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.
By Liam Poach
In week one of Major League Rugby, fans across the country were treated to the exciting, big-play ability of Hanco Germishuys, a flanker for the Austin Elite. Now, I would like to think I know a young star in the making when I see one (this dude is younger than me, what the hell am I doing with my life?), which is why I just had to pick this kid’s brain, and get some perspective from one of MLR’s fast rising names.
Liam: At what age did you realize that Rugby was going to be a big part of your life?
Hanco: I started realizing that rugby will play a big part on my life once I saw my dad play rugby for the first time. South Africa’s main sport is rugby, every boy plays it in the back yard, and literally when we are born there is always that one family member who brings a rugby ball. Also, my mom’s always been there for me since day one, she would do anything in her power to always be at my games, and makes sure I have everything I need! My mom has always pushed me to be great.
Liam: What were some keys to the game of rugby that your father taught you growing up?
Hanco: I would have to say he always told me to run strong, and even if you feel like going down, get those extra 3 steps!
Liam: Do you prefer to play hooker or flanker?
Hanco: Flanker, that’s what I do best on the field. I wouldn’t trade flanker for any other positions.
Liam: People often talk about your endurance, how do you manage to have such a long running motor out there on the field?
Hanco: Just takes lots of training and doing extras. Whenever you can get extra fitness in, you do it. It also (has) a lot to do with how you eat and when you eat before a game!
Liam: Having seen playing time with the Eagles, do you think the experience of playing on the national stage of rugby has benefitted you as a professional?
Hanco: Definitely, I have learn so much from the coaches and veteran players on the team. Whenever I learn something on the USA tours, I always try and bring it back with me to my club so I can work on those things they taught me.
Liam: Other than the players, what kind of similarities do you see between the Austin Elite and the Huns team from last year with whom you captured the D1 title?
Hanco: We are just a bunch of regular dudes playing a game we all love and so many friendships are being built throughout the season, and that’s the amazing part between the two clubs.
Liam: How would you describe Alain Hyardet’s approach to training?
Hanco: Coach Alain is a very, very good coach. Very straight forward, and knows what he wants from the team. He is always positive and always looking to move forward so each player can improve.
Liam: How would you describe the city of Austin and its relationship with the team?
Hanco: I would say Austin has a part where every player can go and feel at home since some of us aren’t from Austin. Austin has lots of different things we can do so that everyone can enjoy.
Liam: Who do you think is an uncapped player deserving of a shot with the Eagles?
Hanco: Zinzan Elan-Puttick, very good player!
Liam: Would you rather be a wizard or a Jedi?
Hanco: I would have to go with wizard.
By Liam Poach
The first wave of MLR’s opening weekend was upon last night, and delivered with it a satisfyingly fresh start for professional rugby in America. In Houston, the SaberCats were upset by the NOLA Gold 36-25, while the Glendale Raptors won their home opener against the visiting Austin Elite, 41-26.
NOLA Upsets Houston
The SaberCats’ introduction to Dyer Stadium didn’t exactly go as planned last night, as the NOLA Gold came through in evening up the score when it comes to matches played against Houston. They have now lost once, tied once, and won once. However, luckily for them, that first win came at a time where it actually counts.
Houston had gone into halftime with a 12-10 lead, but the team’s habit of falling off in the second half ended up rearing its ugly head again. In the end, a JP Eloff penalty kick would put them down by more than ten points with only three minutes to go in the game, effectively ending the match for the SaberCats along with any hope a comeback.
The game started off on pretty even footing, with neither side able to score any points for fifteen plus minutes. Frustratingly enough, Houston in that time found themselves in range not once, but twice for penalty kicks, but Coach Fitzpatrick opted to attack the NOLA defense for a chance at the try zone.
Eventually, Houston’s aggressive attack paid off when Osea Kolinisau got off a nice quick-tap near the goal line, splitting through NOLA’s defense for a try. However, the two missed opportunities for points in that first half may have had a hand in putting Houston in the awkward second half position that they found themselves in.
There were definitely some positives for the home team last night, but they all seemed to show themselves in the mid to late first half before nearly disappearing in the second. We saw Josua Vici be his usual self, making big tackles and pulling off freakish runs while at one point barreling through six defenders for a try (two total in the evening). He and Connor Mills also seemed to work particularly well together, but, it wasn’t a lack of talent that ultimately killed the ‘Cats tonight, it was an inability to sustain offense.
