Houston Strikers Making UL(ster)TRA Big Moves Ahead of MLR Kick-Off
-By Liam Madigan-Fried
While future MLR teams like the Austin Huns, Rugby Utah, New Orleans RFC, and the Glendale Raptors continue to battle it out in the Major Rugby Championship Tournament, a potential sleeping giant in South Texas known as the Houston Strikers continues to get stronger. The newly formed club, set to participate in the inaugural MLR season in 2018, has rocked the American Rugby world in recent weeks with the signings of former Seattle Saracens Coach Justin Fitzpatrick, and now with new Fly-Half/Backs Coach Sam Windsor (formerly of Ulster-PRO12).
The signing of Fitzpatrick was a great move by the organization to bring some stability to a franchise that’s starting from scratch. As a coach in Seattle, Fitzpatrick was able to build his squad into one of the most dominant clubs in the North West, earning himself the opportunity to coach as an assistant in the Eagles’ World Cup run in 2015. He has also amassed 156 Ulster-caps in his career, to go along with 26 for the Irish National team.
Meanwhile, Windsor looks to step into a hybrid-role of coach and player. As a Fly-Half for Ulster, Windsor didn’t exactly light-up the score board, however, there’s no doubt his presence and experience in professional competition will benefit the club. As Coach Fitzpatrick puts it: “He will help lead the team on and off the field, providing confidence and direction. When I joined the Strikers, what drew me was the excellence of their management group; Sam fits right into that mold.”
Whether that “confidence and direction” will translate into wins on the pitch remains to be seen, as we know very little about what the Strikers' final roster will look like. There’s certainly no shortage of local talent to choose from. The Houston Athletic Club is sure to see some defectors to the Strikers, while players from surrounding teams such as the Austin Blacks and Dallas Harlequins, will also likely look to make the jump into the MLR.
That being said, there is a very real possibility that players (particularly from Texas) will prefer to sign on (or stay with) more established MLR-to-be teams, such as the Austin Huns or the Dallas Griffins, who already have highly competitive rosters to go along with top-notch coaching staffs and facilities. If Houston wants to make a real push to be competitive in 2018, signings like a pair Ulster golden boys in Windsor and Fitzpatrick are definitely the way to go in terms of making the club an attractive destination.
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