By Liam Poach
For the first time this season, I got to attend a live MLR match between the home team Houston SaberCats and the visiting Utah Warriors. If there was anything more daunting than the on-field officiating, it was the intense humidity that just seemed to scream at me “How bad does Vermont’s weather seem now?”
The game started out on a high note for the South Texas squad, putting up a 10-0 lead within the first fifteen minutes of the match. However, Utah would answer the call with two unanswered scores (both converted tries) in which their ball carriers seemed to burst through the SaberCat defense uncontested. Bad officiating doesn’t cause that, I’ll admit.
However, what bad officiating does cause is an abundance of lost chances at possession and scoring opportunities. When they were given the chance, Houston’s scrum was cohesive with a great initial push, allowing Connor Murphy to get the ball out quickly to the likes of Josua Vici, who had himself a WICKED great game capped off by a Sam Windsor-assisted try in the corner. On top of a ton of try saving tackles throughout the game, is there anything this freakish athlete can’t do?
Utah, meanwhile, showed once again that they’re a team that continues to improve week by week. Kurt Morath led the team with 19 total points, however, his success kicking from the tee was overshadowed by Sam Windsor’s 50 METER kick that sailed directly through the uprights. For those keeping score at home, this is his second such kick, having hit one earlier Houston’s exhibition season.
Nicholls still doesn’t impress me all that much at the number 9 spot. I think compared to a lot of other Scrum-halves in the league, he’s slow in getting to the ruck, and his ball spin at times is pretty shaky. In a Blake Bortles-esq fashion, he tends to get a lot of help from ball carriers like Paul Lasike and Tonata Lauti when it comes to the teams’ successes.
But, where credit is due, you have to give it. Utah didn’t blink after loose head-prop Alex Tucci received a yellow card, instead fighting through the heat and some rib-crunching tackles to pull ahead 36-30 in the dying minutes, after a plethora of slim leads had been exchanged by either side. And yes, Nicholls was part of that.
Houston did well to cut down on some of the unforced errors that plagued them last week, and especially in the lineouts where they were able to steal a few of Utah’s throw-ins. But, even with some questionable calls in the scrum, a knock on is a knock on, and some errant passes on their part can’t be overlooked as part of this team’s ultimate downfall after a promising exhibition season.
As for the Warriors, they now sit in third place, just behind the Seattle Seawolves as the real playoff push begins. Now that they’re finally starting to establish some rhythm on offense and becoming passable in the scrum, they very well could shock the USA Rugby world with a top three finish.
Houston, meanwhile, has two upcoming matches against Seattle AND Glendale, with a .500 record now their best hope for a spot in the final four. Luckily, they will be largely unaffected by the June-test window, while Glendale looks to be among the most affected.
Is this enough of an article? My checkout is in a half hour and my room still looks my old freshman year dorm.
By Liam Poach
Well, my final exams ae over. Which for me means one thing: I can get back to writing about rugby.
This weekend, we had a short MLR slate that featured only two games. However, it definitely got off to an exciting start in a game that saw the NOLA Gold come back from an early 7 point deficit and defeat the Houston SaberCats, with Matt Hughston capturing Man of the Match honors. NOLA has now officially swept the 2018 regular season series with Houston.
Although the end to this one may have come down to the wire, the meat of the match featured enough mistakes and unforced errors to make up a season’s worth of blooper reels. NOLA, despite the result, looked pretty awful in the scrum today, while Houston’s issues in the lineout and with ball handling continue to be a problem.
But, despite all that, this game had fans on the edge of their seats, and there were plenty of positives to take away from both teams’ performance.
First, to the victor go the spoils: NOLA
-NOLA did what NOLA does best today, and that is attempt to get the ball out wide and into the hands of their playmakers. Team Captain Taylor Howden along with players such as Ratu Rinkama and Zack Stryffler had themselves a great day with the ball in hand. I think if NOLA works to increase their average time of possession, we could potentially see a lot more high-scoring finishes for this Osborne led squad.
-While they had their issues with stopping the forward oriented attack from the SaberCats, The Gold made a number of goal line stands when they needed to the most, forcing Houston to make mistake after mistake, chewing up more time on the clock as they did.
-Okay, so without even mentioning the fact that they got put on their heels by a Saber-scrum that was missing an 8-man (due to a red card by fullback Zach Pangelinan), their scrum caused the Gold to concede a number of penalties, at one point finally forcing the official to issue a yellow card to capped-Canadian Hubert Buydens for forcing the pack down. Something to do with his elbow? I don’t know, I’m a back. BUT, after enduring four straight infractions backed up inside their own 22, one final penalty went against Houston’s Jake Turnbull, killing a huge momentum swinging drive for the ‘Cats.
-While it may have been more obvious for Houston, NOLA saw their fair share of turnovers today because of some shoddy handling that I’m sure will be addressed by Coach Nate going forward.
Meanwhile, for Houston…
-The final five minutes of this match is what fans across Southern Texas had probably wished they had been seeing for the first 75. Houston demonstrated as they have in the past that they can move the ball efficiently and methodically with their forwards if they’re able to get into a rhythm, and that aspect nearly won them the game in the dying minutes.
-Scrum-half Connor Murphy did well directing traffic all game, but the aforementioned issues with handling and the lineouts forced them to concede a lot of possession time, especially in the second half. He also still has the best box-kick ability in the league, garnering a few key clear-outs for the ‘Cats.