NOLA, meanwhile, played perhaps their best game ever as a squad yesterday, showing a ferocious intensity that this time had Houston on their back foot for most of the game. Scrumhalf Holden Yungert deserves a ton of credit for being quick with the ball, as well as not being afraid to take defenders (or Connor Murphy) head on with the ball himself.
While Yungert’s game looked good, it was made even better with the fact that NOLA (save for the usual miscues you expect in a game) looked pretty good in both the scrum and backline. Players like Joeli Tikoisuva and JP Eloff definitely moved and carried the ball efficiently on the outside, aided by a surprisingly effective offensive attack with the forwards, with players such as Sebastian Kalm and Matt Hughston able to pound it up the middle, forcing Houston to commit more players to tackles than they would have liked.
If Houston wants to improve moving forward, they need to find a way to sustain their offensive attack through 80 minutes the way did through the first 40 of this match, because by the middle of the second half they started to seem oddly robotic. Whether that’s an effect of the long exhibition season they just got through, who knows? But either way, I’m sure Coach Fitz won’t be accepting anything similar from his squad from here on out.
Glendale Defeats Austin
An expected result, but it definitely didn’t come about the way many people thought it would. The Austin Elite showed their moxie when it came to taking on what many consider to be the top club in Major League Rugby, and now have to be taken seriously as a legitimate contender in the early season.
First, let’s start off by acknowledging what fans of teams who lose to Glendale always point out. “Look at all the Eagles on their team!” And sure, those guys were pretty effective. John Quill got Man of the Match Honors for a spectacular day, while Ben Landry got himself some try-zone points while ripping through Austin-arm tackles all day (before a red card killed that buzz). While Shaun Davies was, well, he’s Shaun Davies. Bruh was on point.
However, had it not been for an end of first half and early second half opening of the flood gates for Glendale, this could have gone the other…err...maybe would have at least been closer. But, still, if you were watching, you probably noticed there were more than a handful of possessions that saw Austin make the most out of their opportunities.
The Elite got out to an early 7-0 lead in the first with a good couple of passing phases that opened room on the outside. This turned out to be a pretty good formula going forward, as Austin’s ability to methodically move it up the middle against the Raptors’ usually stout defense opened up some holes for their backline to take advantage of.
Probably most impressive of all for the Elite was the play of Hanco Germishuys, a flanker who on a plethora of occasions was able to turn on the jets, tearing holes through the Glendale defense. He came through with two tries of his own in the game, while creating plenty of opportunities for his own teammates.
Despite the improved play, Austin still came up with the loss for a number of reasons, mainly due to trouble defending the middle of the field. When Glendale had room to work with, they were able to use their finesse in the passing game to catch Elite defenders out of position, creating massive holes to run through.
The near comeback by Austin was also helped along by the fact that Glendale couldn’t seem to keep its players out of the sin bin. They saw not one, but TWO red cards to Ben Landry and Connor Cook, while an additional yellow at one point had them down 12 men to 15. On top of that, a number of other indiscretions throughout had Glendale constantly trotting back ten meters, giving the Elite the opportunity to control the pace while gaining valuable ground.
Austin can hold its head high, knowing that their performance on Saturday would have likely earned them a victory against many other clubs in this league. Glendale, meanwhile, needs to fix the discipline above all else if they hope to keep their statuses as the golden boys of the MLR.
By Liam Poach
Utah Warriors: 80
Prairie WolfPack: 12
The final game of the first ever Major League Rugby pre-season came to a sad conclusion Friday night, as Utah Warrior Josh Whippy went down with an injury that necessitated him being taken off the field on a stretcher. The extent of the injury is not yet known.
Even with the bitter sweet end (Final score Utah 80, Prairie 12), this Utah squad can take solace in the way they got this victory, which was by displaying the physical nature on both sides of the ball that could make them a contender come the playoff push. The Whippy brothers alone combined for SIX tries on the evening.
Whenever the Warriors seemed to be on the same page, boy, could they FLY up the field! And, I’m not just talking speed, players like Alex Tucci and Paul Lasike looked like runaway 18-wheelers on a downward slope the way they carried the ball at times.
