By Liam Poach
On Saturday, Sugarland will get ready to host the SaberCats one more time in their inaugural season before they head out on a two week road trip (at SAN DIEGO, at NEW ORLEANS). And to close out their home schedule, the ‘Cats will attempt to take down the newly formed Ontario Arrows squad, a likely candidate to join the MLR in 2019.
When we last saw the Arrows (tell me that isn’t the introduction to some 80’s superhero show), they were on the receiving end of a disappointing 41-7 defeat at the hands of the Glendale Merlins back in September. Re-watching the game, it wasn’t hard to see why the end result was so lopsided.
Through both halves, you could tell there was just something…off about the Arrows’ positioning. They just didn’t seem to mesh well despite much of the team having played together on the same CRC Ontario Blues squad that beat the Merlins back in May.
Whenever Glendale had possession, all it would take was some quick ball movement by the wings to get the Arrows’ defenders to bite. After that, holes big enough for a Trojan-Horse to fit through would open up, allowing Glendale players like Connor Cook to blast through their defenses.
Hopefully, the six month span of time between then and now will have been enough for this Arrows side to all get on the same page. If not, it will be an even tougher challenge to take on a SaberCats team that has been steadily building their own chemistry together over the span of a successful exhibition season.
Entering Saturday’s matchup, the Arrows will have a total of fourteen new faces (bench included) compared with the game against Glendale, although not all will be new to the prospect of facing the SaberCats at Sugarland. Paul Ciulini and Mitch Richardson, a forward and back for the Arrows respectively, recently represented the James Bay Athletic Club during their game against Houston more than a month ago.
Then, there’s Aaron McLelland, a former player for the Canadian Maple Leaf’s Developmental 7’s side, who saw time at fullback for the Vancouver Ravens of the BC Premier in their matchup again Houston. As many who have followed the ‘Cats this season already know, the Ravens actually managed to defeat the SaberCats after overcoming a ten point halftime deficit. Therefore, there’s at least three players on this Arrows team that should know what to expect, and what needs to be worked on in order to be successful against Coach Fitzpatrick’s band of fanged felines.
As for the SaberCats, they need to continue improving in the areas where they have already shown a healthy degree of progress, particularly in the lineouts. When you have players like Zach Pangelinan, Sam Windsor, and Malacchi Esdale who can boot the ball deep into enemy territory, you don’t want to have to worry about whether or not the ball rolling into touch will be a surefire loss of possession.
The scrum, meanwhile, continues to be a source of strength for the Black & Yellow. Last week, the New Orleans Gold found themselves to be outmatched in the pack despite a number of valiant takes by Sebastian Kalm. As long as some combination of Paul Mullen, Adam Macklin, Skeeter Stevens, and Jake Turnbull hit the field, this frontline is more often than not going to dominate. Although, a name worth mentioning here is definitely that of Kolby Francis for the Arrows. Coming in at 6’5, 250 pounds, he will definitely add a huge competitive edge to this match-up.
However, the continued increase in cohesion by the Houston backline could prove to Ontario’s dagger-in-the-heart. After highlights of some of their passing phases against NOLA last week emerged online, it became clear that when this team has its timing down, it is darn near impossible to keep them out of the try-zone.
Houston’s best bet in this game is to use the exceptional athletic prowess of their forwards to pick-and-drive up the middle, thereby drawing the Ontario defenders in. Once that Ontario backline has left enough space open, you just let Connor ‘Quick Tap’ do the rest. Either by sending a rocket pass out wide, or by sending a quick chip-kick over opposition’s heads before they even know what’s happened.
Will Ontario be able to hold back the likes of Connor Mills and Josua Vici if they display the same sort of lame attempts at arm tackles they did against Glendale? Definitely not. Not even ‘probably not’ in this case, because they just won’t.
If Ontario is to have any chance in this game, they will have to follow the blueprint of other teams who have had success against SaberCats, which always boils down to two things: Control the pace of play, and DON’T let up in the second half. To accomplish this, Alex Gliksten (9, replacing Andrew Ferguson who’s currently representing Canada in the ARC) and Shawn Windsor (10) for the Arrows are going to have to get the timing of their passes out of the scrum and rucks near perfect to ensure the pressure stays on the backline of Houston instead of their forwards.
Windsor may be Ontario’s greatest asset in this contest in the way Howden was to NOLA. He’s an accomplished CRC player with a high-rugby IQ, both of which are elements that could prove crucial come Saturday.
Ontario has some good pieces, but I’m not sure if Gilksten can aptly replace someone like Ferguson at the number nine spot. His counter-piece on the opposition, Connor Murphy, has already proven to be as wily as a cartoon coyote at his position, but with way better results.
And believe me, I get that this is a way different side than the one that lost to Glendale, but I don’t see a ton of improvement in terms of talent with the names they replaced. Houston by now has built up nearly an entire season’s worth of chemistry with solid players, and have had the advantage of staying at home through all of it.
In the end, the Houston backline crushes this game.
Man of the Match: Connor Mills
Side Note: As always, whenever a player that I like for whatever reason doesn’t dress, I complain. So without further ado, WHERE IS DIEGO!!!!!! #Boston2019
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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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