It began eight weeks ago as the unlikely marriage of a bunch of rugby players from Fiji, Guam, Australia, England, Ireland, Stafford and other parts of the United States, a curious group of fans more familiar with football and baseball, and Constellation Field, a baseball stadium.
The first match drew 5,000 fans, but over the weeks an enthusiastic core of around 2,000 fans came out in cold and rainy weather to learn more about this sport. One match, the fog was so thick, it was difficult to see the other end of the pitch. For several matches, a group of fans commandeered some vacant suites to stay warm and dry.
But over the weeks, as the players were becoming a team, the fans were becoming rugby fans. For the first few games, you could hear a few rumblings of, “what was that call,” or “what just happened.” Last Saturday, there were loud shouts of “he didn’t release, ref, he didn’t release!” or “he’s offsides!” And we can’t leave out the chants of “push, push” during scrums.
After last Saturday’s final exhibition match at Constellation Field, the Houston SaberCats invited the fans to come out on to the pitch, soon to be a baseball field again, and greet the players. It turned into a raucous 30 minutes as backs were slapped, hundreds of selfies were taken, and neither the fans nor the players would depart, even after the public-address announcer asked everyone to leave several times.
“I have played rugby for many years and have never seen anything like this (the fans and players celebrating). This goes to show you what this city is all about. We have 2,000 fans coming out every week who don’t really know much about the sport. It bodes well for the future of Major League Rugby. With our new stadium, I hope we can get even more people out and give us a big home advantage,” scrumhalf Connor Murphy said.
Lest we forget, there was a match played Saturday night. The SaberCats and the Ontario Arrows played to a 28-28 draw. The SaberCats scored in the fourth minute on a try by Matt Trouville, his first try of the season.
“It was my first try and it feels great. The hole just opened up and I was thinking what do I do now? It’s been a long time since I scored one. I actually turned around and told one of the boys, I finally got one. I was pretty happy about it,” Trouville said.
The SaberCats got two penalty kicks and a conversion from Sam Windsor and a try by Zach Pangelinan to give them an 18-17 lead at halftime.
Ontario scored a try and a penalty kick to grab a second half lead, 25-18.
But, in the 70th minute, Justin Allen scored a try and Windsor converted the kick to pull the SaberCats to within two at 25-23.
In the 71st minute, Josua Vici scored a try and Windsor converted the kick and the SaberCats took the lead, 28-25. However, Ontario came back to make a penalty kick in the78th minute, and the match ended 28-28.
The SaberCats have two more exhibition games on the road before they begin the regular season.
“I am very happy with how we have played in these eight games. It has been a very productive lead in to the season. I feel like we are well prepared to play with anybody,” SaberCats Coach Justin Fitzpatrick said.
Even though Connor Murphy broke his nose early in the match, he was excited about the exhibition season.
“We are happy where we are at. We are in a good place. The match tonight showed us a few places that we need to improve on, but we are ready to go into the first league game, knowing exactly what we want to do,” Murphy said.
The SaberCats begin regular season play on April 21 against the New Orleans Gold. Their home games will be played at Dyer Stadium, 2020 Mangum Road, at the intersection of 290 and 610.