Interview by Liam Poach
The #TundraSummerSeries continues, this week, from the San Diego Legion, we have capped-USA Eagle (#486) and season-standout Ryan Matyas.
Those who are familiar with the world of USA Rugby now that Ryan has been a stalwart presence on many Team USA lineups, that includes 10 XV appearences to go along with 6 7's appearences. He also spent time with the San Diego Breakers in the now-defunct PRO League.
Now, however, he resides with a team that seems to be on the brink of playing championship rugby next season, and may have likely stood a chance to take home the gold (silver?) this year had the playoffs turned out differently. Anyway, you know the drill. Read!
Liam: How important do you consider your time spent playing rugby in your younger years to be in having developed the skills you have today? How important do you consider the development of youth programs here in the United States to be in growing the game?
Ryan: My time playing youth rugby was invaluable, Learning core skills and learning to play the game with respect for my teammates, coaches, referees, and opponents. If we want to compete with The All Blacks, the development of youth programs should be our focus.
Liam: What is it about U. Arizona’s rugby program that makes it consistently crank out top-notch rugby players?
Ryan: They play all the top teams in the country in 15’s and in 7’s, so it gives the boys opportunities to learn and compete and showcase their talents.
Liam: Now that the team has a full season under its belt, how would you describe the locker room culture in San Diego?
Ryan: We have a unique team culture, and have a lot of great guys on our team who are willing to contribute on and off the field.
Liam: More than half the teams in the league finished this season with a losing record. What did it mean to you guys to finish this season with a winning one?
Ryan: Finishing with a winning record was something we can be proud about, but winning the league was our goal and we fell short.
Liam: Was there anything different about the game in which you got the victory over Glendale that allowed you guys to finally crack their code? Do you think you would have been able to do again it had you made it to the Championship?
Ryan: Our win against Glendale at home was a fantastic way to finish the season. That came from sticking to and executing our game plan. I felt that we matched up with them well, and if we had them in the final, it would have been one to watch.
Liam: What’s your opinion on Coach Rob and his training methods?
Ryan: Working with Coach Rob is one of the main reasons I signed with SD and didn’t go overseas. I worked with him at SD-PRO. I really respect the way he views and coaches the game.
Liam: Who’s an uncapped player that you believe deserves a call-up to the National squad?
Ryan: Here are some guys to keep an eye on:
Liam: If you could recruit any player from around the world to San Diego, who would it be?
Ryan: Dane Coles.
Liam: Do you think the Legion will be able to successfully fill the void left in the hearts of San Diego sports fan by the departure of the Chargers?
Ryan: Absolutely, rugby is an inclusive and inviting sport. I have gotten the opportunity to meet so many new fans this year whose first game was a Legion game, and they loved it. The city has been so welcoming and supportive. It’s a match made in heaven.
Liam: Would you rather be a Jedi or a Wizard?
Ryan: Wizard, they can grant wishes. Plus they have cool robes
Interview by Liam Poach
Aaaaaaand the Tundra Summer Series continues. This time, we're traveling (metaphorically speaking) to the Pacific North West, where capped Eagle Peter Tiberio was a part of the championship-winning Seattle SeaWolves, who were able to topple the (now former) Kings of American Rugby, the Glendale Raptors.
Even though our communication was over email, I got the feeling that Peter was a genuine rugby guy. You know, someone who just embodies both the friendly culture and dedication that the sport inspires. The kind of guy who will put a few people on their ass out on the pitch, but then be all smiles on the sideline while asking the rookies how they're liking the game.
So this week, we have the pleasure of getting some insight into the first succsesful championship run in MLR history, from a man who helped make it happen. READ NOW!
Liam: What was it about the University of Arizona’s rugby program that helped instill in you such a love for and dedication to the game?
