MATCH REPORT VS DALLAS REDS 12/16/17
The Sabercats travelled north on Saturday to face the Dallas Reds in their final game of 2017.
Almost a month had passed since the teams first encounter in Houston, where the SaberCats came out on top (21:5). The game was the Sabercats last scrimmage before their, extensive, 9 game stretch at Constellation field, beginning January 6th against the Seattle Saracens.
It was on destined to be an afternoon of running rugby, as blue skies and sunshine followed the bus up the 45 from Houston. Dallas had a full rugby day organized with three games preceding the main game at 3:20. It was the Dallas Youth Rugby Club first up, they took on the North Texas Barbarians followed by the Reds division 3 and division 2 teams against Arlington Rugby Club and Fort Worth RFC respectively. By the time 3;20 rolled around, the weather had moved in and the wind and rain was determined to spoil the afternoon
Sabercats ran with the wind in the first 40, and looked to play a tactical field position game and pinning the Reds deep in their half.
But it was the home side that opened the scoring. After a nice kick and chase from inside their own half, the Reds re-gathered to take play to the Sabercats tryline. After a few phases, Dallas snuck down the short side and some quick hands saw their winger dive over in the corner. Unfortunately for them, he put a foot in touch and the Sabercats could breathe a sigh of relief. This relief was short lived, as the resulting lineout was intercepted and Dallas’ hooker took his opportunity and crashed over from close range at the front of the line out. The conversion was missed and Dallas led 5-0.
Tricky wind conditions and a greasy ball, made it difficult for the Sabercats to win any clean lineout ball and launch an attack.
They eventually executed a short lineout and after a nice reverse play, Zach Pangelinan and Josua Vici linked nicely down the blind side and the Fijian reached out and dotted down for the visitors first score. Pangelinan nailed the conversion.
The Sabercats spent a lot of the first half in the home sides 22, but struggled to put phases together. It took some individual brilliance from winger Malacchi Esdale to notch up Houston’s second score. Esdale fielded a clearance kick around the 40 meter line and accelerated up the mid field and caught the Reds napping. He stepped his way through a disjpinted chase line and beat the fullback to score under the posts. Houston would go into half time leading 14-5.
The game intensified after the break with both teams trying to insert their dominance on the contest. Some frustration and ill disciplined led to the sin binning of Sabercats scrum half Connor Murphy, Houston would have play the next 10 minutes with 14 men.
Strong carries from the Reds forwards and centers threatened the Saberctas line on a number of occasions, but they were unable to capitalize on any of the linebreaks.
Osea Kolinisau stepped into the scrum half role while Murphy was doing his time and sparked the Sabercats offense. He kept the Reds guessing with darts from the ruck, kicks and switch plays to the short side. After some multi phase play and sustained pressure, Kolinisau took advantage of a lazy defense line and waltzed through close to the ruck and run in under the posts from 20 meters out.
21-5 would be the final score, but Dallas threw the kitchen sink at the Houston line during the final 10 minutes. Accurate and physical defending thwarted the attack from the Reds and as the rain continued to fall, referee Scott Green called fulltime with both teams out on their feet.
Houston SaberCats 21 Josua Vici, Malacchi Esdale, Osea Kolinisau. Zach Pangelinan 3 conversions. Dallas Reds 5.
Saturday’s match in Dallas saw the SaberCats travel the 225 miles as the crow flies to do battle against the Reds and for me personally the opportunity to lock horns once again with old friend and rival Darren Morris whom is now the Director of Rugby for the Dallas R.F.C.
It made me think on the Friday night ahead of the game how in the blink of an eye the guts of 20 years had so quickly rolled past and now ironically finds he and I as old rivals reunited and locking horns again as we once did when we were much younger and fitter. Darren back then had been playing for Swansea & Wales and I with Ulster & Ireland. Now here in Texas we were reunited and our friendly rivalry rekindled as coaches across the Atlantic, at oddly enough roughly the same distance of 200 odd miles as the crow flies between our two new home cities just as it had been all those years ago between Swansea and Belfast.
The game between the Cats and the Reds saw our Fall scrimmage series conclude positively with the Cats squad getting the opportunity to come together in competition over a 5 game series. This gave us valuable time together ahead of our Exhibition series at Constellation field to work out the wrinkles and test our squads depth, look at players in different positions and combinations while working on refining our on and off field systems. As a head coach you are always juggling the needs of now with the wants and aspirations of what is needed to prepare for what is coming over the horizon. I feel we certainly got what we wanted from the fall while have the opportunity to immerse ourselves as a squad into the wider Texas rugby community.
With this chapter now closed the SaberCats leave the fall series with a 5-0 winning record and are looking forward to welcoming Seattle Saracens to Constellation field on January 6th.
Justin M. Fitzpatrick