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It was a bad weekend to be the home team in the Major League Rugby preseason. All three hosts lost on Saturday as the Glendale Raptors, NOLA Gold, and the Houston Sabercats picked up road wins to conclude their preseason schedules. Each club will now rest up, analyze the game film, and prepare for the season openers on April 21st.
Glendale Raptors at NYAC
The Raptors flew cross-country to Travers Island in New York to finish up their ramp-up to the regular season against the New York Athletic Club. Displaying the cohesiveness and teamwork that has made them the preseason favorite to win the MLR, Glendale led from the start to defeat NYAC, 35-22.
Defense was paramount for Raptors and it was tested as they played the entire second half a man down after a late first half red card. John Ryberg, Nick Johnson, and Mika Kruse scored in the first to lead 21-3 at the break. NYAC made it closer to begin the second with two tries, but back-to-back scores from Will Magie and Max Statler closed the door on any comeback.
As stated, the cohesion and consistency of the roster is Glendale’s major strength going into the inaugural MLR season. “If you look at any team in the world, if they can keep their core group of players together and add a couple here and there, they will be successful,” head coach David Williams said. “You have to keep that core together and I think that’s what made us successful in the past and will keep on making us successful in the future.”
Williams has used the preseason to answer questions for his team and may have found them in players like Luke White, Kelepi Fifita, Mika Kruse and the Eagles on the club. “Who can really step up to the pace and level of the game, who can have some resilience when the going gets tough and deal with that, who can step when we have injuries, and who will fill that role. That’s what we were looking for and keep on building to our first game versus Austin.”
When asked about the first match, Williams can’t wait for Austin at home on April 21st. “Huge excitement leading into this new season. Brand new league, a lot of TV and press coverage. Teams are getting a lot better across the board and I think that’s huge excitement for players, staff, and everyone involved in the MLR.”
NOLA Gold at Austin Elite
Ever since the tie against Houston, NOLA Gold looks to have turned the corner and is getting better with each game it plays. After beating Austin last weekend in New Orleans, the Gold grabbed its second consecutive victory over the Elite winning 38-10 at Round Rock Multipurpose Complex in Round Rock, Texas.
“It’s hard playing a team in back-to-back weeks,” NOLA head coach Nathan Osborne said. “They got film in and understand what we were trying to do so we knew it was going to be a tough one especially on the road. [Austin] got a better start because we were up at 3:30 this morning to travel and we didn’t play until 8:00 PM. It was a long day for us but we stuck to the plan and ended up running over the top of them. It was a good win for us.”
Austin drew first blood scoring a try in the first two minutes, but NOLA responded in kind as Ratu Rinakama crossed the whitewash to tie it at 5-5. The Elite answered back with an Andrew Suniula score and the Gold countered with as Cam Falcon powered in for try halfway through the period. The score remained 12-10 until the break.
NOLA emerged from halftime and after an initial back and forth, scored four tries in ten minutes. Starting in the 58th minute, Matt Hughston, Jojo Tikoisuva, Tim Maupin, and John Sullivan scored in succession to push the tally to 38-10. JP Eloff was four for six on conversions including nailing his last three kicks.
The maturation of NOLA has been evident throughout the preseason. “In the second half, we played a level up,” Osborne stated. “The tries we scored were all through multiple sets of hands running off each other and the support lines were a lot better today. All in all, the first half was a little slow and sloppy, but in the second half, we really showed that we are getting better and more confident with each other and understanding the game a lot better.”
NOLA’s first regular season match is against a very familiar opponent in Houston. “I expect what we saw in the first two games,” Osborne said. “[The Sabercats] are a good team, they capitalize on your mistakes, and they play a solid defense with a great kicking game. I expect the same from them.”
Houston Sabercats at San Diego Legion
After tying its last two tests, the Houston Sabercats exploded in the second half to defeat the San Diego Legion, 33-17. Playing in front of an excited crowd for the Legion's first home game at Torero Stadium in San Diego, Calif., the Sabercats fought back from a 17-7 deficit after halftime to score four unanswered tries to end the match.
“We went in a halftime and felt that in the first 40 minutes we had been a bit inaccurate relieving pressure in our own half and gave up a few opportunities,” Houston head coach Justin Fitzpatrick said. “We toned that down in the second half and kept on going with what was working well like the forwards dominating San Diego in the contact area and the scrummage. As the game went on, we started to pull away.”
After San Diego’s Tadhg Leader missed a penalty to start the match, Houston’s Jake Turnball scored the game’s first points driving through a pair of defenders for a try. The Legion responded with a Cam Dolan try and added to the scoreboard just before halftime with a Leader penalty to go up 10-7 at the half.
With the momentum, San Diego captain Nate Augspurger extended the lead to 17-7 in the 54th minute, but Houston stopped the bleeding immediately as Josua Vici superman dove into the tryzone a minute later. The Sabercats didn’t look back scoring three more times in the final 20 minutes for the final result of 38-10.
“It was a game of two halves,” San Diego’s Mungo Mason said. “The first half we had some shape and executed really well. Obviously in the second half, we came out firing and maybe got a little complacent. Houston’s good ball carriers really took it out of us. We will be looking to implement that and put it into our training and prepare for next week. We just weren’t prepared for their channel runners and their latch.”
Houston has been the most active MLR club in the preseason playing its eleventh game against the Legion. “I’m a great believer in if you want to get better at rugby, you have to play rugby,” Fitzpatrick exclaimed. “We are nicely cooking now and are able to play in a number of different ways. We showed one way against San Diego and we are really excited about welcoming New Orleans to Houston in a couple of weeks time.”