But, they still got issues…
-Okay, this is the third time I mentioned it, but BALL HANDLING AND LINEOUTS! Last time, I swear. Houston, when they have possession, have players that can score from anywhere on the field. But, like I said, they need to establish a rhythm first in order to do what they do best, and unforced errors and rubbish lineout mechanics are what will kill any semblance of one.
-Getting the ball out wide. After Pangelinan went out with a red card, I can understand why the visitors went with a more ground and pound kind of approach. But, even before his exit, I felt like the passing out to the backs was slow to develop, and allowed NOLA to ensure their defense was where it need to be when it counted.
By Liam Poach
The Utah Warriors came within a converted try’s worth of points to upsetting the Glendale Raptors and shocking the USA Rugby Universe. However, as usual, Coach Dave Williams and his men found a way to pull off the victory 36-29, with Harley Davidson (two tries) capturing Man of the Match honors.
Just as they did in their pre-season exhibition match, the Warriors managed to keep the Raptors scoreless for the first ten minutes of the match, displaying a much more structurally sound defensive front than what we had seen from them thus far. However, within the next seven minutes, the home team would find themselves down by ten to a squad known for blowing out lesser competition.
Not wanting to become just another statistic in Glendale’s rampage across the MLR landscape, Utah responded with ten unanswered points of their own, beginning a course of events that might turn out to be one of the best matches of the season. When all was said and done, we ended up seeing nine combined tries to go along with 4 lead changes.
The big difference for Utah in this game was as I said before, defense. Instead of allowing their opponent to exploit huge numbers advantages on the outside by drawing them into the middle, Coach Daniels has apparently gotten the message across to his guys that you need to stay disciplined and in position in order to not have 50 points put up on you.
Their offensive attack also showed some marked improvement, beginning with scrumhalf Joseph Nicholls successfully and quickly distributing the ball to his playmakers like Paul Lasike and Tonata Lauti. While in weeks previously it seemed as it Utah was dependent on the occasional splash play to get them into scoring position, this afternoon we actually saw an excitingly fluid and effective passing game with some true-to-form Tongan style offloads in tight spaces.
Meanwhile, the Glendale Raptors did just enough to keep the resurgent home team at bay to eke out the win. In the first half, a few players seemed to be asleep at the wheel, seeing a handful of phases go nowhere in terms of gaining ground while errant penalties also reared their nasty head.
It’s thanks to players like Bryce Campbell and Harley Davidson that this score didn’t go the other day. Whenever the Raptors succeeded in getting the ball into one of their hands, it either ended in a healthy chunk of meters gained or points on the board. Will Magie and his leg were also crucial to this one, going 4/5 on conversions and 1/1 on penalties.
While the Warriors have now fallen to 0-2 on the season, this game has certainly provided a glimmer of hope for the already strong bands of Warrior-faithful. If they’re able to go into every game with the same intensity and efficiency that they did today, I’m sure plenty of their matches in the future will yield a different final result.
By Liam Poach
The Austin Elite got their first taste of victory tonight, defeating the NOLA Gold 30-17. The South African native, Hanco Germishuys, of The Elite captured Man of the Match honors thanks to a spectacular two-try performance.
Austin got to work quickly in this one, with Coach Alain allowing Tim Guilliman to kick for points twice within the first five minutes, both of which were successful. A try by the fullback Hudson not long after would push the lead to 11-0 before NOLA could even blink.
The early lead was in large part thanks to a more efficient attack from Austin than we had seen all season. They were at their best using a barrage of short-ball passes that allowed their runners to hit tight gaps at full speed, which when done in a good rhythm resulted in a much more fast paced and entertaining ground and pound effect.
NOLA, meanwhile, looked to apply a more traditional style with the same concept, which was to repeatedly hammer the Elite’s suspect defense up the middle with their imposing band of forwards. While the Gold saw a measured amount of success with this tactic, they ultimately ended up not scoring enough points while killing too much clock.
Each team saw its fair amount of penalties, particularly of the handling variety, which is always a huge momentum killer in close games like this. However, it seemed as if Austin more often than not was able to take advantage of NOLA’s miscues while quickly recovering from their own. One two particular occasions, the Gold showed poor judgement while backed up against their own try-zone, nearly resulting in an Elite try both times before being saved by lucky clearance kicks.
NOLA can still hang its hat on its scrum, but it didn’t show up the way it needed to tonight to support a passing attack that remained stagnant for most of the game while the Elite continued to find the gaps and huge splash plays. And that’s not for a lack of talent, I just think Austin showed up to play tonight, resulting in a much different kind of opponent than the Gold may have expected to find.
On a final note, Hanco needs to be firmly in the MVP conversation, even at this early stage of the season. There’s no denying the role he plays on this team, forcing coaches to game plan their defense around stopping him. #HancoMVP
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Penguin Tundra Sports Blog was created in 2016 by a very bored college student who was obsessed with Rugby and Football. That same college student knew how to write pseudo-intelligently, so what better way to show off than to create a blog. Along your journey though the Tundra's domain, you may come across outlandish opinions, horrible spelling errors, and some shit that is just outright wrong. Well then, you should comment, give my blog more attention, and we will have our day in internet court. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy talking about sports as much as I do.
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