By Liam Poach
Photo: Judy Teasedale Photography
The Houston SaberCats’ last home game from Sugarland may have ended in a tie, but it definitely went out with a bang.
Once again, analysts across the rugby online world got it wrong, with many (sigh, myself included) predicting a SaberCat blowout. What we ended up getting was a match with so many twists and turns that fans felt they might miss something even if they went to the bathroom at halftime.
So what was it that that made this game so close? Well, it was a result of the best and worst aspects of it. First, both teams saw their fair share of extremely efficient phases in the passing game that showed off the high level of skill in both backlines. The Ontario duo of Marcello Wainwright and Aaron McLelland in particular proved to be extremely dynamic in the way they fought through defenders physically and effectively.
However, Houston wasn’t without its own share of impressive skill sets on display last night. The first try of the match came relatively early for the home team. Player and SaberCat Academy Director Matt Trouville (8-Man) was able to move through traffic before a dummy toss in the direction of Sam Windsor opened up the gap for him to take it in.
There were also many instances in which both teams tried their hand at the pick-and-go strategy to varying degrees of success, but some very exciting moments none the less. Kolby Francis (8-Man, Ontario) was definitely worth the hype. As highlights posted by The Arrows will show you, when this guy got moving with the ball, traffic or no traffic, there were meters to be gained, and all Ontario had to do was follow in his wake. He also performed valiantly in the scrum itself, securing his fair share of takes even when it sounded like Houston had got the better push.
Those efficient phases also tended to get matched up with great defensive play, but I might have to give the edge to the Arrows in this respect. Those listening to the broadcast might’ve noted that much of the game transpired in Ontario Arrow territory, yet this still ended in a tie. Game highlights will show you as well, the counter-ruck ability by the Arrows and the defensive positioning was worlds beyond what we saw from this team against Glendale in September.
But, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great defensive efforts put in by SaberCats Alex Elkins and Connor Murphy. Elkins, who not only put on a hell of a show with the ball in his hands, but it seemed that every try saving tackle by the ‘Cats was accredited to him moments later. For a guy who played only his second game with this club, that’s damn impressive.
Then, there was Murphy, who played a different kind of defense but none the less effective. In fact, you can kind of lump it into the “the best defense is a good offense” category. ‘Quick-Tap’ Murphy has this uncanny ability to get kicks off with little to no space in front of him, yet they always manage to find the gap of defenders. Whenever the Arrows seemed to be one successful counter-ruck away from securing possession in SaberCat territory, Murphy would come through in relieving the pressure and in turn give his team the chance to maintain possession, be it through chase or lineout.
Then, there were the not so good aspects. First of all, it sounded from the broadcast as if the referee’s definition of a ‘dangerous tackle’ varied from moment to moment and from player to player. I’m not trying to start a Nigel Owens style witch hunt here (which was a f**ked up way for England fans to treat a legend like him, glad we beat you this weekend), but…Connor Murphy getting TWO dangerous tackle calls? The dude can barely reach the neck of the average wing. No offense to ‘Quick-Tap’ on that, but I’m not buying it one bit. Then there was the non-call on the alleged high tackle on him. But anyway…
Another NSG aspect that came into play for both sides was the constant handling issues that always seemed to strike when things were getting good. One side would come away with the take in the scrum, get it down the line to the point where the numbers were in their favor, then right when it seemed like a homerun play was imminent-(whistle), knock-on, or- (whistle), forward-pass. At a certain point towards the end of the first half, it was maddening.
The scrumming for both sides definitely sums up this idea of ‘the good and the bad’. From listening to Grant Cole’s commentary (and you know he’s a man who knows the art of scrummage), it sounded like each side surprised the other at times with how effective they could be. And let’s be honest, that Ontario frontline of Rob Brouwer, Andrew Quattrin, and Tom Dolezel gave the trio of Adam Macklin, Paul Mullen, and Skeeter Stevens the biggest run for their money all season. While it sounded like Houston may have won the scrum battle overall, it wasn’t without a hard fought challenge from the visitors.
But, with all that being said, it sounded as if the referee had as hard a time getting each forward side to set the way he wanted them to than he did with anything else that night, including the traffic heading home. Constant problems with spacing and early-engagement forced so many resets that I used the time spent on them for two bathroom breaks and a refill on my cocktail. If this was something that happened more in the second half I would’ve called ‘wasting-time’, but nah, it was all game.
All in all, it was a great game by both sides. Each team demonstrated the things they do well, and the things they need to work on, which is exactly why Coach Fitzpatrick has this squad competing through such a long exhibition season. If all goes according to plan, they should have as many wrinkles out of their game plan as possible by the season’s start.
The Arrows, meanwhile, have their own exhibition schedule ahead of them with five matches to play against teams such as RUNY, Mystic River, and another MLR club participant the Utah Warriors. If they can build on the many positives from last night, they should do just fine. At least, it will be interesting.
SaberCats: Matt Trouville, Zach Pangelinan, Jake Turnbull, Josua Vici
Arrows: Mike Sheppard, Jon Sheridan, Andrew Quattrin
SaberCats: Sam Windsor (2/5)
Arrows: Shawn Windsor (1/2)
SaberCats: Zach Pangelinan (0/1), Sam Windsor (2/2)
Arrows: Kelly (1/1), Shawn Windsor (3/3)
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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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