First to clinch playoff spot: SaberCats beat Gold in ‘big achievement’

Jun 2, 2024 | Uncategorized

By Aaron Wilson

Behind a fast, aggressive start, clutch plays and a concerted plan executed well, the SaberCats made franchise history Saturday night in rainy New Orleans.
Atop the Western Conference division, the SaberCats manufactured a 21-7 victory over the Nola Gold.
Their sixth consecutive win propelled them into becoming the first franchise in Major League Rugby to clinch a playoff berth this season.
They also boosted their record to 11-1, establishing a franchise milestone for victories.
“It’s awesome being a part of this program and having everyone buy in and being one and being together,” Dominic Akina said. “It’s awesome because we see the progress. We don’t want to change anything. We keep it to the basics, game by game, day by day, and keep progressing and playing hard every match. It was good, especially with all our plans and coaching and just trusting it game by game and seeing all of this come together.”
They won their sixth consecutive match by building a 21-0 lead and a 21-7 halftime advantage they maintained in a scoreless second half to hold on for the win.
The SaberCats just keep building and building and building one week at a time.
“Obviously, it’s a big achievement,” Nathan Den Hoedt said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have our eyes set on trying to win the conference. We have quite a few games left.”
The SaberCats extended their lead on tries from Andre Warner, Ronan Murphy and Keni Nasoqeqe.
Murphy busted in for a try after breaking out of a scrum dominated by the SaberCats in close quarters.
Warner delivered a dramatic blocked kick for a try as the SaberCats snapped the Eastern Conference division second-place squad’s four-match winning streak.
And Nasoqeqe broke past the defense for an unchallenged try.
“I think the key was staying to our plan,” Akina said. “Whoever wins the kicking battle usually wins. We stuck to that and pulled it out in the end. I think the key moments in our kicking game were putting a lot of pressure on our wins to win the ball back and get those contestable wins to be in the best position we can be. Winning those was a huge key in our success. I think we had a lot of key moments on defense with a couple of hits.”
A 6-foot-6, 255-pound veteran of Major League Rugby who earned his 50th cap this season, Den Hoedt provides leadership and experience.
“Having ‘Moose’ as cappy, he has judgment on calls and we back him 100 percent and trust his judgment,” Akina said. “His game play is really good. It helps to have a big guy like him for our line outs and scrums. He really pushes us to be better. He’s nonstop moving for 80 minutes. To have big guys like that moving for us smaller guys, there’s no complaints.”
Leadership has been paramount for the SaberCats’ success from the players to director Heyneke Meyer and coach Pote Human.
“Absolutely, there’s a quite a few of us all buying into the same thing,” Den Hoedt said. “We have multiple leaders on this team, all buying in. We all work well together.”
The fast start was pivotal for the success the SaberCats enjoyed.
“I think the first 20 minutes was very important,” Den Hoedt said. “We dominated the first 20 minutes. That set us up well. The defense was good. That was important in tough conditions with the rain.”
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The SaberCats were joined in the Big Easy by a cheering section as fans made the road trip with the team.
“Honestly, it means the world to us as players to hear those guys and see them and have the support,” Den Hoedt said. “It’s a massive boost for the guys.”
“Our fans, we didn’t want to let them down,” Akina said. “They backed us.”
The SaberCats juggle their lineups every week for strategic personnel reasons as well as for injuries. It’s a winning approach.
“We know our team has a lot of depth,” Akina said. “We know how close the competition is on the team. We keep each other positive. Whoever is out there, we’re pushing them. We’re all on the same page and all in it together.”
The SaberCats get back to work next Saturday at home against RFC Los Angeles.
“We’re back home in front of the home crowd,” Den Hoedt said. “It’s going to be a big game. We’ll start focusing in Monday on that game and looking to start building. We know it’s going to be huge.”