that opportunity as they host their fourth match in a row against a win-less Glendale Raptors.

Nola Gold may be setting the ‘gold standard’ but others are finding that professional franchise rugby comes with some highs, and some lows. The same effort that is needed to succeed, is needed more so, to lift yourself out of the ‘low points’ of any contest. Raptors and Elite fans will hope these results can be turned 180′ degrees, to point their sides back up the competition ladder in 2019.

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Here are the latest standings for Major League Rugby:

The fourth round begins on Saturday February 16, withย Rugby United facing Nola Gold. This next round will again prove ‘who has their fingers on the pulse of Major League Rugby’ this season.

“Main Photo Credit: Craig Boudreaux”

 

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