Rugby New York traveled to Houston and left with a 10-7 win over the Houston SaberCats on Saturday, February 12. The match was a thrilling defensive battle, and the replay may be viewed on The Rugby Network and was broadcast on the AT&T Sports Network in Houston. Preceding the match was a collegiate match between Texas A&M and Louisiana State University with Texas A&M winning 39-15.
The Houston SaberCats hoped that the momentum of their 21-11 victory over the LA Giltinis would carry over to the match against Eastern Conference favorites, Rugby New York, which was playing their first match of the season.
Houston kicked off to begin the match and a turnover had the SaberCats attacking deep within New York’s 22-meters, before giving up possession and ending a promising scoring opportunity. New York would then dominate possession and territory for the next 13-14 minutes and would have that edge throughout the match.
The SaberCats were penalized early and the first scoring opportunity came after SaberCats captain Dean Muir was pinged for entering the breakdown off his feet. Rugby New York did not take advantage of the chance to kick a penalty goal but kicked for touch to try to score from the ensuing lineout. A handling error instead resulted in a SaberCats scrum.
Soon after, after a penalty on Christian Dyer at the breakdown, Sam Windsor’s penalty attempt was wide right.
Another Houston penalty, this time by scrumhalf Dillon Smit for tackling Dylan Fawsitt without the ball, has New York also choosing not to kick for the posts, and instead attacked from a lineout about 10 meters from in-goal. They attacked from another lineout 5 meters out after another Sabercats penalty and after the Brakeley take, and a maul in which backs Ed Fidow and Jason Emery would join, resulting in a massive pileup in-goal, which it was impossible to see if Dylan Fawsitt grounded the ball in the left corner. After a TMO, there was not a clear angle to determine grounding and the ball was ruled held up. Houston resumed playing with a dropkick from their defending goal.
Rugby New York fielded the kick with Ben Bonasso slicing through SaberCats defenders and executing a no-look pass which was picked up by Pago Haini for an apparent try. The referee, however, voided the try as the result of a Charlie Hewitt obstruction which set up Bonasso’s run.
Prior to the end of the half, the SaberCats went through over 10 phases of mainly short-range attempts by the forwards to power over in-goal with New York repelling each attempt until a turnover ended the half scoreless.
During the first half, Rugby New York had the advantage of possession 61% and territory 69% with the set pieces basically even. New York has an edge at the breakdowns, with Houston losing possession multiple times. The SaberCats defense created problems for their opposition with the outside players pinching in and making it difficult to attack.
While Rugby New York had a possession and territory advantage, handling errors were costly in ending attacking opportunities. New York would enter the break with the frustration of knowing that potential points were not obtained. Houston also had two potential opportunities to score tries but did not finish.
Both teams had to substitute a player in the half with New York’s Connor Buckley exiting the match in the 17th minute due to a head knock with Andy Ellis entering early. Houston’s Danny Barrett also was replaced by Malon Al-Jiboori during the half.
The wind was a factor all evening, and the SaberCats had the wind behind them for the second half.
Houston had the first opportunity to attack from a red zone lineout at New York’s 22-meters after Smit executed a 50/22 kick. A Nic Mayhew poach at the breakdown quickly thwarted the attack. Soon after, Maka Unufe was sent to the bin for an intentional knock-on of a New York ball. (46th minute)
Finally, in the 56th minute, Rugby New York’s left-wing, Ed Fidow, evaded Britz, Labuschagne, and Boyer, to score a try in the left corner to take a 5-0 lead.
Houston has scoring opportunities after Nate Brakeley was sent to the bin for being off his feet at the breakdown. They had a lineout 5-meters out, a 5-meter-scrum, and another 5-meter lineout in which New York stole and cleared. A Maka Unufe offload to Gerrie Labuschagne had him slicing through defenders and then offloading to Christian Dyer, who stepped inside Kara Pryor for a try. David Coetzer then converted to take a 7-5 lead in the 67th minute.
The scoring was not over with New York going through multiple phases and Ed Fidow fending to create the distance he need to score the winning try for a 10-7 win.
Final stats showed that Rugby New York had 60% of possession, with Houston 56% of the territory, New York won 7 turnovers to 5 for Houston, and had 17 penalties to Houston’s 12, with many coming for New York in defending their own 22-meters. Houston also had an edge in scrums won, while New York had a few important lineout steals.
Houston’s Willie Britz and Keni Nasaqeqe were a constant force during the match for Houston with Gerrie Labuschagne a scoring threat. For New York, it was a team effort, with Ben Bonasso having a stellar match.
It is hoped that Nick Boyer recovers quickly from the head knock late in the game after being steamrolled by Bonasso. That applies to Connor Buckley, who also left the match early after a head-knock.
Ed Fidow was the Man of the Match with his brace, but the team’s defense was stellar on the night.
Both teams have shown that they will be difficult opponents and will look to improve as the season progresses.
Next Saturday, February 19, Houston travels to face the Dallas Jackals at 8 pm ET, while Rugby New York visits Rugby ATL, in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final at 3 pm ET.
Squads with Player Article Links & Match Preview
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