But, despite the crazy frenzy of scoring that the final score would imply (which believe me, there was), it wasn’t all perfect for Utah. Their discipline in the first half was garbage, with a litany of penalties for high and dangerous tackles setting them back many meters, along with earning them a yellow card and a red card respectively.
If these sort of breakdowns in discipline continue to happen, better teams WILL take advantage of it. Not to mention some questionable decisions by the Warriors when it came to passing deep in their own territory.
This win must also be taken into perspective. As Bryan Ray wanted to make clear on Twitter, this was a Wolfpack team that was missing many key players, and instead opted to field a much younger unit that needed the minutes. And yet they still put up 12 points against a professional squad, along with some impressive phases in the passing game as well as the scrum.
However, I don’t want to take anything away from this Utah team, because they really did play well tonight. Especially the Whippy brothers, who unfortunately suffered the loss of a close family member just a day before the match. It should be noted the Jared Whippy really came through in the kicking game, making 8 out of his 10 conversion attempts.
If Utah can bring the best of this game with them into the season, they could be a squad that nobody will be looking forward to play. However, unless they fix their problem with penalties and the scrum, they could find themselves in a frustrating rut pretty quick.
By Liam Poach
Boom! The MLR season is finally here! And to get you guys hyped, we have a release and commentary on the first edition of the MLR AP Poll.
PRESS RELEASE FROM EARFUL OF DIRT:
Glendale Raptors in first place as Major League Rugby season kicks off
Ahead of Major League Rugby’s opening weekend, April 21-22, members of the rugby media cast ballots in the first-ever MLR Journalists’ Poll, ranking the existing teams in first to seventh place.
The poll showed a clear preference at the top and the bottom of the league – overwhelmingly placing Glendale Raptors first, Houston SaberCats second, and Austin Elite Rugby seventh.
However, the remaining four spots were much closer in voting.
NOLA Gold placed third, followed closely by the Utah Warriors. Fifth place was awarded to San Diego Legion while the Seattle SeaWolves placed sixth.
Poll organizers Earful of Dirt Podcast plan three more such studies, to be held mid-season, at the end of the regular season and after the league championship.
MLR Journalists’ Poll (Preseason Rankings)
1. Glendale Raptors
2. Houston SaberCats
3. NOLA Gold
4. Utah Warriors
5. San Diego Legion
6. Seattle SeaWolves
7. Austin Elite Rugby
1. Glendale Raptors
2. Houston SaberCats
3. NOLA Gold
4. San Diego Legion
5. Utah Warriors
6. Austin Elite Rugby
7. Seattle SeaWolves
Poach’s Poll Reaction (Say that three times fast)
So overall, not too far off from what I imagined, but I have some thoughts.
1. Although 6th place isn’t an egregious over-rank, I think anyone who’s placing Seattle higher than that on their list is fooling themselves right now. Them getting the victory over a Canadian club team that isn’t even a top contender in their own league seems to have got everybody’s expectations kind of high on what this club can produce early on, despite the fact that they barely had a pre-season.
If we learned anything from Austin’s slow start, or even from the first few matches of NOLA’s exhibition schedule, teams need time and to actually play games in order to build an efficient chemistry on the field. Plus, think about it, this is a team that has not only lost their intended Head Coach to visa issues, but three other players to injury and personal reasons as well.
Not to say Seattle doesn’t have some good pieces and the potential to win some games down the road, I just don’t see it happening early on.
2. I ended up ranking the Legion over the Warriors because I believe the talent is there in San Diego to make a very early run at first place. Meanwhile, Utah exhibited way too many problems in the scrum and lineouts and breakdowns and…well, a lot of other places to warrant much confidence.
Utah has a ton of explosive potential, and if they build up some chemistry, I could definitely see them climbing up this list and maybe even making a late-season playoff push.
3. Go ahead and call me crazy, but I’m not entirely convinced that Glendale is far and away the better team over Houston. By now, Fitzpatrick’s band of ruggers has built up chemistry on and off the field with one another, and they have the depth to take advantage of it.
After an exhibition season in which they played more games than the actual MLR schedule, the ‘Cats know exactly what they can do well and what they need to do better. If the team remains on the trajectory they’ve been on for the last few weeks, Houston could very well punch their ticket to the finals in San Diego in a couple of months.
