The Houston SaberCats made two goal line stands in the final 15 minutes to beat the New Orleans Gold 30-12 Saturday night in an exhibition match at Constellation Field.
This match was the first ever between two Major League Rugby teams. The new league launches its inaugural season in April. The teams are currently playing an exhibition season against mostly non-league teams.
Saturday night, with the SaberCats ahead 23-12, the Gold were threatening to score with about 15 minutes to go in the match. After the Gold had seven attempts to score, the SaberCats were able to clear the ball. The Gold would not give up and again made it back to the goal line, but once again the SaberCats were equal to the task. After another eight Gold attempts to score, the SaberCats again cleared the ball to midfield.
“A lot of that goal line stand was mental. We have had a tendency to let off toward the end of a game, so this week we made a commitment to play hard for the whole 80 minutes,” SaberCat Hooker Diego Maquieira said. “We just dug in deep. This was the first MLR versus MLR match, so we wanted to make a stand. We stuck it out for the whole 80 minutes.”
The two consecutive goal line stands seemed to deflate the Gold, and the SaberCats scored an insurance try in the 74th minute to make the final score 30-12.
“The boys put their heart and soul on the goal line, and you can’t really ask for anything more than that. We soaked up the pressure and gave it right back. That’s what you have to do,” SaberCat lock Justin Allen said.
After missing two penalty kicks to start the game, the SaberCats’ Osea Kolinisau scored a try in the 11th minute to give Houston a 5-0 lead. A penalty kick by Sam Windsor in the 20th minute, and a try by Malacchi Esdale in the 23rd minute gave the SaberCats a 15-0 lead. A try by New Orleans in the 34th minute made the halftime score 15-7.
In the second half, Esdale scored his second try of the night in the 48th minute, and Sam Windsor made a penalty kick in the 54th minute, to make the score 23-7.
The Gold scored a try in the 59th minute to make the score 23-12, before the SaberCats made their goal line stands. Windsor scored the final try in the 74th minute and converted the kick, making the final score 30-12.
“The goal line stands just prove what we are about. We talk about ourselves as brothers and we just put our bodies on the line. We wanted to show the league what we are all about, that we are here to win and win the league,” SaberCats’ scrumhalf Connor Murphy said. “There were times in the game where we defended for nine or 10 phases. We have some really outstanding wings and some big brutes who can stop an offense. We are really using both well, mixing up our play. We showed we can play wide to wide and have power up the middle.”
Murphy went on to say, “The guys have been together since September working out at 6 a.m. in the gym all week. That early morning grind really helps us put our bodies on the line, and it helps mentally when you have to keep getting up and throwing yourself into the line. You really want to do it for the guy to the left and right of you.”
The SaberCats finish playing in Constellation Field on Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Ontario Arrows. Also, on Saturday, at 3 p.m., the Texas A&M rugby club will play Louisiana State University.
The SaberCats then finish their exhibition season on the road against New Orleans on March 24, and at San Diego on April 7, before starting the Major League Rugby season on April 21 against New Orleans. The match will be played at a site to be determined in Houston.
“This exhibition series for us has been good, but playing New Orleans was a real test for us. They have us on video, so they will make adjustments and the next time we play will be really tough,” Murphy said. “With the systems we have, and the players and the coaches, I think we are in a good place as a club and as a team as a whole.”