By Liam Poach
The build up to the inaugural season of Major League Rugby gets kicked up another level this weekend, with five teams, including New Orleans, Austin, Houston, San Diego, and 2019-entrant Rugby United New York, all set to play a preseason match this Saturday/Sunday. So I decided to throw together a series of ‘quick’ previews to help you folks get geared up for this refreshing and exciting weekend of American Rugby action!
I'd also like to let you folks know that if you 'like' Penguin Tundra Rugby on Facebook, you can follow me and new Tundra-Podcaster Dan 'Pugsley' Preston's adventures through New York on the way to RUNY vs Mystic.
First up, Saturday’s games (I’ll get you the Austin/San Diego one soon, chill out.)
NOLA vs Houston
When: Saturday, 5pm EST I Stream: Gift-Time Rugby
Rematch time! A month ago, Houston and New Orleans made history by competing against one another in the first ever MLR club-on-club game, which Houston emerged from victorious by a score of 30-12.
In that match, both Houston and NOLA tried their hands at variations of the blitz-defense to different degrees of success. While NOLA was certainly able to apply more pressure than past competitors on the Houston offensive-attack, the ‘Cats were able to adapt by allowing Connor ‘Quick-Tap’ Murphy to do what he does best in letting loose a barrage of chip kicks over the heads of oncoming NOLA defenders, often with little to no clearance space around him.
This time around, The Gold will hopefully be better prepared to defend the backfield and not allow Houston the opportunity to eat up so many meters using the boots of Murphy, Zach Pangelinan, and Sam Windsor. Two weeks ago in a loss against Glendale, we saw NOLA employ a three-man umbrella defense in the backline, which allowed them to keep the heavily favored Raptors scoreless for more than twenty minutes, and could be a tactic utilized in tomorrow’s contest.
The scrums of both these teams will be a fun watch for sure, but it’s also where much of the Gold’s strength comes from, with them having looked more and more competitive in the pack in each of their three games thus far (vs SELECTS, vs HOUSTON, vs GLENDALE). To begin the match on Saturday, capped-Canadian teammates Hubert Buydens and Eric Howard will be seeing the field together at loosehead and hooker respectively, while Coach Osborne is making a switch at the tighthead spot by allowing New Orleans native Cam Falcon to step out there first.
Meanwhile, Houston has their own much-ballyhooed trio of Paul Mullen, Diego Maquieira, and Adam Macklin in the front row, all of whom have been pretty stalwart in their performances this season. Along with the aforementioned trio in the frontline, you have Pago Haini stepping in for Matt Trouville at eight-man, while Cecil Garber, former Ohio Aviator/teammate of the Gold’s Sebastian Kalm, returns to the starting lineup at flanker.
When it comes to the backline, Houston is looking more complete than NOLA at this point, but that might just be based on the fact we’ve seen more actual play from them over the last couple of months. But, you have to give it to them, fielding a lineup sporting players like Windsor, Osea Kolinisau, and JOUSA-FREAKING-VICI does seem pretty, uhm…complete. Every one of the names mentioned has put big plays on tape in turn has helped them earn the trust and respect of Coach Fitz.
NOLA isn’t without their own big play threats, either (Vincent Jobo anyone). Scrumhalf Holden Yungert has proven himself capable of distributing the ball to his fly-half and wings quickly, and it works when he’s able to catch people like Captain Taylor Howden or Sebastian Kalm in a gap. Unfortunately, through each of their three games, Yungert has also shown instances in which he’s too eager or else too late to pull the trigger out of the ruck, resulting in a bevy of knock-ons and drops.
I want to say this game will be closer than the last, but with the last two weeks off to rest and game plan, I say Houston gets the sweep on NOLA this exhibition season.
Man of the Match: Josua Vici (two tries, 60+ minutes)
RUNY vs Mystic
When-Saturday, March, 2nd, 7pm EST
Ahhhhhhhh yeeeeeeaaaahhhhhhhhhhh! Let’s go BOSTON! This Saturday, me and new Penguin Tundra Podcast Reporter Dan ‘Pugsley’ Preston will be heading down to NYC to watch my hometown (home-region, whatever) Mystic River Rugby Club take on the newly minted Rugby United New York.
Yes, I get it, RUNY is slightly favored heading into this one, but don’t tell me that. I’m putting on my New England blinder-sun glasses that force you to stare at pictures of Tom Brady and Ryan Donato instead of what’s in front of you. But don’t worry, more often than not when I take them off, one of my teams is in the playoffs. How you doing Jets fans?
However, I’ll give credit where credit is due, and it’s definitely due to a few guys on this RUNY roster. Anthony Parry (prop) has been a name on the USA Rugby circuit for a few years now for organizations such as the Aviators (PRO), NYAC, and now the MLR. Pairing him with Dylan Fawsitt and Kirk Hamilton is going to make for a tough day in the pack for Mystic. Worth mentioning, bringing up the back of the scrum is Ross Deacon, who's almost Marshawn Lynch-like in the way he can carry the ball, especially when inside the 22.
The backline only gets more impressive, starting with the presences of Jack Fitzpatrick at fly-half, and Greg Voigt on the wing (Harry Bennett would usually be mentioned here, but he is reportedly out with a concussion). Voigt and Fitzpatrick will be two of Coach Mike Tolkin’s main chess pieces on the board Saturday, both possessing explosive capabilities with the ball to go along with great on-field awareness in all phases of the game. Unfortunately, RUNY will be without the services of Seamus Kelly this week.
Mystic definitely isn’t going down without a fight, though, as they have reloaded their roster with some youth to pair with the returning veterans after what Coach Josh Smith called a “tough fall season.” In the pack, they have added a pair of forwards from the Auckland Rugby Academy in Leopino Maupese and Micheal Kaivelata, who are both only twenty years-old with ceilings as high as anyone else on an MLR roster.
The backline and midfield for Mystic features a mix of both new and veteran players, with stalwart names such as David Mckenna, Jon Kokinda, Stephen Dazzo, and Vini Daley being familiar to North East Rugby fans. Then, we have some new faces, including international players Santiago Bertranou (Los Tordos, Argentina), Matias De Paolis (Los Tordos, Argentina) and Paulo Aukuso (Rugby Olympique-Grasse France). Each player is coming in with not only a decent base of experience in high-profile rugby settings, but with the chip on their shoulders that comes with being the game’s underdog.
For this one, I’m going to give two predictions. One is the rational Rugby-reporter in me, the other is the kid from Swampscott loyal to his state and region.
Man of the Match
Rational: Ross Deacon (1 try, 80 minutes)
Masshole: Vini Daley (50 tries, defeats the Villain Bane who tries to crash the game)
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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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