The Houston SaberCats host Rugby New York on Saturday, February 12, at 8 pm ET (7 pm CT). The match may be viewed on the Rugby Network and AT&T Sports Network in Houston. Preceding the match will be B and A-side collegiate matches between Texas A&M and Louisiana State University at 2 and 4 pm CT.
The Houston Sabercats were the MLR team of the week for last week’s 22-11 win over the 2021 MLR Shield Champions, the LA Giltinis. They controlled the possession, 62% to 38%, and territory 69% to 31% (1st half = 81% to 19%, 2nd half = 56% to 44%). The SaberCats dominated the lineouts winning 14 to 6 for LA while losing 3 to LA’s 4. The team had a slight edge in scrums won, 6 to 5, while losing 2 to LA’s 3.
Handling errors and strategy prevented the SaberCats from adding more points. They were held up in-goal three times and elected to kick to touch in an attempt to score tries 3 or 4 times, instead of kicking penalty goals. This proved to be unsuccessful, except for the penalty goal in the 75th minute to make LA score at least twice.
The team was at the breakdowns quickly and poached several balls, however, the mauls were stopped several times and this is an area that will need more work. The kicking game by Kian Meadon and Davey Coetzer will also need improvement.
The team also employed box kicks by Dillon Smit to place the Giltinis under pressure.
Willie Britz was a force at flanker, but his #7 jersey is misleading, because he plays blindside flanker, while Keni Nasqeqe was openside with the #6 jersey.
Houston has added several former USA National Team Sevens players and it will be interesting to see how that impacts the team’s attack as the season progresses. Playing against one of the league’s best defenses in LA last week, the SaberCats scored three second-half tries, but poor handling and a varied attack may result in more scores.
Saturday’s match will feature a reunion of sorts, with Sam Windsor, the MLR all-time points leader, playing for Rugby New York instead. The SaberCats did not have many penalties last week, but should they make errors within their territory, Windsor is a very accurate kicker.
Rugby New York has endured the cold and snow that is typical for the area this time of the year. They had one preseason match against Austin Gilgronis, but little is known about their squad that day, except it was mainly their younger players, while the Gilgronis used a strong side. Several of the Rugby New York players were just arriving in the U.S. and were not available due to MLR and team pandemic restrictions.
The New York team advanced to the MLR Semifinals in 2019 and 2021, and are a preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference.
Rugby New York played a physical style of rugby with the forwards, whose maul was among the best in the league and led to many tries. The team had some turnover in the forwards, but the new signings appear to have made the team stronger. The backs utilized a quick ball and a fast pace to find gaps in the opposition’s defense. The team has added some additional former sevens players and that should enhance their attack.
Look for some exciting play from Rugby New York this season as they seek the MLR Shield this season.
Houston SaberCats Squad
The Houston SaberCats have made three changes in the starters with Will Crawford, Danny Barrett, and Maka Unufe at lock, flanker, and wing, respectively. Keni Nasoqeqe moves from flanker to lock, while Gerrie Labuschagne switches from right-wing to fullback.
In the reserves, Gideon van Wyk and Argentina international Marcos Moroni are on the reserves.
With Houston being able to field ten non-U.S. and Canadian players, the team will need to rotate ‘foreign players.’
The front row includes Nicolás Solveyra, Dean Muir (capt), and Juan Pablo Zeiss. Nicolás has played for Argentina XV and the Jaguares XV (Currie Cup). Dean joined the team from the San Diego Legion and has played for Western Province, the Stormers, and Border Bulldogs (Currie Cup). Juan Pablo played Super Rugby for the Jaguares and Currie Cup for Jaguares XV. He also played in the SLAR for Los Ceibos.
Keni Nasoqeqe and Will Crawford are the locks. Keni played for San Diego Legion and Belmont Shore, while Will played for NOLA Gold, USA Rugby South, New Orleans, and Hutt Old Boys Marist (NZ).
In the back row are flankers Danny Barrett and Willie Britz, and Jaco Bezuidenhout at No.8. Danny is a USA 7s and XVs international. Willie played Super Rugby with the Lions, Cheetahs, and Sunwolves, and has also played in the Currie and Vodacom Cups. Jaco played for the Blue Bulls (Currie Cup) and the University of Pretoria Tuks (Varsity Cup).
The halfback combination includes two more South African, Dillon Smit and David Coetzer. Dillon played Super Rugby for the Lions and Currie Cup for Lions XV and the Leopards. David is a young player who played for the University of Pretoria Tuks (Varsity Cup) and the South Africa U20s.
The centers will include the USA 7s and XVs internationals Matai Leuta and Christian Dyer, with another USA 7s player Maka Unufe on the wing.
Nick Boyer is the other wing and is a capped USA XVs player. He also played with San Diego Legion, the Colorado Raptors, and Bedford Athletic. South African Gerrie Labuschagne is the fullback. The 6’4″ back scored the first try for the SaberCats last weekend. He’s played with the Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions in the Currie Cup, and the Shizuoka Blue Revs.
Forward reserves include Patrick Donovan at hooker with Frikkie de Beer and Aaron Mitchell the props. Patrick played for Rugby HTX and the Glendale Merlins. Frikkie played with the LA Giltinis, Utah Warriors, and Chicago Lions. Aaron joined the team from San Diego Legion. South African Gideon Van Wyk and Malon Al-Jiboori are back rows. Gideon played for the Free State Cheetahs in the Currie Cup and Malon is a capped Eagle, who played for San Diego Legion, Colorado Raptors, and Ealing Trailfinders.
