Major League Rugby 03.25.18
Gold, SaberCats Go Toe-to-Toe in 32 Point Draw
Gold, SaberCats Go Toe-to-Toe in 32 Point Draw
Colton Strickler, MLR Correspondent
It may have been an exhibition match, but the NOLA Gold and the Houston SaberCats put on a show on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday’s match between the Gold and the SaberCats, which ended in a 32-32 draw, was already the second meeting between the two teams as they make their way through the exhibition schedule. With the way that Houston came out of the gate, wasting no time putting a quick 15 points on the board, it looked as if the Saturday’s match was going to have a similar ending to the 30-12 victory the SaberCats pulled out over the Gold in the match they played a month earlier.
Despite receiving the opening kick and spending a the first few minutes of the half in Houston territory, NOLA found themselves in a 3-0 hole early after Zach Pangelinan nailed his first penalty kick of the day from 22 meters out. The early penalty kick wouldn’t be the only points that Houston put on the board early.
Shortly after putting the first points on the board, the SaberCats took a Gold turnover and turned it into a three-pass sequence that eventually resulted in Pago Haini powering his way across NOLA’s goal line for the try.
Haini’s try gave the SaberCats an 8-0 lead over the Gold after Pangelinan missed his ensuing conversion attempt, which rattled off the right upright. The missed conversion was a sign of things to come for the SaberCats.
Houston kept the pressure on NOLA with another try a few phases later. Houston Malacchi Esdale capitalized on a NOLA turnover by hitting a home run, taking the ball 80 meters for the SaberCats second try of the game, and giving them a 15-0 lead over the Gold.
Despite being in an early hole, NOLA made it clear that they weren’t going to just roll over. After minimizing their turnovers, they began to chip away at the SaberCats lead with penalty kicks of their own. Taylor Howden, NOLA’s flyhalf, and captain, grabbed six quick points with penalty kicks from 25 and 22 meters out, respectively.
As Houston began to mount some momentum, NOLA’s outside center Tim Maupin picked off a SaberCat pass and the Gold went to work. Maupin’s turnover led to an incredibly long, patient sequence of phase play that eventually resulted in a J.P. Eloff try. Howden’s conversion was good, and the Gold found themselves trailing 15-13 heading into the half.
The Gold didn’t let the break knock them off their rhythm. They took advantage of a faulty scrum with a quick tap that led to a quick try by Holden Yungert. Howden’s conversion marked the 20-0 run and gave them their first lead of the afternoon.
NOLA didn’t have much time to enjoy their 20-15 lead though as Houston flyhalf Sam Windsor’s long run up the middle cleared space for Conor Mills to score his first try of the match and put an end to the Gold’s scoring run. A missed conversion left things knotted at 20, but the afternoon was far from over.
A Houston scrum freed wing Josua Vicci for a long try and allowed the SaberCats to retake the lead, but the missed conversion kept the score at 25-20.
Back-to-back 22-meter restarts pushed the Gold into their own territory, and Conor Mills made NOLA pay for their mistakes. He jumped a Howden pass at the 22 and took it in for his second try of the day. The SaberCats converted and gave themselves a commanding 32-20 lead over the Gold.
Or so they thought. NOLA, for the second time during the match, began to battle their way back out of a double-digit deficit. Maupin got the ball rolling by picking off a SaberCat pass and took it the other way for a Gold try. Howden converted the kick, and the Gold was in striking distance down just five with time to play.
NOLA didn’t waste much time making up the rest of the deficit. Maupin took the ball down the far sideline and dumped it off to Sebastian Kalm, Kalm put the cap on the sequence with a try, giving the gold a chance to take the lead with a conversion. With the wind in his face and a tough angle in front of him, Howden left his conversion short and the match tied at 32.
Kalm’s try left 11 minutes on the clock and both sides would have their chance to end the match. Houston’s first attempt came after an offsides call gave them the ball at the NOLA 48-meter mark. With the wind at their back, Houston’s penalty kick fell just short.
Just like the first half, back-to-back 22-meter restarts pushed NOLA into their own territory, and Houston found exactly what they were looking for. NOLA’s Kalm was called for not releasing his tackle and the SaberCats were given a penalty kick at the NOLA 25-meter mark. Sam Windsor’s penalty kick went wide, and the Gold would have one more chance.
Their final restart resulted in a knock on and a scrum around midfield. The Gold began to establish a similar sequence of patient phase play that helped them score their first try of the match, but were unable to capitalize when they knocked the ball on themselves. The back-and-forth match resulted in a draw.
The draw put Houston at 1-0-2 and NOLA at 0-2-1 through three exhibition matches.
NOLA will welcome Austin Elite Rugby to Louisiana next week for their fourth exhibition match and Houston will enjoy a weekend off.
Tries: J.P. Eloff, Holden Yungert, Tim Maupin, Sebastian Kalm
Penalties: Taylor Howden (2/2)
Conversions: Howden (3/4)
Tries: Pago Haini, Malacchi Esdale, Conor Mills (2), Josua Vici
Penalties: Zach Pangelinan (1/1), Sam Windsor (0/3)
Conversions: Zach Pangelinan (1/2), Josua Vici (0/1) Sam Windsor (1/2)
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