By Liam Poach
The weekend we’ve all been waiting for is here: The beginning of Major League Rugby’s inaugural season. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been given tastes of what’s to come thanks to each team completing a short exhibition schedule, but now, it’s for real.
Ahead of the action this weekend, I’ve thrown together a short preview of all three games, along with my prediction of how it’s going to end.
Houston SaberCats vs NOLA Gold
This game is already starting to look like a pre-cursor to a Southern-Region rivalry within the MLR. Through two meetings between these clubs so far, we have seen a Houston victory and a draw. Now, the Gold will look to even things up in the first matchup where it counts.
In their first bout, Houston cruised to a dominating victory, showing better cohesion and explosiveness in all phases of the game. In the second, NOLA tightened up and showed how well it could perform in the scrum, forcing the SaberCats into their first draw of the exhibition season.
Now, with a handful of friendlies under each of their belts, we’ll get to see what each team looks like at their most competitive level yet. Unfortunately for NOLA, they’ll be missing a player who was shaping up to be a key part of their week-to-week game plan.
Two weeks ago against the Elite, Center Vincent Jobo suffered a tear to his Achilles that required surgery, shutting down his season before it even began. Now, NOLA must find a way to replace the big-play potential Jobo brought every time he touched the ball, as well as his dominatingly physical presence on defense.
Houston, meanwhile, despite having a longer exhibition season than any other team in the league, is coming into this one more healthy than not. While a game-day roster has not been released at the time of writing this article, it can be expected that Houston will see regular game-day stalwarts Sam Windsor (fly-half), Osea Kolinisau (back), Paul Mullen (prop), and Zach Pangelinan (fullback).
However, the real battle I’m looking forward to we can call the ‘Battle of the Nines’. Connor Murphy (SaberCats) and Holden Yungert (Gold) have both been touted as young, talented up and comers at the scrum half positon, with Coach Fitzpatrick noting how the ‘Cats were “very lucky” to have Murphy come over to the States after leaving a very crowded talent pool in England.
Meanwhile, Yungert has been at the center of a rising NOLA squad, with his name now being mentioned more and more in consideration for a National Cap.
“I’m getting really excited for Saturday and the kick off of the MLR season.” Says Yungert. “It should be a good challenge to see how we’ve improved since the last time we faced the ‘Cats.” And when it comes to his counterpart on the Houston side, he only had good things to say, while keeping in mind what his team will have to defend against this coming weekend. “I think you’ve got to respect his efforts keeping Houston on the front foot with his kicking game.”
Murphy, of course, has earned a reputation as a quick-tap specialist, who can also pull off some beautiful box-kicks, even with defenders crashing in around him.
In the end, I say Houston gets one more victory over the crew from the big easy, but it won’t come…you know, easy. While NOLA has the edge in the pack with a front row featuring internationally capped players Hubert Buydens, Eric Howard, and Ben Tarr, I see Houston as having a greater depth in both the scrum and backline, with experienced players who can come off the bench and play at a starting level.
Glendale Raptors vs Austin Elite
This game holds a fair amount of significance in that it will be the first MLR contest to be featured as CBS Sports’ ‘Game of the Week’. And luckily for the fans watching at home, they will be treated to a fair amount of star power when they tune in.
The Austin Elite are pulling out the big guns after a disappointing pre-season, as their opening day roster will feature South African Rugby star Pedrie Wannenburg, as well as USA Rugby legend Todd Clever. Both of whom hold a wealth of experience on the national stage, and are hoping to add an MLR Championship to their already long and accomplished resumes.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are entering this game and season as favorites, sporting their own star studded cast. And, no offense to the aforementioned legends, but these guys are in their prime. Shaun Davies, Ben Landry, and Will Magie all made their MLR debuts a week after bringing home an ARC Championship for the USA, and each one figures to be an import component in this match.
Davies could very well be the best scrum-half in the league, with boatloads of experience in high stakes games, both abroad and domestic. He has the ability to pick his spots well in the passing game, consistently giving his team the best opportunity to move the ball forward.
Landry, meanwhile, is a versatile player who can be effective as a flanker or in the back line, and is a dangerous downhill runner with the ball in his hands. Although, that’s not surprising considering he is a former high school teammate of NFL star J.J Watt. And then, there’s Will Magie, who was solid in his conversion attempts all throughout the pre-season, and shouldn’t leave many points on the board this year for Glendale.