Peter: I think it had to be Dave Sitton and the tradition he built. The University of Arizona Rugby program was a family, you could feel the tradition throughout the program. I owe a great thanks to the program and Dave for the platform he built which afforded me some pretty incredible opportunities in rugby. I don't think there are many programs in the country where I could have walked-on with no rugby experience whatsoever and be given the opportunities that I received.
Liam: The years between 2011 and 2012 were huge for you in terms of your name gaining recognition on the national stage. You were a two time College All-American, you were chosen for the USA Under-20s team at the IRB Junior World Trophy tournament in Nairobi, Kenya, you helped team USA bring home the Bronze at the Pan-American Games, chosen for the CRC All-Tournament Team, and to cap it all off, you were awarded the title of 2012 College 7’s Player of the Year by Rugby Magazine. What was it like dealing with a nearly full time rugby schedule along with being a student? And, how did that experience prepare you for the life of a professional rugby player?
Peter: 2011 and 2012 were pretty crazy that's for sure. It definitely wasn't easy, but I think being so young and probably not realizing exactly how crazy it was to be a full time student playing full time rugby on the World Series and elsewhere. I think some pretty understanding professors and a bit of ignorance helped me through.
I was lucky that I was able to switch my courses online and pursue a college degree as a full time student while living in San Diego and training with the national team full time. Being immersed into the full time training environment at 20 years old is the base of what I see as a professional athlete. My early years with the 7s team only echoed off of what I had taken from Dave and the UofA program, and further instilled a good work ethic.
Liam: How has ample experience in the 7’s game positively translated into XV’s?
Peter: It has been a big change getting back into 15’s full time. Before the SeaWolves season, I hadn't played a full 15’s season since college. I had played with the Saracens here in Seattle, but never a full season. With a background in 7’s, I was able to take a lot of the 1 on 1 skills, both tackling and attacking, into 15’s with me. Along with the 1 on 1 skills, the ball skills, and being able to pass at a full sprint off either hand is a skill that translates well into the back three of 15’s.
Liam: What’s your preferred position in XV’s?
Peter: Ideally, I would like to play in the centers. I like to mix it up in the midfield a bit more than I'm able to on the wing. Fortunately, with the SeaWolves, we had some very strong centers this season, so I was happy to play on the wing.
Liam: The SeaWolves faced some early adversity with the loss of your original coach ahead of the season due to immigration issues. How do you think Phil Mack handled the responsibility of being a player/coach given the circumstances?
Peter: I think Phil did a great job. Obviously, it was quite the curve ball for him and the team, but credit to him as he and some of the other players did a great job in stepping up and leading us through this season. As much as I hate to give credit to Phil, as he was an opponent of mine for so long, I'd say he far exceeded my expectations being thrown into the coaching role as he was.
Liam: Many in the rugby media (unfortunately, myself included) thought that Seattle’s lack of an exhibition season would hinder them early on in the regular. Was that doubt used as any sort of Bellichickian-‘white board’ material to fuel your fire?
Peter: I can't say I blame them. Going into the first game vs San Diego, I don't even know if we knew what to expect. But yes, I'd be lying if being preseason-ranked second to last didn't light a fire under us. It certainly felt good to look back on that ranking at the end of the season.
Liam: Once mid-season came around, people had wised-up to the fact that Seattle was a dominant squad, and a collision course with Glendale in the final was deemed by many to be inevitable. How did you guys handle the pressure of those expectations in order to sustain your success?
Peter: We did a very good job of taking every game as it came and not overlooking any opponent. If you go back and look at the stats, away teams really struggled against us, especially at the beginning of the season. We saw right away that no game was going to be easy and we would have to fight through each game. I had an inkling that our close games throughout the season may help us in the final.
Liam: Seattle became known for its intensely vocal fan base. Were you and the other players surprised at the reception you got in what was only your first season? And, do you think the stadium atmosphere provides you any kind of advantage during home games?
