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Big changes in Houston, as the Strikers have become the Sabercats, they’ve ditched blue for black, they’ve announced an interim home, and they’ve released a preseason schedule.
The branding changes were abrupt, but if there’s a time to make a change like that, it’s now, when your fan base is as small as it will be and there’s less PR work to be done around it. So, now Houston’s professional rugby team goes by the moniker Sabercats, and they wear black and yellow.
The Sabercats will be playing nine preseason home matches at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas. Constellation is the 7,500-seat home of the minor league baseball Sugar Land Skeeters. The Sabercats will play the Seattle Saracens, which are expected to look a lot like the MLR’s Seattle Seawolves. They’ll also play the New Orleans Gold. Those two games should provide a sneak peek at what kind of standard and parity we can expect from the MLR’s inaugural season.
Houston will also play three Canadian sides in the Ontario Arrows, Vancouver Ravens and James Bay Athletic Club, and they’ll host the Chicago Lions. The Lions are expected to join the MLR in year two or later, and there are plenty of rumblings about the future involvement of Canadian sides, so these friendlies may be a function of interested parties dipping their toes in the MLR waters.
The Sabercats will also play the Capital Selects, an all-star side representing the Capital GU, and they have to dates slotted with the opponents listed as to be determined. Houston also announced the signing of Art Reyes, an All-Army 7s stalwart.
Other teams have been active, too. The Utah Warriors now have a head coach – Alf Daniels. The Kiwi has been coaching professionally for a long time back in New Zealand, including having coached two of the Warriors’ expected stars in Josh and Jared Whippy – the Fijian-Kiwi BYU standouts who’ve led Rugby Utah to consecutive club 7s titles.
Austin inked Kutztown All-American Vetekina Malafu, and Seattle inked Ray Barkwill, Olive Kilifi and Eric Duechle. Barkwill is a bit long on the tooth at 37-years-old, but he played for Sacramento in PRO last season and is still in the Canadian setup, having earned 42 caps since his international debut in 2012.
Duechle is a former Air Force All-American who has been on the doorstep of caps in 7s and 15s. He was a member of the World Class Athlete Program, as he attempted to make Mike Friday’s squad for the Rio Olympics. He also played in the Americas Rugby Championship back when it was a competition for the second sides of national teams.
Kilifi is a big signing, one that was always expected, but big nonetheless. He has 20 caps for the Eagles, and he, along with Barkwill, are a fantastic start to a tight five for the Seawolves.
Still very much a rumor, but whispers are getting louder that there may in fact be a seventh team in the inaugural year in San Diego.