New Orleans: 12
Rugby analysts from across the country weighed in on how they thought this game was going to go, with many (myself included) predicting a Houston win with point totals for both teams being in the low to mid 30’s. Aaron “The StroBro” would like to think he got it the closest (yeah, he kind of did, but I say he cheated by putting out TWO predictions), but in large regard, the final tally didn’t come out the way many thought it would.
Throughout the night, it was a game of copy-cat (no pun intended, well, some pun intended). Both teams exhibited instances of a franticly fast offensive pace that as commentator Grant Cole noted, could set the tone for what the on-field product of the MLR will look like in the months to come. Meanwhile, both squads employed their own variance of the blitz defense, all in an attempt to maintain a game plan that was meant to dial up and keep pressure on the other.
In the end, the difference was made in the fact that Houston’s backline was able to keep possession for a longer average amount of time thanks to some phases that displayed some truly great passing (Like this video HERE). That in turn gave the ‘Cats more scoring opportunities deep in Gold territory.
Connor ‘Quick-Tap’ Murphy, who was my dark horse pick for Man of the Match after the game ended, went above and beyond yesterday as he executed a barrage of quick chip-kicks out of the scrums and rucks throughout the night, constantly keeping the Gold on their back foot and neutralizing their own attempts at the blitz. Houston’s steady improvement in the lineouts is definitely instilling more confidence in players like Murphy, Windsor, and Pangelinan to kick it deep into touch or else for chase.
The attack of the NOLA Gold was touted by a vocal few as having more explosive potential than that of Houston’s, especially with the presence of Fly-Half Taylor Howden. And at times, that seemed plausible, especially when NOLA got the ball into the hands of PRO MVP Sebastian Kalm (8-Man). But, a multitude of penalties (including three leaving the feet penalties within the first five minutes of the match) squandered a ton of momentum building phases for the Gold.
Kalm, I should mention, had himself a great night (other than getting absolutely wrecked by an Elkins stiff arm), especially during the many instances in which it sounded as if NOLA was getting their ass kicked in the scrum. At times when the Gold found themselves getting driven back by the furious front of Macklin, Mullen, and Stevens, Kalm would always somehow manage to get the take and get the ball out to Yungert or Howden. Still, the Gold found themselves more often than not getting driven back by the Saber-Pack, especially late in the second half.
While the game never seemed completely out of reach for NOLA, the SaberCat blitz defense sounded as if it succeed in its effort to suffocate any ball movement after it came out the rucks. Even when the Gold managed to get going, a plethora of mishandled passes and penalties led to the inability to keep possession long enough to even get within a Penalty-Kick’s range to take advantage of the SaberCats own cavalcade of mental lapses (JP Eloff only took one shot at the posts all game, which he missed).
Unfortunately, the clock and score got to a point where 3-point kicks wouldn’t cut the bread anyway, and NOLA would be forced to try and crack the solid SaberCat try-line D. Although, one has to wonder how things might have been different if two held-up tries for NOLA had gone just a tad bit differently.
Eventually, the second half would have only seconds left, and after a flurry of quick, clock killing passes by the SaberCats, Connor Murphy was able to kick for touch and end the game at 30-12. Sam Windsor would come away with Man of the Match honors.
SaberCat Tries: Windsor, Esdale (2), Kolinisau
NOLA Gold Tries: Howard, Jobo
SaberCat Penalties: Windsor (2)
SaberCat Conversions: Windsor (2)
NOLA Gold Conversions: Elof
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