Peter: I was absolutely blown away when we saw how well the community came out and supported us. It goes further than the amount of fans we had show up to the stadium but also how engaged they were during our matches. Maybe it's my background in 7’s, but I'm used to fans being rather disengaged.
But here in Seattle, when we win a lineout the fans go nuts, we win a scrum and they go nuts. I've been lucky to play in some pretty cool rugby stadiums, but I can genuinely say that playing here in Seattle in front of the Seattle fans is my favorite place to play.
Liam: In the playoffs, considering San Diego had been the one team to topple Glendale, did you guys feel confident that if you could beat them, your chances at the championship would be that much better?
Peter: I don't think we ever doubted ourselves this season. Facing a much different San Diego than we had met week 1, we knew it was going to be a test. I don't know that we thought our chances would be better to beat Glendale if we were to beat San Diego, we knew that was going to be a big-ask regardless. I think this goes back to taking every game as it came at us. Setting a game plan and executing it on the field. Credit to Phil for instilling a solid platform for us to work from each week.
Liam: So…the championship. The comeback. What was the week leading up to it like? How did your preparation translate to the game? What did it take mentally to comeback and raise that big-ass shield at the end of the night?
Peter: The week leading up to the final was pretty light in terms of volume actually. At that point in the season, we knew what we were capable of, and at that point it was more about figuring out our plan for the week, and making sure we had the discipline to stick to whatever plan it was we decided on.
We wanted to play fast and expansive all season, we had a great backline and some very mobile forwards. That plan was no different for the final, and I think in that final there were some great passages of play that were a treat to watch. That style of play obviously fits my game, so it keeps me happy.
Mentally, I think it was our attitude the whole season, we knew we were going to win. When we went down 11 with 20 minutes left and I looked at the boys, I still had no doubt we were going to win that game. It speaks volumes to our team’s character to march right back down the field twice and take the lead in 4 or 5 minutes.
Liam: Who’s an uncapped player that you think deserves a call-up to the National Team (US or Canadian)?
Peter: The easy answer is Riekart (Hattingh) as he is US eligible soon, and I think he deserves every chance at the US side. But I'll go with an American, Taylor Krumrei. He did very well for us in the second row. He put his head down and worked hard all season. I don't think he missed but a few minutes the entire year.
Liam: Italian food or x? (Apparently, there was no need for a B-option)
Peter: Italian, all day, every day! I think I eat pizza 4 times a week. Can't tell you how many times I stopped at Dominoes on my way home from training.
Liam: Would you rather be a Jedi or a Wizard?
Peter: I may take some heat for this, but I've never seen a star wars movie nor a Harry Potter movie. I'll go with a Jedi though because Harry seems like a punk.
(Upon learning that Peter had never seen an HP or Star Wars Movie, I fainted for a brief time face down on my keyboard.)
By Liam Poach
As the ‘Interview Summer Series’ continues here at Penguin Tundra, I’m going to stick a little closer to home on this next one. For those who have read my writing or have heard me spew boat loads of post-D1 Championship smack-talk on EOD, you know that I’m a supporter of the Malden, MA-based Mystic River Rugby Club, who just took home the D1 Club Championship for the second time in three years under the leadership of Coach Josh Smith. Not only because it’s the most likely club to help incubate an MLR franchise here in Boston, but I find the organization as a whole pretty relatable: Not quite from BOSTON, Boston, but close enough that you may as well be.
In the interest of shining some light on an ascending young-athlete representing the Monsters of Malden in the MLR, I have turned this week to Diego Maquieira of the Houston SaberCats for answers.
This past season, Diego made his presence felt at hooker, usually in second-half relief of Lindsey Stevens, but with a few starts along the way. However, don’t let the fact that he wasn’t always the first on the field give you the wrong impression. When Coach Fitzpatrick let this dog off the leash, he intended for it to be mean, and aggressive.