For Austin, although their scrum contains some important pieces (such a USA Eagle Paddy Ryan), it suffered a serious blow this pre-season when it was reported that starting hooker Peter Malcolm would be missing the entirety of 2018 with a knee injury. And so, the backline of the Elite is what will have to shine in this one.
Players such as Roland Suniula and recent acquisition Pat Sullivan figure to be key pieces to their game plan, which should include some more instances of crazy good tight window passing, like we saw in the pre-season. It may not be enough to stave off a red hot-Raptors squad, but it could be enough to keep them in reach.
And who knows? Glendale isn’t exactly flush with depth. If Austin could somehow make a second half stand with their defense, this has a small chance of being an upset. But, still, I’m going with my gut on this one:
San Diego Legion vs Seattle SeaWolves
In a Facebook announcement last night, the SeaWolves let us know that their season opener against San Diego at Star Fire Stadium will be played in front of a sold out crowd, which is great news for rugby here in America. But, just who will come out on top is the question.
Both of these teams are coming into the season as the two biggest relative unknowns. San Diego spent the majority of the off-season in the media shadows before exploding onto the scene with a roster absolutely stacked with Eagles, and are now looking like a dark horse team for a spot in the MLR Finals.
The SeaWolves, on the other hand, have been as active as any club in the league in terms of reaching out to the surrounding area and fan base, with one of their players even throwing out the first pitch at a Mariners game two nights ago. However, the problem with Seattle is that they’ve seen more action off the field than they have on it, having played just one exhibition match against the Prairie Wolfpack, a Canadian D1 club.
Not only will the lack of playing time potentially hurt their chemistry, but the team has suffered further losses due to forces outside of their control. Their original choice for head coach, Tony Healy, was denied a work visa to enter the U.S prior to the start of the season, as was player Connor Weyell. Phil Mack is expected to lead the team in the interim. The team also lost players Garrett Bender and Nick Wallace on top of that.
However, despite all the hoopla about pre-season hype and the many immigration barriers this country presents, each of these teams are coming into the season and match with plenty to offer. Particular players to watch for Seattle include Ray Barkwill (Seattle), a mainstay of the Canadian National team as well as an absolute beast at hooker, and William Rasileka, a former Fijan Sevens player who has put some powerful runs on film.
Then, there’s San Diego, who have a litany of players who could be potential game breakers on Sunday. Ben Cima is one to consider in the backline, possessing the speed and physicality that could spell doom for Seattle, especially inside the 22. Mike Te’o is also another name that should jump out at people. Although he doesn’t possess the same level of physical prowess that Cima might, his ability to turn on the jets in space should be a feather in this squad’s cap come the end of the season.
I’m not saying that I think Seattle will have a bad season, in fact they could be sneaky good. But, the fact remains is that they haven’t had as many opportunities to build chemistry with one another as other squads, and that’s going to hinder them to begin the season. Until they all get on the same level, I think a team like San Diego that possesses so much natural ability will be able to take advantage of wherever the home team comes up short.
San Diego: 24
At long last, the Ontario Arrows have secured their first ever win as a team, and it was the result of an exciting back and forth affair against the hosting Utah Warriors. Rio Tinto Stadium, usually home to the MLS club Real Salt Lake, hosted the match along with a rambunctiously loud crowd.
If you want to even begin to discuss this game, you have to talk about it as a tale of two halves, because I could have sworn I saw four different teams playing last night. The first two, I’ll call Bad Utah and Pretty Good Ontario, and the latter I’ll call Good Utah and Barely Okay Ontario.
Bad Utah was the way they were because they didn’t seem to be playing on the same page at any level. Their positioning looked awkward, and not at all what you would expect from a professional side, and that resulted in a truly unproductive passing game, which barred the Warriors from maintaining possession long enough to set up any meaningful scoring opportunities.
Their scrum was (and for the most part continued to be) a hot mess, failing to win a single push in the first half, and particularly in the front row where it caused the referee to call for a multitude of scrum violations and restarts. Which, when resulting in a free kick for Ontario, allowed Will Kelly to use his massive boot to find touch deep in Warrior territory, keeping the pressure of themselves.
