By Liam Poach
For a minute there (40 of them actually), it looked as if it were possible that the Houston SaberCats could pull of the ultimate upset over the Seattle Seawolves in route to an even more improbable playoff push. Unfortunately, by the games 80th minute, it was clear that neither of those things were going to happen.
The hope for what could have been was spurred by the Houston faithful after a grueling first half ended with a score of 6-0 in favor of Seattle, but in which Coach Fitzpatrick’s squad made every one of those points hell to earn for the visiting side. The thinking was, I guess, that the humid Texas air would take its toll on the Seawolves faster than it would on the ‘Cats, giving them a shot at overcoming their season long second half woes.
Again, that didn’t happen. In fact, it was quite the reverse actually...quite…quite. That’s a funny word isn’t it? Quite. I’m sorry, Mystic River just won the D1 Championship and I’m consuming tequila as I’m writing this…quite.
Here’s what I saw:
>> Houston was at its most ‘efficient’ when they were employing a short ball passing scheme that aimed to get their runners into the first available gap at a high rate of speed. Not quite picking and driving, but it was essentially the same affect; for although it helped Houston win the overall TOP battle in the first half, the Seattle defense was able to limit their average meters gained per pass to around 2-3.
>> Speaking of Seattle’s defense, what a game from them! While the North Western visitors may have seen their most productive success come from spreading the ball out wide, they held it down by being able to quell the powerful surges from Houston players like Malachi Esdale and Josua Vici, who normally come through with at least one or two clutch tries a game. Speaking of which…
>> In another universe not far off from this one, Vici and Esdale are sharing co-Men of the Match honors for some truly spectacular runs and near tries. Vici in particular has been a not-so-unsung hero of this team, but I’m afraid he doesn’t get enough love league wide for how much this guy means to this team’s ability to move the ball far and fast. He’s still got his issues, but overall a total potential game breaker every time he steps on the field.
>>However, one of Vici’s issues in penalties. Second half infractions sank this SaberCats team’s chances of a comeback time and again, and it just seemed to go along with this image I conjure of a SaberBoat full of holes, and every time you fix one leak, another one spring right behind you.
>> This was by far Connor Murphy’s worst game of the season. His insistence on keeping the ball short even when down by two converted tries late in the second had me reeling. However, the kicker was two back to back miscues that included being late to a breakdown when his squad had a numbers advantage, and a bad bass pass out of the scrum right after that hit the dirt at his teammate’s feet.
>>Two guys who deserve a decent night on the town following this victory are Man of the Match Phil Mack and back liner Peter Tiberio. Mack was everywhere on the field tonight, creating turnovers as well as point and opportunities for his team. Tiberio, meanwhile, continues his streak of pulling off at least one or two game breaking runs a match.
By Liam Poach
Austin extended its undefeated streak at home at Round Rock to 3-0 (3-3 overall) defeating the Utah Warriors (2-4) 41-33 in one the MLR’s highest scoring affairs this season. The team’s fullback (Yeah! Yeah!) Zinzan Elan-Puttick received Man of the Match honors after a spectacular two try performance.
As we had approached the halfway point of the season, many of the MLR faithful had already begun writing off both these squads as lost causes who were better off playing for 2019 and beyond. But, as it stands now, the playoffs are a very real possibility for either of these teams (perhaps now a bit more for The Elite, but you know what I mean.)
While both of these teams have shown some obvious improvement since the start of the season, I still see a few problems that persist as well, which may have led to the final score being what it was.
Before I get into it, I need to start by mentioning Elan-Puttick’s performance one more time. As some readers may remember, I interviewed Elite flanker Hanco Germishuys about a month ago, and he mentioned Zinzan in particular as someone deserving of an Eagle distinction in the future, and after last night, who could blame him?
It wasn’t just the points he put on the board, either. Time and time again, Elan-Puttick got his team out of a few jams while backed up inside their own 22, an area of their defense which up until this point had been a weak spot for other squads to exploit. If Austin hopes to keep this gravy train going right into the playoffs, they might need to ask for a few more performances like last night from the young South African native.
One of the major pros for Austin was their ball-in-hand ability, which I’ve touted in the past as some of the best in the league. While Utah is a team that mainly relies on splash plays created by their hard hitting north-south runners, The Elite limited those opportunities for the visitors by winning the TOP battle thanks to a system of recycle passing and a significant decrease in handling errors (at least…for MOST of the game).
While the efforts of their 15 went above and beyond expectations, Austin still has some ground to make up when it comes to defense, and to be honest, both of these teams do. While The Elite never saw themselves fall behind by more than a single point all game, Utah was still able to shock the crowd at Round Rock with a few efficient phases topped off by some superhuman runs by the likes of stalwart players Tonata Lauti (one try) and Paul Lasike, as well as reserve player Maka Tameilau, who was able to find the try zone himself in the second half.
Those watching the broadcast may have thought this game was over after Tim Guilliman hit his third penalty kick in as many tries between the 50th and 75th minutes of the match. But, never to be a squad that just rolls over and dies, Alf Daniels’ band of ruggers kept it interesting by getting off not one, but two quick tries that pulled the game to within 8 with just enough time for a comeback to be conceivable.
However, the second half especially saw a cavalcade of ill-timed not-releasing penalties and handling errors for Utah, which whenever they occurred allowed Marcus Walsh (who had the dummie pass-run-and-try of the year last night) to slow the pace down, and get the game back within his team’s control.
In the end, I don’t believe either of these teams have overcome the defensive deficiencies that made them start off this season near the bottom of the barrel. However, the marked improvement each team is showing on offense is at least something to be excited about.
If I had to choose, I would say Austin has the best chance of finishing this season on a winning note. While their issues in making normally routine tackles remains a concern, I think the cohesiveness of their scrum coupled with their chemistry in the passing game will get them enough opportunities to pull out the win in close contests.
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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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