And that’s the impression that you get when you watch Diego play. Off the pitch, I guarantee you’ve never met a nicer guy, but when he has the ball in hand, he has a bullish mentality using a thick, well-built frame to blow through first and second tackle attempts, as well as making a fair few of his own on defense.
Wanting to know more, I caught up with the rugger originally from Flushing, NY over email, and I learned what’s good. Here. You read now. Why say lot word when few word do trick?
Liam: What initially gave you your passion for playing rugby?
Diego: I was always a multi-sport athlete growing up, playing everything under sun. I went on to pursue football in college at Bucknell University, where I was a linebacker. After my freshman year, I decided to transfer to Northeastern University, who at the same time had announced they were canceling their football program. So my plan was to try out for the baseball team that fall.
However, one day during the summer before heading off to Northeastern, I ended up watching the World Series Sevens circuit and remember wondering if there was a team I could join. It just so happened that the Northeastern Rugby team would be starting their preseason when I was to arrive for orientation, and luckily they were more than happy to have me stop by. I showed up in flip flops, but the coach somehow convinced me to put on his spare cleats from the trunk of his car and join the guys. Needless to say, I never went to that baseball tryout after that.
Liam: What kind of things did you learn under Josh Smith during your time with Mystic River? What is it about Mystic River Rugby that makes you want to come back and compete for them like you recently did for their 7’s side?
Diego: Josh has always been good to me as a coach and mentor, but in ways that I probably didn't appreciate enough during my time there. He definitely was tough on me, as he expected a lot out of me, but he also helped fuel my competitive fire. I definitely grew up as an athlete thanks to him. He also has good understanding of the 'dark arts' and helped me develop many of those skills needed from a hooker/flanker in the modern game.
Aside from that, Mystic River has been my family since I graduated from college (longer if you consider Middlesex before the merger). We came together in 2016 to win the first National Championship in team history, and are always competitive in 7s. There's definitely a good thing going on there in terms of club culture and structure, and that's what brings me back. 7s was the reason I ever came to find rugby in the first place, so it's always fun to come back to that.
Liam: How did the opportunity to join the Houston SaberCats come about for you?
Diego: When MLR and the SaberCats (then Strikers) were in early stages, I reached out to Coach Fitzpatrick with my CV and game film. We had previously known each other through the Serevi/Atavus set up, and he had seen me playing in College. While we chatted for a few weeks, non-rugby factors were lining up perfectly, and so we worked out a plan to get me down to Houston.
Liam: What was your first impression of the team and its culture?
Diego: I was definitely surprised by the talent and athleticism that Fitzy brought in. It was clear from the beginning that this was a different level from what I was used to. Since this was a brand new organization and the majority of the players barely knew each other, the culture was entirely to be determined at the time. But unsurprisingly, everyone was incredibly competitive and spirited in training, but also very interested in creating a strong team identity off the pitch. I couldn't have asked for a better group of characters.
Liam: What do you think of Coach Fitz and his training methods?
Diego: Well, knowing Fitzy's background as an international prop and USA forwards coach, I was excited to learn from the best and he didn't disappoint. I definitely grew leaps and bounds in my skills as a hooker, and probably grew more so in my mental preparation as a professional. Fitzy knew that guys like myself would be transitioning from 2 sessions a week to sometimes 8 or more, and he methodically constructed the year to accommodate for that. I really learned what it meant to be a professional, something that I think I (and others) will benefit from in our next season.
Liam: Do you prefer playing hooker or flanker?
Diego: I definitely enjoy playing flanker, but I've grown to love playing hooker. I love the set piece and value its importance in a match. Modern hookers also are often looked at as a 4th loose forward, but with the added responsibilities in the set piece.
Liam: What do you think was the biggest disconnect between your team’s successes in the exhibition season vs the poor results of the regular season?
Diego: It's easy to look at the records and think that something went horribly wrong, but all things considered, I believe that the team had a tremendous amount of growth from January through June. Obviously every team is measured by their record, but I think if you look at the tightness of some of those results and some of the quality rugby that was played throughout the year, there is a lot to be excited about.