The reserve backs include Canadian international flyhalf/fullback, Robbie Povey, Argentina Pumas Sevens center, Marcos Moroni, and Jake Hildalgo, who played for the Chicago Lions and Rugby HTX.
Rugby New York Squad
With 13 teams in Major League Rugby, Rugby New York had a bye the first week of the season. They open the season with some new arrivals and some surprises in the matchday squad.
The front row includes USA internationals Chance Wenglewski and Dylan Fawsitt, and Nic Mayhew, who has played Super Rugby with the Blues and Brumbies, English Premiership with the Harlequins, and Mitre 10 Cup with North Harbour.
Locks include USA international and team captain Nate Brakeley and Charlie Hewitt, who played for the USA Select XV, Houston SaberCats, Worcester Warriors, and London Scottish.
The back row includes Ben Bonasso, Brendon O’Conner, and Pago Haini. Ben has two caps for the USA National XVs team and Pago previously played for the USA Sevens, MLR teams Houston, New England, & LA, and also play in New Zealand. Brendon played Super Rugby for the Crusaders, Blues, and Sunwolves, the in English Premiership with Leicester Tigers, and New Zealand with Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay.
The halfback combination includes former USA U20s scrumhalf and New York native Connor Buckley, and Sam Windsor at flyhalf, who is the all-time MLR points scoring leader. Sam returns to Houston after spending playing every match in his four years with the SaberCats. He also played with Ulster, Leinster, Eastern Suburbs, plus.
The New Zealand centers are Jason Emery and Fa’asiu Fuatai. Jason played Super Rugby for the Highlanders and Sunwolves, and also for Manawatu Turbos, and Munakata Sanix Blues. Fasi played for the New Zealand Sevens, Otago, and Bay of Plenty.
The back three includes Samoa 7s and XVs international Ed Fidow, Canadian 7s international 7 Olympian Andrew Coe, and former Collegiate All-American XVs and 7s Cal fullback Troy Lockyear. Ed also played in the English Premiership for Worcester Warriors, in France with Bordeaux Beagles and Provence, Wests (Australia), and Waitemata (NZL).
The reserve forwards includes American Raptors crossover athlete Kaleb Geigerat hooker, Samoa international loosehead/tighthead prop Sak Taulafo, and Brazil international Wilton Rebolo, who has been capped at all three front row positions. Will Tucker is another of New York’s skyscrapers, a 6’8″ lock, who played on a Highlanders tour, and for Canterbury and Otago. Kara Pryor, a back row, rounds out the forward reserves. He has played for the New Zealand Māori, the Super Rugby Blues, and Mitre 10 Cup for Auckland and Northland.
The reserve backs include Andy Ellis who has 28 caps for the All Blacks at scrumhalf. Andy also played Super Rugby for the Crusaders and played with Canterbury and Kobelco Steelers. Jack Heighton covers flyhalf/inside center and played for the Blues and North Harbour. John Powers spent last year with the Utah Warriors and the New York native covers at wing/fullback.
There are several experienced players, who are omissions from this week’s squad. New Zealand tighthead prop Kalolo Tuiloma, scrumhalf Conor McManus, Canadian international center/wing Quinn Ngawati, Fiji Sevens wing Apenisa Cakaubalavu. USA international lock, Nick Civetta‘s absence is not a surprise as he is at Oxford University and will be joining the team later. The team also has some young players that are waiting for a chance to contribute when called upon.
Rugby New York will have Brendon O’Connor, Pago Haini, Sam Windsor, Ed Fidow, Jason Emery, Andrew Coe, Kaleb Geiger, Will Tucker, and young players Jack Heighton and John Powers making their first appearance for the MLR team.
Squads with Player Article Links
Houston SaberCats: 1 Nicolás Solveyra 2 Dean Muir (capt) 3 Juan Pablo Zeiss 4 Keni Nasoqeqe 5 Will Crawford 6 Danny Barrett 7 Willie Britz 8 Jaco Bezuidenhout 9 Dillon Smit 10 David Coetzer 11 Nick Boyer 12 Matai Leuta 13 Christian Dyer 14 Maka Unufe15 Gerrie Labuschagne 16 Patrick Donovan 17 Frikkie De Beer 18 Aaron Mitchell 19 Gideon van Wyk 20 Malon Al-Jiboori 21 Robbie Povey 22 Marcos Moroni 23 Jax Hidalgo
Rugby New York: 1 Chance Wenglewski 2 Dylan Fawsitt 3 Nick Mayhew 4 Nate Brakeley (capt) 5 Charlie Hewitt 6 Ben Bonasso 7 Brendon O’Conner 8 Pago Haini 9 Connor Buckley 10 Sam Windsor 11Ed Fidow 12 Jason Emery 13 Faasiu Fuatai 14 Andrew Coe 15 Troy Lockyear 16 Kaleb Geiger 17 Sak Taulafo 18 Wilton Rebolo19 Will Tucker 20 Kara Pryor 21 Andy Ellis 22 Jack Heighton 23 John Powers