The San Diego Legion snatched a 17-13 win over the Houston SaberCats on Saturday, February 9 at Torero Stadium. The SaberCats held a 13-3 lead at the break and the Legion came back with two tries in the last ten minutes for the win.
With the win, the San Diego legion move to 2-1 and are in second place in the standings with 9 points. The Houston SaberCats is now 1-1 with 5 points and is in 5th place after betting a bonus point in the loss.
The Legion will host the Utah Warriors next week on Sunday February 17 at 2 pm local (5 pm ET). The SaberCats have a bye week and then host the Toronto Arrows on Friday, February 22 at Constellation Field at 7 pm local (8 pm ET).
The opening kick by Sam Windsor was taken by Josua Vici. After several phases, josua Vici raced down touch with Nick Boyer and Conor Kearns saving a try.
It took several minutes for the Legion to advance the ball into Houston territory after a penalty. They advanced the ball inside the Houston 22-meters, but lost the ball forward. Soon after, after a SaberCats attack, Josua Vici took an inside ball in for a try under the posts. Sam Windsor then slotted the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Marcus Tupuola had a long break with some evasive running, but after a Malacchi Esdale tackle the ball was lost forward.
The Houston SaberCats went on a sustained attack advancing the ball to the Legion 22-meters. After multiple picks by the forwards, the Legion defense was strong. Murphy then chipped ahead and Conor Kearns was driven into touch resulting in a SaberCats lineout about 15 meters from in-goal. Houston’s attack was turned over for a Legion 5-meter scrum.
Connor Murphy then bottled up Joe Pietersen in-goal and the Legion were penalized allowing Sam Windsor to slot the kick for a 10-0 lead. After the ensuing restart, the SaberCats were penalized and Joe Pietersen slotted the kick to cut the lead to 10-3.
Shortly after the restart, Ayron Schramm stole a loose ball and the Legion were penalized allowing Windsor to push the lead to 13-3.
The restart was contested and lost forward off Legion hands. A penalty allowed the SaberCats to kick for territory, but the lineout was then taken by the Legion, allowing the team to clear.
The Legion advanced to SaberCats terriroty, but a lineout throw was not straight and neither team to add points before the break.
During the first half, the possession and territory favored the SaberCats. Scrums were even and an edge went the Houston in the lineouts, mainly due to accuracy of throws. Both teams used tactical kicking to put pressure on the opposition. The Legion seemed to kick without going through multiple phases, but when they played expansive rugby, they were effective. Credit the Legion defense inside their 22-meters. Handling errors inside Houston territory has been a factor. During the second half, the Legion will need to maintain possession.
Josua Vici stood out in the first half, along with tactical kicking by Sam Windsor. For the Legion, Joe Pietersen continued to lead. An interesting challenge was Paddy Ryan and jamie Dever going head to head in the scrums. So far that matchup was even.
The Legion opened the second half with an increased tempo of playm going through phases. A San Diego steal of a SaberCats lineout and a high ball by Pietersen placed Houston under pressure. A penalty by SaberCats led to Pietersen kicking for territory, but the ball was fielded in-goal by Murphy resulting in a 22-meter drop.
A penalty from a wheel in the scrum resulted in a penalty, and then a Legion lineout. Again the throw was not straight, this time by Muir. After a SaberCats lineout, the team cleared. From the ensuing lineout, Vici made a tackle on Nasoqeqe and stripped the ball.
The Legion had a break by Dean Muir, but soon after, a hit by Schramm on Te’o resulted in a knock on. Nate Augspurger then had a great cover tackle on Malacchi Esdale. The match is a great deffensive contest with both teams having their attacking opportunites.
A penalty by Houston had the Legion kick for territory. The lineout inside the SaberCats 22-meters again was not straight. The Legion has spent significant time in SaberCats territory during the second half, without any points being scored.
A Joe Pietersen break and then a chip ahead was defended by Murphy and Vici. The Legion then had a 5-meter scrum and a Murphy grub went off Augspurger for a SaberCats lineout 7-meters from in-goal in defense. This allowed the SaberCats to clear.
A collapsed scrum by the SaberCats led to a penalty, but with 15 minutes remaining in the match, the Legion elected to kick to touch for a lineout instead of going for points. Soon after, the Legion attacked from a scrum going side to side and placing the SaberCats under pressure, but a crunching tackle led to a turnover for a Houston scrum. The Legion were then penalized for Ryan not supporting own weight.
A penalty by the SaberCats led to a Legion lineout just inside the Houston 22-meters. The bzll was then stolen by the SaberCats. Houston went on the attack moving the ball to their 40-meters, but lost the ball forward. The Legion squandered a potential attack kicking the ball directly into touch.
The next Legion attack was started by Te’o and after multiple phases, Keni Nasoqeqe finished with a try in the 75th minute. Pietersen then slotted the kcik to cut the lead to 13-10.
The restart was kicked deep to San Diego and then cleared. The SaberCats attempted to control possession in the forwards. A knock on, led to a Legion scrum and a break by Pietersen was finished by a Nate Augspurger in the left corner. Pietersen then slotted the penalty for a 17-13 lead with 30 seconds remaining.
The restart went to the Legion, who kicked to touch for the win.
Man of the Match honors went to Joe Pietersen for the Legion and Luke Beauchamp for the SaberCats. Offensively, a case could have been made for the latter to go to Josua Vici.
The Legion controlled most of the second half possession and the Houston SaberCats defense was stellar. The Legion scored two tries in the 75th and 79th minute to snatch the win. This makes two years in a row that the Legion has done this.
This year’s SaberCats team has some additions and has shown that then can compete against a quality opponent. The level of intensity of play should result in team wins, but the team will need to shake off the loss and move forward. This is a group to do this and compete and gain wins against the MLR best teams.
The Legion will take comfort in their finish and hope to keep the momentum into the next match against the Utah Warriors. They are an exciting team when they play expansive rugby.
This match will likely be the be the match of the week. With the match being shown on CBSSN, it would have been viewed by many and will do wonders to increase viewership.
Squads, Player Article Links & Preview Article
San Diego Legion: 1 Faka’osi Pifeleti 2 Kapeli Pifeleti 3 Paddy Ryan (VC) 4 Lou Stanfill 5 Keni Nasoqeqe 6 Chris Turori 7 Devin Short 8 Drew Gaffney 9 Nick Boyer 10 Joe Pietersen (C) 11Marcus Tupuola 12 JP du Plessis 13 Jasa Veremalua 14 Mike Te’o 15 Conor Kearns 16 Deon Muir 17 Nathan Sylvia 18 Aaron Mitchell 19 Sione Tu’ihalamaka 20 Pat Blair 21 Nate Augspurger 22 Tai Enosa 23 Kyle Rogers + Head Coach Rob Hoadley
Houston SaberCats: 1 Jamie Dever 2 Pat O’Toole 3 Charlie Connolly 4 Robert Meeson 5 Matt Trouville (C) 6 Luke Beauchamp 7 Cecil Garber 8 Ayron Schramm 9 Connor Murphy 10 Sam Windsor 11 Joshua Vici 12 Conor Mills 13 Max Tacket 14 Malacchi Esdale 15 Zach Pangelinan 16 Amro Gouda 17 Jake Turnbull 18 Matt Almeida 19 Chris Parker 20 Chris Coyle 21Kieran Farmer 22 Kelly Kolberg 23 Irving Caramo + Head Coach Justin Fitzpatrick