The Utah Warriors host the Houston SaberCats on Saturday, April 24 at Zions Bank Stadium at 7 pm local (9 pm ET). For those who can’t attend, the match will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network and internationally on The Rugby Network, with a 24-hour delay domestically on the latter.
After winning the first two matches, the Warriors have lost three consecutive matches. They are in third place in the MLR Western Conference with 14 points, two points behind second-place Austin. The Houston SaberCats also have a 2-3 record and are in fifth place with 10 points.
The Houston SaberCats kept up with the LA Giltinis for most of the match last week, before LA claimed the win. The Utah Warriors also had a very competitive one with the San Diego Legion in a losing effort.
Both teams need a win if they want to get back in the Western Conference race for the two playoff spots.
Utah Warriors Coach Shawn Pitman has made three starter changes and another two in the reserves. Olive Kilifi gets his first start at loosehead prop in place of Franco Van Den Berg, who is rested. Matt Jensen returns at lock with Jurie Van Vuuren moving from lock to No.8 as Lance Williams is also out. Calvin Whiting returns at the inside center, pushing Tyler Fisher to the outside, and Mika Kruse from the outside center to the right wing. Joe Mano shifts from rightwing to left.
In the reserves, Paul Mullen returns at tighthead prop and James Vaifale, a wing, is on this season’s roster for the first time. The team is using a traditional 5/3 split and the other two backs, Danny Christensen (scrumhalf) and Derek Ellingson (wing/center) could also make their debut.
Houston SaberCats head coach Paul Healy has made four changes in the starters and another three in the reserves. Nicolas Solveyra, Apisai Tauyavuca, Zach Godfrey will start at loosehead prop, lock, and left-wing, respectively. Jake Hidalgo makes his MLR debut at right-wing. He was a recent call-up from their Academy side, Rugby HTX. He also played for the Chicago Lions, as well as at Indiana University while gaining Collegiate All-American honors. Josh Whippy is rested in the backs.
Reserve changes include Patrick Donovan, another Rugby HTX call-up, with Diego Fortuny injured with a fractured thumb. Max Tacket is a center, and new addition Joe Thomas, a former Wales U20 center.
Captains De Wet Roos and Luke Beauchamp are out, as well as Diego Fortuny, Zach Pangelinan, and Matias Freyre.
The Utah Warriors and the Houston SaberCats both need wins if they hope to contend in the Western Conference. Both teams are capable of scoring points. The SaberCats simplified their game plan and the result was a 35 point performance in giving the Giltinis all they could handle for most of the match.
The Utah Warriors need to minimize penalties or it will be a long day with either the SaberCats kicking for territory in an effort to score tries or Sam Windsor punishing them with penalty goals. The Warriors are a dangerous team on the attack and their set-pieces much improved over last year.
The match should be an exciting one with likely the team scoring last, the winner. The Warriors enjoy huge fan support and expect a boisterous crowd.
Squads with Player Article Links
Utah Warriors: 1 Olive Kilifi 2 Veremalua Vugakoto 3 Angus Maclellan 4 Aston Fortuin 5 Matt Jensen 6 Thomas Tu’avao 7 Bailey Wilson (c) 8 Jurie Van Vuuren 9 Michael Baska10 Hagen Schulte 11 Joe Mano 12 Calvin Whiting 13 Tyler Fisher 14 Mika Kruse 15 Mike Te’o (VC) 16 Chad Gough 17 Alex Tucci 18 Paul Mullen 19 Mike Gieselman 20 Saia Uhila 21 Danny Christensen 22 Derek Ellingson 23 James Vaifale
Houston SaberCats: 1 Nicolas Solveyra 2 Tiaan Erasmus 3 Charlie Connolly 4 Kody O’Neil 5 Lucas Albornoz 6 Apisai Tauyavuca 7 Cecil Garber 8 Diego Magno 9 Nick Boyer 10 Robbie Povey 11 Zach Godfrey 12 Sam Windsor (C) 13 Taylor Howden 14 Jake Hidalgo 15 Paula Balekana 16 Nikoloz Khatiashvili 17 Patrick Donovan18 Nik Hildebrand 19 Van Stewart 20 Adriaan Booysen 21 Zachary Short 22 Max Tacket 23 Joe Thomas