The Houston SaberCats lost to the Seattle Seawolves 46-27 in the Major League Rugby Western Conference Final on June 18 at AVAVA Stadium in Houston, Texas. The match was broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and streamed internationally on The Rugby Network with a 24-hour replay delay in the U.S.
It was the Houston SaberCats’ first playoff appearance, and they will have the off-season to regroup and come back strong next year.
The Seattle Seawolves reached the final after beating San Diego Legion 43-19 last Sunday with both teams entering the playoffs after both Austin Gilgronis and the LA Giltinis were disqualified for MLR infractions.
With the win, the Seattle Seawolves will contest for their third MLR Shield. They previously won the MLR Shield in both 2018 and 2019 and will play on June 25 against the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the New England Free Jacks and Rugby New York in either Quincy, MA, or Hoboken, NJ. The match will be broadcast on Fox at Noon ET.
The Houston SaberCats took advantage of a loose ball on a pass intended for Duncan Matthews, as David Coetzer kicked ahead, gathered and scored a try, and then added a conversion to take a 7-0 lead before the 6th minute.
A SaberCats penalty, had Seawolves AJ Alatimu slotting a 38-meter penalty goal to cut the lead to 7-3.
The ensuing restart had numerous SaberCats players offsides which resulted in a Seawolves scrum at midfield. The Seawolves’ bind was suspect and had Gerrie Labuschagne slotting a 52-meter penalty goal, 10-3.
The Seawolves attacked from a scrum moving the ball wide left with Martin Iosefo moving the ball to Houston’s 22-meters. A SaberCats penalty had the Seawolves not going to goal and instead kicked to touch for a 5-meter lineout. The team mauled and James Malcolm grounded for a try with Alatimu’s conversion wide left, 10-8.
A scrum penalty by Houston had Seawolves Alatimu slotting a penalty goal as Seattle took their first lead, 10-11.
The Seawolves added a try by JP Smith under the posts after he received an offload by Riekert Hattingh after a Seawolves scrum. A TMO showed that David Busby did not make contact with Smith, so Referee Scott Green ruled the try stood, 10-18.
Seattle added another after a long break by Alatimu from their 22-meters, who offloaded to Duncan Matthews for a try with Alatimu adding the extras, 10-25.
A high ball by Dillon Smit was taken on the bounce by Gerrie Labuschagne, who motored to within 5-meters of in-goal. The SaberCats attacked from a 5-meter scrum, however, a handling error by Juan Pablo Zeiss resulted in a Seawolves scrum. Alatimu kicked the. ball out the dead ball line and the teams went into the locker room with the Seattle Seawolves enjoying a 25-10 lead at the break.
A Seattle penalty had the SaberCats kicking to touch and mauled after the ensuing lineout. A few phases later Gerrie Labuschagne scored a try from short range with Coetzer’s conversion attempt drifting wide right of the posts, 15-25.
A SaberCats counterattack had Coetzer stepping to the outside and Labusagne switching and Christian Dyer finishing with a try. David Coetzer added the extras to move to within three of Seattle, 22-25.
A box kick by Smit went off Duncan Matthew’s hands with Gideon Van Wyk running deep inside Seawolves territory with Martin Iosefo’s tackle saving a try. After a Seawolves scrum, the team was able to clear to midfield.
The Seawolves stole the ensuing SaberCats lineout and Smith kicked ahead inside Houston’s 22-meters. Seattle attacked again with Mzamo Majola scoring from close range with Alatimu adding the conversion, 22-32.
A Seawolves counterattack had Alatimu offloading to Dan Kriel and then an Alatimu offload to Ross Neal ended with a try in the right corner. Alatimu then added the extras, 22-39.
Duncan Matthews showed his soccer skills by kicking ahead, taking a bounce, and scoring a try, with Alatimu converting again, 22-46.
Seattle came within a couple of meters from scoring again, but Matthews lost the ball on contact for a Houston 5-meter scrum. This allowed the SaberCats to clear.
Houston struck back with a grub kick and chase by Christian Dyer, who grounded ahead of Martin Iosefo, with the conversion by Coetzer wide, 27-46.
The Player of the Match was Western Conference Champion Seattle Seawolves’ AJ Alatimu.
With the win, the Seattle Seawolves will play at the Eastern Conference Champion, either New England or Rugby New York. The Seawolves are undefeated in the playoffs since 2018 and will contend for their third MLR Shield.
Squads with Player Article Links & Match Preview
Houston SaberCats: 1 Alec McDonnell 2 Dean Muir (C) 3 Juan Pablo Zeiss 4 Marno Redelinghuys 5 Siaosi Mahoni 6 Danny Barrett 7 Wynand Grassmann 8 Malon Al-Jiboori 9 Dillon Smit 10 David Coetzer 11 Gerrie Labuschagne12 Louritz van der Schyff 13 Christian Dyer 14 Matai Leuta15 Robbie Povey 16 Axel Zapata 17 Frikkie De Beer 18 Aaron Mitchell 19 Gideon van Wyk 20 Emmanuel Albert 21 Nick Boyer 22 Zach Pangelinan 23 Keni Nasoqeqe
Seattle Seawolves: 1 Mzamo Majola 2 James Malcolm 3 Sam Matenga 4 Samu Manoa 5 Rhyno Herbst 6 Andrew Durutalo 7 Travis Larsen 8 Riekert Hattingh (C) 9 JP Smith10 AJ Alatimu 11 Martin Iosefo 12 David Busby 13 Dan Kriel 14 Ross Neal 15 Duncan Matthews 16 Sean McNulty 17 Kellen Gordon 18 Taniela Tupou 19 Brad Tucker 20 Tommy Clark 21 Reid Watkins 22 Tavite Lopeti 23 Lauina Futi