Match Preview – New Orleans Gold vs Houston SaberCats
It’s another first for Major League Rugby – the first rematch! Round 2 of the home-and-away preseason arrangement between the New Orleans Gold and the Houston SaberCats takes place on Gold territory this time, their first match at Archbishop Shaw Field. The two teams last met on February 24, Houston winning decisively by 30-12. Both have played one game since.
After a couple largely one-sided defeats New Orleans have shaken up their lineup with six changes from the run-on side that fell to Glendale and one positional switch. Cam Falcon starts at tighthead prop with Ben Tarr dropping to the bench, and Myles McQuone comes into the second row in the absence of Nikola Bursic. Former Louisiana Tech eightman Will Crawford is set to make his Gold debut as a replacement.
The backs are almost completely altered. JP Eloff returns and forms an all-Eagles midfield combination with new signing Tim Maupin. Moni Tonga’uiha bumps out to the left wing at the expense of Jojo Tikoisuva, and Bobby Johns replaces Peceli Rinakama on the right wing. Michael Baska, used as a scrumhalf in previous games, will get a start at fullback, a position he excelled at with Lindenwood. The bench sees the return of Joey Sok after missing the last two matches.
Houston came out evens against the Ontario Arrows in their final match at Constellation Field and now set out for their first ever road game. They have made four changes to their starting lineup, three coming in the pack. Justin Fitzpatrick continues his squad rotation practice and brings in Diego Maquieira at hooker, Cecil Garber at openside flank, and Pago Haini at No8. Lindsey Stevens, Chris Coyle, and Matt Trouville all swap to the bench.
Fiji’s Olympic Sevens captain Osea Kolinisau comes in at outside center in the only personnel change to the backline though there are two further positional switches. Alex Elkins is the man to drop out and it’s Josua Vici who switches to the left wing side, with Malacchi Esdale on the right wing after running as a midfielder in the past two outings.
The addition of Maupin and return of Eloff is a big boost to the Gold, whose attack has looked stagnant against MLR opposition. Falcon’s progress at prop will be given a stern examination by former Ireland age-grade rep Adam Macklin and there is an opportunity for Baska to claim a starting role ahead of the regular season. For the SaberCats it’s business at usual but at a different venue. Adjusting to the travel and a new environment will be a test but for players of this caliber should not pose a significant problem.
Expecting NOLA to have a complete turnaround in fortunes is likely unreasonable but an improved performance is on the cards. Houston remain significant favorites with their strength in depth noticeably superior to their hosts. Look for the SaberCats to come away winners again by a reduced margin than their previous encounter.
Kickoff in New Orleans is set for 4pm local time (5pm Eastern). A live stream will be provided by the GiftTime Rugby Network.
NEW ORLEANS GOLD
1 Hubert Buydens, 2 Eric Howard, 3 Cam Falcon, 4 Myles McQuone, 5 John Sullivan, 6 Vince Jobo, 7 Matt Hughston, 8 Sebastián Kalm, 9 Holden Yungert, 10 Taylor Howden (capt.), 11 Moni Tonga’uiha, 12 JP Eloff, 13 Tim Maupin, 14 Bobby Johns, 15 Michael Baska
Replacements: 16 Ben Tarr, 17 Derrek van Klein, 18 Matt Wirken, 19 Todd Dupre, 20 John Stapleton, 21 Peceli Rinakama, 22 Joey Sok, 23 Alec Janotka, 24 Will Crawford, 25 Jojo Tikoisuva
1 Adam Macklin, 2 Diego Maquieira, 3 Paul Mullen, 4 Charlie Hewitt, 5 Robert Meeson, 6 Kyle Sumsion (capt.), 7 Cecil Garber, 8 Pago Haini, 9 Connor Murphy, 10 Sam Windsor, 11 Josua Vici, 12 Conor Mills, 13 Osea Kolinisau, 14 Malacchi Esdale, 15 Zach Pangelinan
Replacements: 16 Lindsey Stevens, 17 Jake Turnbull, 18 Petey Hepburn, 19 Justin Allen, 20 Chris Coyle, 21 Chris Slater, 22 Kieran Farmer, 23 Alex Elkins, 24 Chris Parker, 25 Matt Trouville
Date: Saturday, March 24
Venue: Archbishop Shaw Field, New Orleans
Kickoff: 16:00 local (14:00 Pacific, 17:00 Eastern)
Broadcasts: GiftTime Network