SaberCats Extend Win Streak to Four Matches With Victory Over Warriors
The Houston SaberCats had a long week.
Thanks to some unfortunate storms in Texas earlier in the season, Houston (6-10) faced a grinder of a schedule coming down the stretch with three matches scheduled to take place over a seven-day period.
The 31-27 victory that the SaberCats’ picked up over the Warriors (2-12-2) was Houston’s fourth-straight victory and one that they had to earn every little bit of. Playing three games in a week’s time is no easy task, and winning all three of those matches required a lot of things to go in the SaberCats’ favor, as Houston’s inside center Sam Windsor pointed out after the match.
“The ball bounced our way,” Windsor said. “We kind of tried to play a little too much like Utah, trying to force the pass a little too often. Our set-piece has been the strongest part of our game all year so we trusted that and our skills and our catch-pass and our holding onto the ball for extended phases has gotten better over the last 6-8 weeks. It was never a doubt that we can beat anyone in the league. Before kickoff we knew we were in with a good chance to go 4-0 and having the momentum of three on the trot and having two already this week we were quietly confident that if we stuck to our game plan hand held onto the ball, we would wear them down eventually because they’ve had a rough trot with injuries and haven’t gotten similar depth to us. It was just a matter of wearing them down and holding for 80 minutes.”
Even having played two games already in the week leading up to the match, it was the SaberCats who struck first when eight-man Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz picked the ball out of the back of a five-meter scrum deep in Warriors’ territory and rumbled his way in for the try. Windsor nailed the conversion to give the SaberCats a 7-0 lead in the fifth minute of the match.
Utah responded with a Joshua Reeves penalty goal to cut into Houston’s lead in the 12th minute, but the SaberCats hit back with another just a few minutes later. SaberCats inside center Josua Vici found wing Malacchi Esdale out wide for the second try of the match.
Windsor’s conversion gave Houston a 14-3 lead heading into the 20-minute hydration break.
The SaberCats kept their foot on the gas coming out of the first hydration break. Wing Deion Mikesell received a pass and flew down the touchline for the SaberCats’ third try of the match, giving Houston a 21-3 lead at the 22-minute mark.
After that, the Warriors started to wake up. They found their first try of the match a few minutes later when hooker Jeremy Leber rode a driving maul into the in-goal and helped cut the deficit to 11 points in the 28th minute.
Windsor tacked on a penalty goal to give the SaberCats a 24-10 lead heading into the half, but the Warriors were just getting started.
Utah came out swinging in the second half. After wing Fetu’u Vainikolo sliced through the SaberCats’ defense, fly-half Joshua Reeves threw a beautiful behind the back pass under pressure into the waiting arms of scrum-half Johnny Ika who took the ball in for a try. Timothy O’Malley nailed the conversion to get the Warriors to within seven points.
The Warriors hit back with another try just four minutes later when Lance Williams snuck through the Houston defense and found Reeves in support for a try. O’Malley’s conversion tied the match in the 48th minute.
After some back-and-forth rugby, the Warriors took their first lead of the match into the 60-minute hydration break after Franco van den Berg nailed a penalty goal.
“It was obviously huge for us to finish that way but after the week we had, it was a relief to get the win in the end,” Windsor said. “I was a little worried between the 50- and 60-minute mark. The way they played against Seattle last week had us on our toes leading into the game because we know they are a quality outfit with weapons all over the park. I think it was a bit of the fatigue catching up with us during that period. The boys were out on their feet. I think it was a culmination of the season and the three games kind of caught up with us. Once we got a bit of momentum leading into the last five-10 minutes, saw the lineout, got a couple of back-to-back penalties, I think that was when I was comfortable that the game was in our control and we were going to win it. It was very good, not just for the team, but for (SaberCats’ captain) Matty (Trouville) who is finishing his career.”
After finding themselves trailing for the first time in the match, Houston took advantage of a Utah yellow card and jumped back in the driver’s seat when fullback Osea Kolinisau scampered in for a try in the 66th minute. Windsor’s conversion gave the SaberCats’ a 31-27 lead with just under 15 minutes to play.
With the match in control, Trouville attempted to put a bow on the victory by attempting the last penalty goal. Although Trouville’s attempt went wide, the SaberCats’ walked away with a 31-27 victory.
“This game is indicative of our season, we competed but just could not close it,” Warriors head coach Alf Daniels said of the match. “We will get to work right away on the off-season on training, conditioning, and how we approach the new teams in the league and conference alignments. We appreciate our fans and everything they did to stay with us all season, we have the best fans in the league without question.”
The SaberCats picked up five points in the victory to finish in seventh place with 30 points in the table. The Warriors picked up a bonus point in the loss to finish in eighth place with 21 points.
“The last two seasons haven’t been great for us in MLR,” Windsor said of the victory. “Last year we won one game, and leading into this one we’d only won a couple, so to finish the way we’ve intended to start was definitely rewarding for the team and the club.”
Tries: Jeremy Leber, Johnny Ika, Joshua Reeves
Conversions: Joshua Reeves (1/1), Timothy O’Malley (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Joshua Reeves (1/1), Franco van den Berg (1/1)
Tries: Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz, Malacchi Esdale, Deion Mikesell, Osea Kolinisau
Conversions: Sam Windsor (4/4)
Penalty Goals: Sam Windsor (1/1), Matt Trouville (0/1)
Colton can be reached at [email protected]
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