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One of the most anticipated moments of the MLR preseason was on Saturday night when the Houston Sabercats hosted NOLA Gold at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas. With multiple games already under their belt, the Sabercats showed their experience and cohesiveness by commanding the lion’s share of the position and possession. Behind a two-try effort from Malacchi Esdale and a 15 total points from Man of the Match Sam Windsor, Houston beat NOLA, 30-12.
“You don’t get cohesive or become ready to play rugby unless you play rugby,” Houston head coach Justin Fitzpatrick said. “All the gym time in the world doesn’t prepare you completely for rugby. I was very pleased with our set piece and set starts, especially our scrummage. It really laid a positive foundation for our dominance over the course of 80 minutes and really set the tone for the rest of the guys.”
“We had a very workman-like performance,” Fitzpatrick added. “We were able to play a variety of different ways mixing up with kicking, countering, close-in, wide-out, and dominant efforts in the set piece. We kept that up by and large for the guts of the game which was a good step in right direction of how we want to play and how we want to be known.”
The Sabercats were in control for most of the match, especially the opening of the first half. Fullback Osea Kolinisau and outside center Malacchi Esdale both scored tries in the first 25 minutes with Sam Windsor going one for two on conversions and kicking a penalty. Not to be shut out, NOLA’s Vince Jobo crossed the whitewash at the end of the half to trail 15-7 at the break.
Houston regained the momentum at the start of the second half with Esdale’s second try in the 47th minute. Windsor tacked on a PK seven minutes later before Gold’s Eric Howard responded with a try in the 54th minute. The score stayed at 23-12 until the final minutes when Windsor hammered the final nail in the coffin with a try in the 73rd minute.
Flyhalf Sam Windsor earned the player of the game and garnered praise from his coach. “Ultimately, you could have picked a handful of candidates as there were some standout individual performances,” Fitzpatrick said. “I felt that Sam really orchestrated a very solid 80-minute performance from the group. He really showed his class and experience from someone whose had a lot of professional experience overseas.”
From the NOLA perspective, head coach Nathan Osborne believes his team is still a work in progress. “For just our second game together we played well in patches. But overall thought there were a lot of things we could have done better. Houston is a very good team. You could definitely tell they had been together for 11 games. I think they just did a better job finishing there opportunities then we did. It’s what we expected: fast, physical and open.”
Osborne’s main takeaway is to take what NOLA has shown in practice and translate it to gameday. “Over the eight weeks we have been together we have become great at training. Now it’s time to play some games so we can become great at playing the game. We know what we need to do and I’m very confident in all my guys doing what needs to be done. So we can play the way we want and get the wins we want.”
Fitzpatrick is eager to get the season started even though Houston has a few preseason game left. “We were very excited to be making history in the first MLR versus MLR team competition. Beyond that, the pace and intensity that both sides played with was a real vindicator of what this league going to bring to the fans. It was a really intense competition and very exciting.”