By Liam ‘Poach’ Madigan-Fried, Earful of Dirt/Penguin Tundra Rugby
The rain had slowed to a light drizzle by the time the players took the field, but that didn’t make the conditions any more desirable. It was wet, it was cold, and all 46 eligible players knew this was going to be one the most miserable experiences of their season.
Despite Mother Nature providing an extra opponent, Coach Justin Fitzpatrick and his pack of SaberCats left Mountain View College with a 34-8 victory over the Dallas Reds. Don’t let that point margin fool you, however. This was as hard fought of a match as they come, except it wasn’t the kind of game one naturally expects to see with that kind of classification.
While some matches feature phases of high-intensity passes and dazzling displays of speed, this game for much of the time was slow and methodical, with a greater emphasis on maintaining field position, rather than quick scoring phases.
The Reds came out of the gate with a degree of intensity that may have caught the ‘Cats off guard, forcing their way into the visitors’ half before a penalty in their favor gave them a shot at the posts. In what would be a rare occurrence for both sides on the day, the kick was good, and the Reds took their only lead of the day at 3-nil.
Not to be outdone, the ‘Cats showed their colors as a true professional side when they answered back, overcoming the moist playing surface with a display of efficient line-speed out to the far touch line, helping Malachi Esdale get his first try of the day, and putting the SaberCats ahead 5-3.
Before the conclusion of the first half, The Delawarean-speed demon would put one more down in-goal from a distance of over 50meters, helping the ‘Cats secure a 17-3 lead at halftime.
Dallas would draw first blood shortly after the opening of the second half, capitalizing on a SaberCat fumble deep in their own territory that either team was hard pressed to recover due to the slimey, mud laden surface of the ball. To a few of the Dallas hopeful in the stands, this may have seemed like a potential turning of the tide. Afterall, a 17-8 deficit isn’t insurmountable, right?
Wrong. While the second half definitely saw some increased intensity from the home team in certain phases, they were ultimately hindered by their inability to finish any kind of promising drive inside the ‘Cats 22. That, along with a clear advantage in fitness going to Houston. Faced with an end-of-game situation in which taking any more penalty kicks wouldn’t have made much of a difference, it’s no surprise the game ended with the score that it did.
While there are always going to be some facets to fix, Coach Fitzpatrick had to have left this game with an overall feeling of positivity for a number of different reasons:
First of all, even while having to work against the forces of nature, when the ball found its way to the outside, the line speed of the ‘Cats kept its carriers out of reach of Reds’ defenders. That in turn went a long way in winning the aforementioned position battle that ensued all day long.
Their efficient displays of passing were a major catalyst in the ‘Cats racking up the points, especially later in the second half. Just ask Academy player Enrique Montano Jr, who scored his second try in as many games shortly before the contest came to a close.
“It feels great” Says Montano, “The boys here are teaching me everything I need to know…I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity I get to play.” Enrique was one of five SaberCat Academy players to appear on the roster yesterday. While it may have been in respite of the starters, each of them played to a level where the proverbial foot refused to yield from the pedal, ensuring a late-game surge into ‘Cats territory by the Reds came up short, boding well for the future of this organization that in many ways is still in its infancy.
However, while the future may be bright in the Bayou City, the present emanates a glow all its own, especially in the form of Scrum-half Connor Murphy, who Coach Fitzpatrick complimented post-match for his ability to “control the game” with sharp-shooter like box-kicks, even while the ground beneath him became more soup-like by the second. This not only staved off the Reds’ defense, but was a true challenge to the home team’s level of fitness, as they constantly found themselves in a state of pursuit. Murphy has entered this season with a whole new degree of focus and attention to detail, and these last two games have shown as much.
In the end, this game showed us both problems and promise, but with a lot more of the latter. As more contracted players continue to arrive ahead of the season, the promise this team has heading into 2019 is immense, and fans have every reason to be excited.
Dallas: 1 Simba Massarurwa 2 Javier Davila-Lopez 3 Ross Davies 4 Kevin Harrell 5 Jonny Heron 6 Lee Foliaki 7 Chad Joseph 8 Dale Ross (C) 9 Chris Saint 10 Blake Boulton 11 Alex Elali 12 Jake Campey 13 Rob McDermott 14 Thomas Hever 15 Michael Kenealy 16 Jeff Robertson 17 Chris Hopkins 18 Kuda Makuvire 19 Richard Stevens 20 Alek Hernandez 21 Tyler Miller 22 Ben Olie 23 Narada Jackson + John Watson, Maxime Delprat, Nick Doolittle, Gus Holt, Bobby Cannell, Alex Campbell, Jake Bacon, Darrien Pipkins
Houston SaberCats: 1 Jake Turnbull 2 Pat O’Toole 3 Codi Jones 4 Robert Meeson 5 Chris Parker 6 Chris Coyle 7 Cecil Garber 8 Alex Elkins 9 Connor Murphy 10 Zach Pangelinan 11 Malacchi Esdale 12 Conor Mills 13 Max Tacket 14