Meanwhile, Pretty Good Ontario ended up doing just enough to prevent Barely Okay Ontario’s eventual second half-collapse from completely sinking their ship, putting up two tries and a penalty inside the first 40 minutes. By using a methodical, forwards-attacking strategy, the Arrows succeeded while playing it relatively safe in what equated to an NFL ‘ground and pound’ kind of game plan.
That’s not say their passing wasn’t impressive, though. Ontario showed off the chemistry they’d been building together through a dazzling display of tight-window switches that allowed their runners to hit gaps Utah didn’t even know were there. Mitch Richardson and Will Kelly in particular were great on the outside whenever they got the chance, often forcing Utah’s defense to shift closer to defending them, meaning their forwards had an easier time tearing it up when the ball came quickly back their way.
The first half would come to an end with a score of 17-3, in favor Ontario.
Luckily for the crowd at Rio Tinto, the second half provided them some much needed hope for the future, when apparently, Good Utah decided to come storming out of the tunnel. Spear-headed by the ever-entertaining Jared Whippy and Paul Lasike, the Warriors seemed to open up the throttle (is that something car-people say?) in terms of how they moved the ball.
It began with just maintaining possession a lot better than they did in the first, staying solid in the rucks and lineouts. They increased the spacing between the backs, which in turn opened up larger gaps in the Ontario defense, allowing their naturally fast and physical players like Whippy and Lasike to take advantage when they ripped off some huge runs. And unlike the Glendale game, they actually had people there to support them when they went down.
The faster pace of play presented by the Warriors forced a bevy of Ontario mistakes, which only further added to the woe of a game plan that was now crumbling around them. Once Ontario started becoming desperate to stop the fast moving assault by Utah, their discipline in the rucks suffered, forcing them back ten time and time again, while Utah used many of those opportunities to kick for touch deep in Ontario territory, just as the Arrows did to them in the first.
Utah would take the lead just once this game, after a try by Josh Whippy that was set up by a Paul Lasike run followed by a great pass from his twin brother Jared. At this point, it seemed as if Utah would pull off a comeback that seemed impossible in the first half, but it ultimately wasn’t meant to be.
In the last few minutes of the match, Ontario seemed to get it together, getting back to the style of play that saw them dominate in the first half. Using a consistent, forward-heavy attack, they were able to chew up enough clock on a drive that ended in them barreling over the try-line from the one meter, leaving Utah very little time to respond to a 4-point deficit.
Not that they didn’t try, of course. Utah gained possession from Ontario after another penalty forced the Arrows back ten. They followed up with a drive that took them just to the edge of the Ontario side of the field. Unfortunately, a great counter ruck by the Arrows would result in a turnover for the Warriors, and a kick for touch would end the game with a final score of 24-20.
In the end, this game presented many good signs that this Utah team is heading in the right direction, all it’s going to take is more chemistry. Their scrum definitely has to improve, but once that happens, that will open things up for their backs to do the damage they are capable of by giving them more opportunities with the ball.
Oh, and all the respect in the world to Jared Whippy, but this shortcomings kicking at the post NEED to be addressed. 1/3 kicking tonight for conversions, which had he made would have left this game tied, and a missed penalty kick in the first could have meant a victory. Still, he did amazing on the outside, and deserves credit for creating opportunities for his teammates in that regard.
By Liam Poach
Another Saturday has come and gone, and the hype building up to the debut of Major League Rugby has reached a near fever pitch. The Utah Warriors saw over 9,000 people in attendance at their first game ever, NOLA steamrolled their way to a victory over the Austin Elite, and RUNY notched its second straight victory over Boston in a much closer game than anticipated.
New Orleans Gold vs Austin Elite
After nearly staging an improbable comeback last week against San Diego, the Austin Elite crashed back to Earth this weekend when they found themselves on their heels for much of their match against the Nate Osborne-led Gold.
The Gold experienced most of their success through the use of their forwards, especially Cam Falcon and Sebastian Kalm, who were more impressive than your average scrummie in their ball-carrying today. Throughout the match, the Gold were able to methodically move the ball up the middle against a weak Austin counter-ruck, while their versatile set of backs (Bobby Johns went and had himself a day) though not flashy, were able to do just enough to gain valuable ground when it was needed.
