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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