By Liam Poach
After getting upset by the NOLA Gold in the first ever MLR match last week, Houston (1-0-1) found themselves some redemption by defeating the Austin Elite(0-0-2) 50-38, notching their first ever regular season win as a franchise. Sam Windsor captured Man of the Match honors.
Houston jumped out to an early 14-0 lead in the first ten minutes of the game, making it seem as if the Elite were doomed to suffer a worse blowout than they had against Glendale the week before. The ‘Cats continued a steady progression up the field while the Elite struggled on defense with taking runners down one on one.
However, during the phases in which the Elite would seem to get it together (especially in the second half), they moved with a good balance of backs and forwards against a Houston defense that had little support in the backfield. Hanco Germishuys continued to display why he’s such a force to be reckoned with, barreling over defenders all day, eventually putting down a first half try of his own.
Unfortunately, Austin’s ultimate undoing, as it so often is for many teams, was the bounty of mistakes they made when things seemed to be going well. Sometimes, it was simple instances of “not rolling away”, which anyone who’s ever played rugby knows is not always the simplest thing to do with a 300+ pound prop on top of you. But, when it came to things like handling errors, or BLATANT forward passes, you could almost hear the collective groan across the Austin market.
Coach Fitzpatrick chose to keep his defense playing much flatter than usual, which worked out in two ways. When it worked well, it was able to smother the Elite’s attempts to work their forwards into gaps on the inside, while making sure the meters-gained-per-pass average stayed low. But, when it wasn’t working well, it left them with the aforementioned lack of support in the backfield, giving up huge runs to the likes of Germishuys and Suniula.
What can’t be understated is what people like Esdale and Vici mean to this Houston backline. Though Fitzpatrick has done well to put together a collection of interchangeable forwards, when it comes to moving the ball far and fast, putting it the hands of either of these players is the first thing that should come to mind.
Then, there’s Sam Windsor, who’s perhaps the most important player on this team at the moment, never mind the backline. Windsor went an outstanding 6/7 on conversions today including one penalty, while also putting down a try that followed a punishing run that you don’t usually see from someone wearing a number 10. Not to mention, he not once, but TWICE sent a chip kick across the field, setting up tries on both attempts. All that combined helped him take home a well-deserved man of the match distinction.
So, what does this game mean? Well, for Houston, it’s essentially a reset on the season after their disappointing start. I’m sure the ‘Cats will be watching the Glendale vs Seattle game very closely tonight, as each of those teams are looking like likely candidates for the MLR post-season.
Austin, meanwhile, has now seen 25% of their season slip by without a victory. If they want to pull themselves back into the post-season race, it’s going to have to start next week against NOLA, a tall task considering their victory over the SaberCats last weekend. But, this is rugby, anything can happen.
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