The counter-ruck wasn’t the only glaring weak point for Austin today. While the second half saw some slight improvement in all facets, overall their performance came up sub-par in the lineouts and scrum, losing them valuable time of possession, especially while threating in NOLA territory.
It wasn’t all bad from the group that calls themselves ‘Elite’, though. At times, their passing was some of the most crisp and fluid that I’ve seen in the MLR pre-season, especially when it came to tight windows. In fact, I would feel confident in saying that the Elite’s backline possesses more big play potential than NOLA on either team’s best day, all they need is more time to build chemistry. Unfortunately, a laundry lists of mistakes coupled with the aforementioned problems in the line out and scrum didn’t make for a good winning formula; or even a competitive one.
Austin experienced a ton of problems inside the 22 as well, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, their average meters gained per pass seemed at times to be in the negatives thanks to a solid NOLA defensive front that rarely seemed to find itself out of position all game. Meanwhile, defensively, they tended to get drawn into the middle by the stampeding forwards of the Gold, and if that didn’t result in a try, then all NOLA would have to do is be patient while waiting for a numbers advantage to materialize on the outside.
Austin had its moments at times when their backline was working well, and I can’t say enough about their tight window passing, but in the end it was their defense and bad tackling that did them in. Two yellows in the second half didn’t help either. Despite the positives they can build upon for the future, they couldn’t seem to finish when it was most crucial. 48-17 final.
Mystic River vs Rugby United New York
God DAMN IT! I was so close to having some bragging rights on Reddit and Twitter, but in the end for my Mystics, it was RUNY’s ability to capitalize on and turn Boston’s mistakes into points.
Coming into the game, RUNY was hoping to duplicate their performance from last week when they defeated this Mystics team to the tune of 50-0. Too bad for them, Boston had former Club Rugby Coach of the Year Josh Smith making adjustments in the meantime.
Mystic tightened up on defense a ton, especially on the outside where they were able to apply more pressure on the RUNY backline while forcing them to commit a few handling errors. This cut down on the big-play factor that put New York so far out ahead last week.
On offense, Mystic was able to get the ball in the hands of their key playmakers a bit more, players such as Vinnie Daley, Steven Dazzo, and Paolo Aukuso. Steve Dazzo in particular had himself a great night, scoring two tries for Mystic to keep them in the game until RUNY hammered in the last two nail-in-the-coffin tries within the final two minutes.
Despite the improvement by Mystic River, RUNY still demonstrated how they could be a real force to be reckoned with come 2019. Above all else, the play of their forwards, with guys such as Anthony Parry, were able to gouge Mystic River up the middle for most of the night, there by opening up some room for the wings on the outside.
Their maul had to be the most impressive aspect to their game overall, though. While Mystic struggled to win in the lineouts, RUNY made them pay by gaining valuable meters with their ability to shift Boston into reverse. This not only allowed RUNY to control the pace, but it ate up clock when Mystic was desperately trying to stage a comeback, which at one point was only six points away.
In the end, Mystic couldn’t get it done, and allowed the two aforementioned tries to happen within the final three minutes. And just like Austin’s game against NOLA, two yellow cards in the second half wasn’t exactly a big help. It’s going to be interesting to see how each of these teams respond in their upcoming respective games against the Ontario Arrows, who are another likely candidate for MLR’s 2019 expansion.
By Liam Poach
Last night, the Utah Warriors took the field for the first time ever to do battle with the visiting Glendale Raptors, and what a night it was.
The match began with an unexpected development, and that was the Utah Warriors getting the first score of the night thanks to the Whippy brothers setting up space for Ben Nicholls to take it in for the try. Unfortunately, that would be the only lead of the night held by the home team.
For the rest of the game, so many things seemed to go wrong for Utah, as they found themselves on the wrong end of more penalties (THREE yellow cards) than scoring opportunities, which allowed the Raptors to find their footing even in instances where it seemed like Utah was beginning to gain momentum. And I’m not just talking about simple handling penalties (although there were plenty of those too), I’m talking about a plethora of high-tackles, as well as ruck and scrum violations. These are things that could be easily avoided with greater discipline awareness.
However, Utah’s misfortune wasn’t entirely their fault, perhaps more-so their training staff, as it seemed as if the Warriors had a player down on the field every couple of minutes. So if you take into consideration all the yellow cards and time spent with players down on the grass, Utah was playing outnumbered for nearly half the match.
