Legion Beat SaberCats in a Thriller
Photo: Colt Cannon
Legion Beat SaberCats in a Thriller
By: MLR Correspondent, Colton Strickler
Friday night’s Week 3 matchup between the San Diego Legion and the Houston SaberCats was nothing short of a classic.
In a match that featured a little bit of everything, the Legion (2-1) knocked off the SaberCats (1-2) 35-32 on the back of outside centre Anthony Salaber’s three-try performance.
The match was one that never lacked action or energy. Both teams came out of the gate playing extremely fast, and it paid off for the SaberCats rather quickly. They struck first when scrum half Connor Murphy kicked to some space behind San Diego’s back line. A favorable bounce ended up in the hands of wing Alex Elkins who produced the ball to outside centre Osea Kolinisau. Kolinisau used his one move to ground the ball on the goal line and was awarded the first try of the match. Fly-half Sam Windsor nailed the conversion and the SaberCats were out to an early 7-0 lead.
Shortly after the try, Houston extended their lead on a Windsor penalty kick. Windsor, both with his legs and his boot, helped the SaberCats weather the storm of tries that the Legion put together throughout the match. Had it not been for Salaber, Windsor likely would have been the reason that Houston emerged victorious.
Anthony Salaber had other plans.
“Anthony has had a flying start to the season,” San Diego Legion head coach Rob Hoadley said after the match via email. “He’s been with us working hard from day one of pre season and has evolved consistently throughout our campaign. Ultimately his performance was the difference between the two teams tonight. He is forming a good relationship with JP Du Plessis in the centre and followed up an excellent defensive display last week with a potent attacking game agent Houston to pick up three tries.”
Salaber got the Legion on the board after San Diego stole a Houston lineout in their own territory. Inside centre J.P. Du Plessis’ big line break created space for scrum half Nate Augsperger, who dumped the ball off for Salaber for the try. Dylan Audsley kicked the conversion and the Legion were in business.
Salaber didn’t waste much time finding his way back for his second try of the match. Some crafty work with the ball by Audsley created some space inside for Salaber to punch in the Legion’s go-ahead try. Audsley kicked the conversion to give San Diego a 14-10 lead.
Houston stopped the 14-0 run that Salaber and the Legion pieced together with a 10-0 run themselves. Windsor was able to stop the bleeding by nailing a penalty kick and then taking one in for a try of his own. Houston sent a ball out wide to Elkins who gobbled up some territory before being tackled by Audsley. The ball eventually wound up in Windsor’s hands and he punched it in for a try. Windsor kicked his own conversion and the SaberCats jumped back out to a 20-14 lead. Then Salaber struck again.
Augspurger picked the ball out of the back of a maul off a lineout and sent it to wing Ryan Matyas who cut it up the weak side. Matyas produced the ball to Taku Ngwenya who sent the ball to Du Plessis. Du Plessis spun the ball wide to Audsley who dumped the ball back inside to Salaber. Salaber did the rest and the Legion retook a 21-20 lead after Audley’s conversion.
San Diego threatened one last time before the half on a set-piece off the scrum. Fly-half Tadgh Leader found Matyas in space and as he cut up the middle to offload to Du Plessis, he committed a knock on. Those points that San Diego left off the board almost came back to bite them in the end, but they took a 21-20 lead into the half.
The second half wasn’t much different than the first for the SaberCats. Windsor got the scoring started with a penalty kick that pushed Houston back out in front, but the Legion traded three points for five when they answered back with a try of their own. Du Plessis stripped the ball from an engaged SaberCat and took it deep into Houston territory. The possession ended in a Pat Blair try. Audsley’s conversion was good and the Legion retook the lead.
Tries were proving hard to come by for the SaberCats so they switched to a more strategic game down the stretch. Houston’s pack began to bully a San Diego pack that struggled in Week 1. The SaberCats baited the Legion into three-straight illegal scrummaging penalties and optioned for the penalty kick every time. Windsor nailed two of the three and the SaberCats found themselves back on top 29-28.
The SaberCats pulled out all the stops on their next possession. Just as Houston appeared to settle into some phase play, Murphy sent the ball back behind the ruck to Kolinisau who nailed a drop goal that just about put the game on ice. Houston settled into a four-point lead with only a few minutes remaining in the match.
The SaberCats, with only four minutes to play, had their chances to put the match away. Murphy attempted to pin San Diego deep with a box kick, but he didn’t get all of the ball and Audsley scooped it up off the ground to give San Diego a chance to win it with a try.
Houston forced San Diego’s attack into touch and had one more chance to finish the game with a successful lineout. The ensuing lineout was not thrown straight, and the Legion would have an opportunity at a lineout of their own. The phase play that stemmed from that lineout was extended when an errant pass that went out of bounds in stoppage time was brought back to the spot of a penalty, and Tony Purpura finally put a stamp on the game with a try on the goal line.
Audsley kicked the conversion and the Legion escaped with a 35-32 win.
After a tough loss to the Seattle Seawolves in Week 1, Hoadley was proud of the resiliency that his side showed in the two weeks that followed.
“We undermined some great work in Seattle through conceding too many penalties – many at the scrum,” Hoadley said of the the performance in Week 1. “We actually won the physical battle in many aspects of that game outside the scrum. We always believed that if we could improve the scrum and our discipline then we would have a lot of success. It has been great to get back to our home crowd and produce two big wins to send us to the top of the MLR standings. The crowd added great energy to our effort in the dying moments tonight, and we are determined to produce more performances that they can be proud of.”
Both teams picked up a bonus point in the match. After two straight matches at home, San Diego will travel to Glendale to take on the Raptors on Sunday, May 13 while Houston will enjoy a week off.
San Diego Legion
Tries: Anthony Salaber (3), Pat Blair, Tony Purpura
Conversions: Dylan Audsley (4/4) Ben Cima (1/1)
Drop Goals: N/A
Tries: Osea Kolinisau, Sam Windsor
Penalties: Sam Windsor (5/6)
Conversions: Sam Windsor (2/2)
Drop Goals: Osea Kolinisau (1/1)
Colton can be reached at [email protected]
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