Houston SaberCats Face New Orleans Gold Rugby in MLR Home Opener

Houston SaberCats Open MLR vs. New Orleans Gold Rugby

The Houston SaberCats will open the regular Major League Rugby season against New Orleans Gold Rugby Club on Saturday, April 21 at 2 pm CDT at Dyer Stadium in Houston, Texas. Tickets sales are strong but are still available. The match will be broadcast on ESPN+ and locally in the Houston and New Orleans area on AT&T SportsNet -Southwest region.

Both teams are familiar with each other having played twice in the pre-season. The SaberCats won 30-12 on February 24 at Constellation Field, while on March 24 they played to a 32-32 draw.

While I am not one to emphasize predictions, many of the rugby media have projected both teams to have an excellent season and to be in the semi-finals at the end of the season.

Houston SaberCats

The Houston SaberCats had a prolific pre-season with a record of 12-2-2. They are among one of the best scrummaging teams in Major League Rugby and have greatly improved their lineouts. They are an explosive team in attack and utilize quick line speed to put pressure on the opposition. Still, other teams have been able to generate an attack.

The SaberCats are coached by Justin Fitzpatrick, whose 60/20 rotational system has strengthened the team’s depth and kept his players fresh in anticipation of the Major League Rugby regular season. Sam Windsor is also a player-coach, working with the backs.

On the offensive front, top try scorers in the pre-season included Josua Vici (17), Malachhi Esdale (12), Sam Windsor (7), and Zach Pangelinan (5). Top points scorers were very close with Sam Windsor and Zach Pangelinan with 89 points and with Josua Vici a close third with 85.

The front row consists of USA Selects player Jake Turnbull, Shute Shield hooker Lindsey Stevens and former Ulster player Adam Macklin. The locks are Charlie Hewitt (Worcester Warriors, Exeter Chiefs, London Irish, England U18s) and Rob Meeson, who played professionally for the Sacramento Express. The back row consists of and Cecil Garber (San Diego Breakers) and captain/Eagle Kyle Sumsion (Sacramento Express), with Eagle Matt Trouville at No. 8.

At scrumhalf is Connor Murphy, who played with the London Irish. He teams with Sam Windsor, who played for Ulster. Conor Mills is at center, having played for the HS and Jr. All-Americans and locally for HARC and Lone Star. He is paired with Olympian, Osea Kolinisau. At wing is Alex Elkins, who was one of the leading try scorers for the Ohio Aviators, and Josua Vici, a former Fiji 7s team player, a powerful and fast runner. Rounding out the back three is Zach Pangelinan, an Eagle, at fullback. Pangelinan also played with Randwick in the Shute Shield, and with OMBAC.

The reserves include Diego Maquieira (Northeast University) at hooker.  Estevan Florez, former Navy and Life University player and Kenneth Hepburn at prop. Petey Hepburn was a Jamaica 7s players and also played for HARC and HURT. Justin Allen is a lock who played in Ireland for Southend and was a USA U20 player. Back row players include Chris Coyle an ACT Brumbies 7s professional and Chris Parker, a USA Collegiate All-American and Austin Black.

The reserve backs include the speedster Malacchi Esdale who previously played for the Orlando Griffins. Esdale cannot be underestimated or he will make teams pay with his blazing speed. Dan Paul is a versatile player, who played with BYU and the West Houston Lions.

New Orleans Gold

After beginning their training camp on January 3, NOLA Gold has had the second most number of pre-season matches after the SaberCats. The team’s record was 3-2-1, however, the team improved as they digested head coach Nate Osborne’s system and played together as a unit.

The team has a very good unit of both forwards and backs, but some in the media question their depth, yet they continue to answer that question in matches. The team did have a critical loss in Super Rugby player Vince Jobo, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury against the Austin Elite.

In the forwards, the team has an international front row and along with a lock of Buydens, Howard, Tarr and Bursic, and in the backs with JP Eloff and Tim Maupin.

The forwards are complimented with former Kansas Blues and Lindenwood University lock Matt Wirken, and a back row which consists of Mystic River’s John Sullivan, whose vertical leap has him being a much greater lineout force than his height would indicate. He is paired with Charlotte, USA Rugby South, and Ohio Aviators player Matt Hughston. At No. 8 is Sebastian Kalm, another former Aviator player who is on the radar to join the national team in the near future.

The backs include a halfback combination of USA Selects and former Saint Mary’s College scrumhalf, Holden Youngert, who is paired by captain Taylor Howden at flyhalf. Howden played professionally for the Ohio Aviators, and also played rugby in New Zealand.