You also have to consider the quality of our opponents, because regardless of what anyone thought prior to the season starting, every MLR team was incredibly competitive, and the in-form teams changed throughout the course of the season. I believe that with a season under our belt, we will be able to draw from that experience as a foundation and build on our consistency.
Liam: What’s one thing the ‘Cats do well that they can build upon for future?
Diego: We definitely were a dominant scrum, which sets up our dynamic back line. If we find consistency in our lineout, we have the potential to be a threat there, as well. One of the more 'exciting' things, was we we're strong in was our aerial game, including attacking box kicks and cross kicks. We definitely have threats all over the pitch, but just like any new team, there were some inconsistencies in our performance.
Liam: If you had to choose an uncapped player to get their first call up, who would it be and why?
Diego: Cecil Garber. There isn't a tougher guy on any team and his work rate is top notch. He's exactly what you want out of your flanker.
Liam: How would you compare Boston rugby fans to Houston rugby fans?
Diego: It's probably hard to compare since Boston doesn't have professional rugby, but I think Houston's got a huge advantage in that casual sports fans have been incredibly welcoming of the team. We had people buying season tickets without ever having watched a rugby match in their lives! That's mind-blowing to me. They're so passionate about sports and their city and they threw their support around us.
Boston rugby fans are a pretty tight knit community with deep rooted rivalries, so they can get nasty at games. Houston rugby fans came together for us, and they were one of the more pleasant crowds in the MLR, in my opinion.
Liam: What’s your favorite place to eat in Boston? In Houston?
Diego: I'm big on brunch and love Alden & Harlow's in Boston (Cambridge, actually) and The Breakfast Klub in Houston.
Liam: Whiskey or beer?
Diego: Whiskey is great, but beer is better.
Liam: Would you rather be a Jedi or a Wizard?
Diego: Jedi, because lightsabers.
Interview by Liam Poach
Hey all! It's been a while since I posted. Unfortunately, reporting on rugby is not yet a full time gig for me, and I had to put paying for the bacon and beer ahead of taking about rugby with you fine people, but just for a bit. I'm back now, baby.
Since my brief hiatus (other than my appearances on the Earful of Dirt Podcast for those who watch), we've had a whole lot go down in the MLR. New signings, new teams, and a newly crowned champion with the Seattle SeaWolves, who put up a great fight to get the win over Glendale.
Now that we're in the grips of the off-season and fans are already starving for updates and news, I've decided to try a new 'Summer Series' of interviews, highlighting some of the relevant faces around the MLR. For my first installment, I decided to catch up with NOLA's Vincent Jobo, a hard running South African native, who unfortunately lost the entirety of his regular season due to an Achilles injury sustained during an exhibition season game against Austin.
However, those who follow Vince on social media, as well as those who are close to him, understand the young rugby player has overcome a lot worse, and merely sees the injury as just a bump in the road to his achieving greatness. To learn more, read on below.
Liam: What were your feelings when you first sustained your injury? What are your feelings about it now? What has your rehab process been like? How close are you to 100%?
Vince: I was really sad when it happened. I remember it like yesterday. I received the ball, made a strong outside carry and burst through the Austin Elite defense. One of their players back tracked and tackled me from behind. I tried to get up but I could feel something was wrong. Immediately I thought to myself, “Fuck!!! Please no God.” Our physical trainer got to the field and carried me off the field. He felt my Achilles tendon and immediately said "it’s gone." I knew at that moment that’s my season over, and knew I just suffered a possible career ending injury. Right after he said that I just burst into tears. Just thinking about how hard I’ve worked in the off season, all the early mornings and late nights of training, all the sacrifices I made to be where I am and that really hurt me, man. I just cried and cried on the side of the field watching my teammates play.