Glendale, meanwhile, certainly didn’t look a lot like their normal selves…at first. Yes, it started out pretty slow in the first twenty or so minutes of the first half (I mean, it’s the Raptors, so the standard is kind of high), but Utah was playing a physical and fast game, which may have initially caught Dave Williams’ squad off guard. One of the Warriors few bright spots in this match was their counter rucks in the first half, a facet of their game which allowed them to close out the first with a hard fought try from inside the five-meter.
But, it became clear, especially in the second half, that Utah wasn’t capable of keeping up that pace. Every so often, you would have a Warrior player break away for a huge run. but they tended to out run the support which always seemed to be lagging behind, leaving the runner without a chance to retain possession once a pack of Raptors had set upon him like a scene out of Jurassic Park (Clever girl…yes I’m aware they’re not those kinds of raptors, but they should be!).
Meanwhile, Glendale displayed their usual fluidity in the passing game, at one point scoring a try thanks to a crazy cavalcade of quick passes and offloads that left Utah players all over the field wondering what hell was happening. Scrumhalf Shaun Davies was especially on point last night, showing some great touch on his passes that allowed his runners to catch them at the perfect point to attack the gaps in Utah’s defense.
In the end, Glendale marched to victory with a final score of 42-15, with Will Magie going a perfect 6/6 on conversions, satisfying fans who may be more accustomed to football-style scoring.
Main things I took away from this game:
-Utah has some bright spots, but they need to learn how to finish. In the second half they seemed to fall asleep or else just got tired. They might not have been able to pull an outright victory over the Raptors, but they could have had the score a lot closer had they been able to keep up the same kind of pressure that they did in the first half.
-Utah’s Jared Whippy went 0/3 on conversions. That’s six points left off the board which could prove crucial against teams less competitive than the Raptors.
-Discipline. Although Utah took the cake with all the yellows and other violations, Glendale had their own fair share. Although, most of them tended to be knock-ons. But, if Utah wants to take full advantage of the massive amount of talent on their roster, they need to make sure their players on the field to do so.
-This league is Glendale’s to lose…at least in 2018.
By Liam Poach
Currently, it's 12:45 am, and I have to drive to Boston tomorrow morning. Or...this morning. God, I'm tired. Anyway, not to disappoint, here's a preview of Saturday's (today's?) match between the Elite and the Gold:
Austin Elite vs NOLA
Last week, New Orleans took a huge step forward in their development by tying the Houston SaberCats 32 all in front of their home town fans, after previously falling to them 31-12 a few weeks ago. Now, the Gold will get another crack at a Lone Star State representative when they host The Austin Elite on Saturday.
The Elite made their debut in front of MLR fans last week when they lost a thriller to the San Diego Legion, 32-24. Austin did well to dig themselves out of a hole in that match, at one point even facing an 18-5 deficit at halftime.
Although the comeback attempt ended up being too little, too late for the Austin team, the game revealed some bright spots that are sure to come in handy against the Gold this weekend. For starters, The Elite’s Captain Mason Pederson (prop) scored the team’s first try while facing a 10-0 deficit, at least giving his squad a chance to keep it close.
The Gold, meanwhile, have to be feeling pretty high on themselves after being able to show marked improvement in every one of their matches thus far. Especially scrum-half Holden Yungert, who was able to capture Man of the Match honors at the game’s conclusion.
However, the game easily could have gone the other way had Houston been able to come up with just one more successful conversion on the night. And while the Gold displayed a much sounder, more fluid offensive attack, their defensive play needs to become tighter if they want to keep games under control, especially when they have a slim lead.
It will be interesting to see how the Elite respond after having a week to watch some actual game film on themselves. The squad is still laden with players who posses a huge amount of potential, such as fly-half Timothee Guilliman and scrum-half Michael Reid, who together can create havoc on the wing with the way they lead.
The Gold, meanwhile, are poised to take another leap in this game and hopefully capture their first outright victory since their dominating performance over the Capital Selects. To do that, they’ll have to keep building on the things they’ve been doing since the beginning. Which is relying on a strong scrum with an ‘elite’ front line, while playing a ball control style of attack in the offensive phases. But, it’s going to come down to whether their defensive play can hold up better than it has in these first few exhibition matches.
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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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