Old Glory Looks to Build Momentum in Houston
By Evan Lappen
Saturday isn’t Old Glory’s first rodeo to Houston as DC will attempt to build off the momentum of last week’s victory to climb back into playoff contention in the MLR Eastern Conference. The last time DC ventured to AVEVA Stadium was Week 3 of last year, where OG notched its second win in a row through stout defense and the expert kicking of Jason Robertson. Although the SaberCats have lost their previous four games, they have matched the top teams in the league in some very close contests. The game will be broadcast live Saturday night at 8:00 PM Eastern on NBC Sports Washington and the Rugby Network.
Head coach Andrew Douglas indicated that the mindset of his men is positive going on the road to Houston. DC earned the bonus try victory against Seattle and is very much in the hunt for the playoffs. “We know we have got to keep winning to stay in this fight. We’re only six points off the lead in our conference. It’s a pretty tight race right now. We need to make sure we take one game at a time.”
Old Glory has its share of bumps and bruises after Sunday, but no serious injuries to report. Coach Douglas indicates that Tevita Naqali’s continues to make progress. Ciaran Hearn’s long road to recovery may be coming to an end and might return in a limited role off the bench. Sam Cusano continues to rehab his shoulder, and Mungo Mason is out for the foreseeable future. Lastly, Josh Brown is getting married this weekend and will not be traveling with the team.
The lineups against the SaberCats should mirror what we saw on the field on Sunday. The forward pack looked good, and Luke Campbell will only get better as he gels with his teammates. As a unit, the pack was productive with 80 tackles, four breakdown steals, 137 attacking ruck arrivals, and won 91% of its own scrums.
The creativity and explosiveness of the backline were on display versus Seattle as the group totaled 44 carries for 376 meters, two line breaks, 20 tackle breaks, and three tries. Danny Tusitala and Robertson drove the squad around the park, Thretton Palamo and Doug Fraser were battering rams, and Mike Dabulas and Dylan Taikato-Simpson were reliable on the back end. Renata Roberts-Te Nana was the game-breaker and catalyst for the team and was electric every time he touched the ball.
For Houston, the SaberCats are in the midst of a four-game slide. During that span, Houston has been outscored 145-112 with the last three games being decided by nine points or less. All four tests have been against teams which Old Glory has either lost or tied (LA, Utah, NOLA, and Toronto). Houston is more than capable of putting up points, as evidenced by scoring 33 on LA and 43 against Utah.
Against Toronto, the Arrows dominated in territory (64%), possession (59%), and attacking time (21 minutes to 14.9). However, the stat report doesn’t tell the whole story, as the Houston defense kept Toronto in check for most of the game.
“[Houston] was a bit unlucky in that when they did get the ball, they would kick away and give possession right back to the Arrows,” Doug Fraser said. “There were a lot of long stanzas of Houston defending and defending well. I think they will be a lot more patient with ball in hand this week as that would have served them really well against the Arrows.”
“[The SaberCats] are an awkward team to play,” Douglas remarked. “They are pretty tough, especially at home and won’t roll over at all. They kind of scrap and keep themselves in the game… A good set-piece and very good scrum and lineout. They are big men with a couple of threats in the backline. The two Fijian boys (Veramu Dikidikilati and Paula Balekana) are pretty dangerous. If they click, they are going to be pretty good.”
Old Glory will also have to contend with the boot of Sam Windsor, who is fourth in the league with 68 total points and direction of Nick Boyer at scrumhalf. Boyer has been a real driving force for Houston since coming over from LA in Week 4.
“It’s going to come down to how good our set-piece is going to be and our defensive structure,” Fraser said on limiting Boyer’s effectiveness. “Danny Tusitala does a good job at playing against and getting in the face of other #9s. But I don’t think we are going to focus on just one player. It’s going to come down to what we can do as a team both offensively and defensively.”
Douglas emphasized that ball security, defense, and the set-piece will be critical to the outcome of the match. Fraser echoed his coach by saying confidence comes with possession and recognizing that “we don’t need to do too much; we just need to trust that everybody sticks to doing their role. When we do that, we can be pretty good defensively. We need to keep building on that.”
“When we hold onto possession, that’s when gaps open up for us. We will tire out defenses and will put more points on the board,” Fraser concluded. “For us, it’s going to be really important in that first 20 minutes to stick to the game plan, not try to score on the first phase, and realize it’s going to be an 80-minute game. We need to be patient, and our opportunities will come.”
As we kick off the second half of the 2021 Major League Rugby season, Old Glory DC invites you to join the best fanbase in the MLR to cheer on the OGs as they take on the Houston SaberCats on Saturday, May 22nd at 8 PM Eastern. The excitement begins at Mattie & Eddies Irish Bar and Restaurant at 6:30 PM with a Clonakilty Distillery Private VIP Tasting Event held in the newly created Old Glory DC Rugby Room. For a $10.00/person registration fee, you will receive an Irish Whiskey Tutorial, Whiskey Tasting, and 3D/VR Distillery Tour. More information here.