In the centers is a pair of Eagles in JP Eloff and Tim Maupin. Eloff is a versatile back who has played internationally at flyhalf, fullback, and at inside center. Teams are moving more and more to include a two flyhalf attack with the other at inside center and NOLA Gold has seen this being ineffective. Tim Maupin has spent his last several years playing wing and center for Trinity College in Dublin.

The back three include Player of the Week, Joeli Tikoisuva with longtime New Orleans RFC player Bobby Johns at wing and Michael Baska, a Collegiate All-American at both Lindenwood University and Arkansas State at fullback.

Reserves forwards include Cam Falcon, who has played professionally, at either hooker or tighthead prop. Amro Guida, who captained Charlotte RFC and was a USA Rugby South prop, and Derrek Van Klein a loosehead prop who played for Metropolis, are other front row options.  Myles McQuone, a former captain of both the Fairfield Yankees and who also is a sea captain, is a lock.

Reserve backs include the versatile Fijian Ratu Rinakama, centers Zack Stryffeler, who played with the Ohio Aviators, as well as with Columbus, and Tesimoni Tongauiha, a USA Islander. Melvin Desouza rounds out the squad at wing. He is among several players who played formerly with Metropolis RFC on the team.

Houston SaberCats vs. New Orleans Gold Rugby Club Squads

Houston SaberCats: 1 Jake Turnbull 2 Lindsey Stevens  3 Adam Macklin 4 Charlie Hewitt 5 Robert Meeson 6 Kyle Sumsion (C) 7 Cecil Garber 8 Matt Trouville 9 Connor Murphy 10 Sam Windsor 11 Alex Elkins12 Conor Mills 13 Osea Kolinisau 14 Josua Vici  15 Zach Pangelinan 16 Diego Maquierira 17 Estevan Florez 18 Kenneth Hepburn 19 Justin Allen 20 Chris Parker 21 Chris Coyle 22 Malacchi Esdale 23 Dan Paul  + Head Coach Justin Fitzpatrick

New Orleans Gold: 1 Hubert Buydens 2 Eric Howard (VC) 3 Ben Tarr 4 Nikola Bursic 5 Matt Wirken 6 John Sullivan 7 Matt Hughston 8 Sebastian Kalm 9 Holden Yungert 10 Taylor Howden (C) 11Joeli Tikoisuva 12 JP Eloff 13 Tim Maupin 14 Bobby Johns 15 Michael Baska 16 Amro Gouda 17 Cameron Falcon 18 Derrek Van Klein 19 Myles McQuone 20  Ratu Rinakama 21 Zack Stryffeler 22 Tesimoni Tongauiha  23 Melvin Desouza + Head Coach Nate Osborne

Houston SaberCats Pre-Season Record (12-2-2)

Houston SaberCats 2018 Major League Rugby Schedule

  • April 21 vs New Orleans Gold Preview 2 pm CDT Network: Cox/AT&T
  • April 28 vs Austin Elite 2:30 pm CDT Network: AT&T
  • May 4 at San Diego Legion 7:30 pm CDT Network: CBSSN (GAME OF THE WEEK)
  • May 19 at New Orleans Gold Noon CDT Network: CBSSN (GAME OF THE WEEK)
  • May 26 vs. Utah Warriors 5 pm CDT Network: AT&T
  • June 2 vs. Seattle Seawolves 8 pm CDT Network: CBSSN (GAME OF THE WEEK)
  • June 8 at Glendale Raptors 8 pm CDT Network: AT&T
  • June 23 at Utah Warriors 2 pm CDT Network: AT&T
  • June 30 MLR Semi-Finals at Glendale Sat, 6 PM – 11 pm CDT Network: CBSSN
  • July 7 MLR Championship at San Diego 8-10:45 pm CDT Network: CBSSN (GAME OF THE WEEK)

New Orleans Gold Pre-Season

New Orleans Gold 2018 Major League Rugby Season

  • April 21 At Houston Sabercats Preview 2 pm CDT Network: Cox/AT&T
  • May 3 At Austin Elite 8 pm CDT Network: AT&T
  • May 12 Home vs. Seattle Seawolves Noon CDT Network: Cox/AT&T
  • May 19 Home vs. Houston SaberCats Noon CDT Network: CBSSN (GAME OF THE WEEK)
  • May 27 At Seattle Seawolves 7 pm CDT Network: Cox/AT&T
  • June 3 Home vs. Glendale Raptors 3 pm CDT Network: Cox/AT&T
  • June 9 Home vs. San Diego Legion 3 pm CDT Network: COX
  • June 16 At Utah Warriors 3 pm CDT Network: CBSSN (GAME OF THE WEEK)

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North American Rugby News With A USA Slant