It’s been three months post surgery now and I’m very positive. My medical team is positive, and it’s healing up really quickly and faster than what we expected. I'm a fighter man, been fighting my whole life. When the injury happened, I had two choices, feel sorry for myself, throw the towel and go back home to South Africa, or FIGHT. It wasn’t easy, but that’s what I do. I fight. Every single day is a fight, man. My head is good space and life is great at the moment. Just enjoying the process of working hard and getting back to doing what I love.
Rehab is going great man. We just working on my mobility and strengthening my leg again. Getting stronger and stronger each day, I’ll be ready to run in a couple of weeks and that’s when the serious work starts. Right now I’m patient, listening to my medical team and doing what’s required of me.
I will be fully fit on November. That is the plan. With the first MLR game kicking off at the end of January 2019, I will be back in time to start my first MLR game. Everything is on track, myself and the medical team have a plan and everything will work out the way it’s suppose to be.
Liam: How do you feel your teammates did on the field this season?
Vince: The team did fairly well considering the amount of injuries to quality players we had on our team. We were our own worst enemies, and lost to nobody else but ourselves. But I hope it was a good lesson for the boys, at this level you just can’t afford to make silly mistakes, cause against good teams, you will get exposed and get punished for every mistake you make.
Liam: Do you think you could have made a big difference in how NOLA’s season turned out?
Vince: Absolutely man, I believe in myself and back myself 110%. I would’ve done everything in my power within the team structures to make sure we could’ve won a couple more games and given ourselves a chance to be in the playoffs. This is a team sport, we all need one another, like I said, we had a number of injuries to key players on the team and I know they would’ve all made a huge difference.
Liam: How do you feel about Coach Osborne and his methods?
Vince: Nate is one of the best coaches I’ve worked with. I mean, I’ve worked with really highly ranked top coaches back home in South Africa, but Nate has really stood out for me. He’s still extremely young as a coach, but his knowledge and insight of the game is wonderful. His methods and way of playing is where the modern rugby era is heading towards. Playing fast, ferocious rugby with excellent ball skills under pressure. Also having the ability to flip the switch and be ferocious and accurate defensively too. The game plan he had suited me as that was the kind of style we played at the Cheetahs in South Africa. I was able to express myself within the team structures on attack, I was given a free role to attack the breakdowns and get turnovers for the team as poaching is one my strengths, and that allowed me to have a good preseason campaign with NOLA Gold. He understands his players strengths and weaknesses and works with that accordingly.
Liam: What’s the level of competition like between what you experienced playing in South Africa vs here in the United States?
Vince: It’s totally different. It’s a lot tougher back home, competing in competitions such as Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. In South Africa, kids are growing up playing rugby you know, it’s mostly in all junior and senior schools where kids can choose to play the sport. And that’s where the difference is over here you know, once we get kids playing from the ages of 6 years and upwards it’s really gonna improve the level of rugby in America once they are older and playing professionally. But all in all, what a time to be alive and playing a part in the growth of American rugby. The sleeping giant is woke, there are amazing athletes here, once they are coached properly and start playing from a younger age, America will become a powerhouse in the very near future.
Liam: I saw you recently celebrated your little sister’s birthday, how important is family to you as a player?
Vince: Family is everything to me man. I lost my mom when I was 16 years old. My dad and my sister are everything to me. She’s got two more years of high school, and I want her to come live with me in America and chase her dreams too.
Liam: Do you have a special connection with other South African players?
Vince: Yeah we all still very tight, even the saffas that came to play over here, we all close. Rugby is a great game man. The lifetime friendships playing this game are just priceless.
Liam: Who is your favorite MLR player not on NOLA?
Vince: I was very impressed with the Seattle scrumhalf, Phil Mack. Good, fast quality service. Good communication to his players, cocky living on the edge like all number 9's should! Haha.
Liam: Would you rather be a Wizard, or a Jedi?
Vince: Wizard for sure!!
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.
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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