By Liam Poach
Two weeks ago, fans in Texas were able to witness a historic weekend in which the first ever all-MLR game took place between the Houston SaberCats and the NOLA Gold. Now, this Saturday, the league will take its next step forward in presenting the first ever live-streamed contest featuring an all-MLR card.
The NOLA Gold, who were the first MLR team to live stream one of their matches (vs Capital Selects) are heading to Rugby Town, USA to take on the Glendale Raptors at Infinity Park, the unofficial capital of stadium-rugby in the United States.
The NOLA Gold- Potential and Pitfalls
NOLA’s game versus Houston two weeks ago was the beginning of what the team is calling its Cup Series, with Glendale being the next stop on that list. Their game against Houston also brought with it plenty of excitement, but it left a few questions needing to be answered.
Most important of which, is can the Gold take the next step in the scrum? Against the Capital Selects, they were often able to get the better initial push, putting the Mid-Atlantic visitors on their back foot. As the match progressed, it became apparent that Coach Osborne’s pack was clearly the fitter side.
However, that dominance didn’t completely translate to their game versus Houston, against whom they faced a level of competition in the frontline trio of Macklin, Stevens, and Mullen that was a few steps above that of the Selects’. Although the Gold were able to put up a good fight, probably one of the better ones throughout the entirety of the SaberCats’ exhibition season, one couldn’t help but notice the plethora of restarts and scrum violations that went against the men from the Big Easy. If the Gold hope to pull off the upset in Glendale, they’ll have to be way more consistent in how they play in the pack.
Luckily, the likelihood of this group becoming more cohesive is pretty high, being that the Gold aren’t short on veteran talent. Their scrum features a solid frontline containing internationally-capped Canadian teammates Hubert Buydens (prop) and Eric Howard (hooker). Then, there’s Ben Tarr, a former PRO Rugby Champion and capped-USA Eagle.
Behind them, they have two other commanding presences in Sebastian Kalm (8-man) and Vincent Jobo (flanker). Kalm has proven through these last two games for the Gold to be a potential game changer whenever he’s near the ball, be it on offense, defense, or in the scrum. In fact, much of the Gold’s success vs Houston came when Kalm was able to get some last minute takes despite getting driven back by the Cat-pack.
Jobo, meanwhile, has proven to be much of the same, but with a few drawbacks. While the young South African is definitely a power-house and a home-run-try waiting to happen, he’s been known to get a little ahead of himself, literally. In both the Selects and SaberCats game, Jobo has been penalized for catching a forward pass in instances he could have avoided had he just slowed his pace down by a hair. Penalties like that, along with the many handling penalties from that game vs Houston, could be a killer against a team as tight-knit as the Raptors.
Another aspect to note, is how the Gold sounded as if they were able to show relatively good execution on the blitz defense, but in the end, it yielded mixed results. While they definitely succeeded in putting more pressure on Connor Murphy and Sam Windsor to get the ball out quickly, the ‘Cats were able to adapt quickly, often times allowing Murphy to pull out some amazing chip-kicks over the heads of incoming NOLA defenders.
If the Gold want to remain competitive against Coach Williams’ well-oiled machine of a squad, they’re game plan is going to have to rely just as heavily on a productive passing game. That means much of the responsibility is bound to fall on the shoulders of fly-half and team-Captain Taylor Howden. Howden will be catching passes from scrum-half Holden Yungert, who himself was able to hold his own against a suffocating SaberCats blitz.
Once the possession is theirs, it will be about setting the pace, and not letting the Raptors take back control with their own solid lineup of forwards and backs. Speaking of which…
Glendale Raptors: Favored, but can they fall?
There’s no doubt that no matter what the makeup of the squad Coach Williams trots out onto the field Saturday afternoon looks like, it will be favored against the visiting Gold team. But, just how favored they are will depend on a few variables.
At the time of me writing this piece, the Raptors have yet to put out an official game-day roster. However, we do know that Glendale had four regular starters play in the final round for the recently crowned ARC Champion Eagles. Those names included: Ben Landry (flanker) Shaun Davies (scrum-half), Will Magie (fly-half), and Bryce Campbell (center).
The loss of each of these players isn’t a death blow to this Raptors team, but it is significant none the less (assuming, that is, that they aren’t playing). The potential loss of Davies in particular could prove to be the most noticeable when it comes to fans who are familiar with the Raptors usually fluid pace of play.
However, it’s not like the Raptors would be left with a bare cover if they are in fact playing without the four aforementioned players. While their scrum wouldn’t be one I would consider ‘unimposing’ (especially with my man Brian Wanless in there), it’s the strength and depth of their backline that makes this team so deadly and apt to put up 40 points on any given day.
One name the NOLA Gold will have to pay attention to is that of Ata Malifa, a capped-Eagle originally hailing from Samoa who has experience in both Sevens and Fifteens play. Malifa has the uncanny ability to turn something into nothing with amazing footwork in traffic, that if it isn’t getting him to the try zone, it’s opening up holes for his teammates.
Complimenting Malifa nicely is Chad London, a center from South Africa who had a great run with the Denver Stampede during their Championship run. London comes in as a player who’s been noted in the past as having a high rugby-IQ and great situational awareness.
Oh, and since you know I have to prop up my fellow fullbacks, Maximo de Achival is an exciting show of athletic prowess every time he takes the field. Should the Gold hope to keep up in the back line, they need to be ready to compete for a lot of kick-and-chase opportunities that de Achival is sure to provide his teammates.
NOLA came up short of some people’s expectations vs Houston a couple of weeks ago, but I think this week they’ll exceed them. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t translate to a win.
Even without the potential presence of the ARC players, I think Coach Williams will have his players dominate this game schematically, opening up holes on the NOLA defense while creating plenty of scoring opportunities.
New Orleans: 20
Connect With Us on Facebook and Twitter!
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.
Logo Typography Credit: PhotoBucket