Vs. Austin Blacks Dec. 1st 2018
As coach it is always incredibly rewarding to see elements that have been worked on in practice translate onto the field of play and there were certainly elements of Saturdays performance that shone out for me. The players have been grinding hard with our Head of S&C Antwan Floyd and the work is paying off, the difference for some of the players with not only having a good pre-season but also having had now 12 months worth of training and the experience and confidence that brings a player is worth its weight in gold. It was also great to see Codi Jones who was with the Cats from day 1 of last seasons pre-season camp only to hurt himself in the week before we played our first match last season ironically against the Austin Blacks return to the pitch and make his Cats debut. After working so hard post operation to heal up and return better than before, I was very proud to see him return to the pitch and pull the Cats colors on, showing us all a glimpse of what he has to offer for the upcoming season.
Another particularly pleasing element of yesterdays match was that 7 members of our partner program the West Houston Lions joined the SaberCats and all contributed admirably. The Lions and the SaberCats have partnered to back build a pathway within Houston within which talented local players can step up under the tutorage of former Eagle standout Paul Emerick who joins the SaberCats in a duel role of Skills coach for the Cats and Head Coach of the Lions. Paul is supported at the Lions by Houston’s own Rugby legend Grant Cole and a comprehensive staff of local coaches that would rival any Division 1 rugby program resource and knowledge wise in the US. We all very excited to see how this relations develops and how it helps local Houstonians become better rugby players and future SaberCats. Houston we have a pride!
While one swallow does not make a summer, and one performance does not a successful season make. It was a promising win to start to our pre MLR 2019 campaign. This week finds us on the road again, this time to play another Red River powerhouse Dallas Reds under the tutorage of Welsh international and propping friend and adversary Darren Morris. The players and staff know that we will need to improve again in what proved to be a challenging encounter last season.
Justin M. Fitzpatrick
It was your typical December-in-Texas afternoon. A clear blue sky presided over head, while the sun provided some warm, bordering on hot conditions. Luckily, it was made tolerable as a consistent light breeze swept its way across Burr Field.
This game was to be meant as tune-up, a chance for the veteran players to knock some rust off while the younger Academy guys tried to make the most of their opportunity to play in front of Coach Fitzpatrick. It’s fair to say that by the end of the day, both of those missions were accomplished, as the SaberCats cruised to a 78-12 victory over the Austin Blacks.
The final score is as much a reflection of the ‘Cats work ethic as it is their ability. While the home team may not have had the classification of being ‘professionals’ in the USA Rugby database, the players knew going in that this was an opponent who year in and year out hardly ever failed to make the D1-playoffs. It would be no cake walk, and they prepared as such.
However, if one was simply watching from the stands, that’s certainly what it appeared to be. The ‘Cats displayed an acceptable if not above-average line speed for being so early in the season, as they were frequently able to outpace the Blacks to the outside, constantly keeping the Austin team on its back foot. Coach Fitzpatrick must have been happy with the work of his forwards as well, as their playinside the 22 helped garner much of what you see in the final point tally.
Fans in attendance who kept up with the MLR may have experienced a great deal of flashbacks as they watched, with several staple Houston-playmakers making their presence felt in the final box score. Those names included Josua Vici,Malachi Esdale, Alex Elkins, and Connor ‘Toad’ Murphy. Zach Pangelinan wasn’t too shabby himself, either. The former Nationally capped soccer player went 6/9 on conversions, putting an even more promising stamp on the season to come.
When it came to putting on a show for the fans, Vici was one who seemed to pick up right where he left off last season. The Fijian-phenom of Houston put his incredible speed and footwork on display, with several runs and an eventual try that showcased just how special of an athlete he is, and how real a possibility it is that we may be seeing him in an Eagles jersey once he reaches eligibility.
Meanwhile, Connor Murphy looks ready to continue his rise to being one of the top scrum-halves in the United States, as he consistently made good decisions and delivered crisp, catchable passes when he did. With a host of proven playmakers and a full season already under his belt, it’s not a lofty expectation to say we may be seeing an even better version of the one they call Toad in year two.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that MLR is finally reawakening as we see the above mentioned stars take the field once more. But, again, this game was just as much about development as it was about the upcoming 2019 season. Along for the ride to Austin as well were seven members of the D1-club West Houston Lions/SaberCat Academy that included: Enrique Montano, Irving Cruz, Jackson Slater, Darell Williams, Irving Carcamo, Sid Sikobi, and Liam Scott.
While each made their own distinct impression, Enrique Montano stood out to many, as he moves with the speed and grace of somebody half his size, yet he still possesses the kind of power you would expect. Power, which he eventually used to put down his first ever try in a SaberCat uniform, busting through the Austin defense inside of their own five-meter.
“It was a great experience, playing with professional players.” says Darell Williams, one of the Academy players who put on some great displays of speed and awareness himself on the afternoon. “Definitely learned some things from just playing one game.” Hopefully, the learning and development of these young players continue, as the march towards January continues. But if this game was any indication, Houston fans would be in the right to expect something other than another bottom-of-the-barrel finish in 2019.