Old Glory DC will hit the road on Friday night to head to Houston for what will be their final away match of the regular season.
After clinching a playoff spot with an assertive victory over NOLA Gold last time out, one might assume that we no longer have anything to play for, though this is not the case. While we have qualified for the playoffs, it remains to be seen whether we will finish second or third in the Eastern Conference, a distinction which will determine whether Old Glory will enjoy home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As the New York Ironworkers sit just one point behind DC in the Eastern Conference, this remains very much in the balance. Only two of Old Glory’s six wins this season have come on the road, so having the Segra Field crowd at their backs in an elimination game would go a long way.
As crucial as a third away victory of the season may prove to be, it might be hard to come by. Securing a playoff spot so early may prove to be a blessing, as the Houston SaberCats are among the hyper-competitive Western Conference’s fiercest members. They currently sit third in the division with a 9-5 record and 48 points, a couple of levels above Old Glory’s 6-7-1, 38-point record. Despite having a much more impressive set of numbers on their resume, the Texan side are yet to join San Diego and Seattle in qualifying for the playoffs, with the Utah Warriors still in contention and just four points behind. There’s plenty for Houston still to play for, so you can expect the SaberCats to be ready to pounce come Friday evening.
The SaberCat’s recent form is somewhat hot and cold, as the Houstonians shoulder a 3-3 record from their previous six matches, including victories over lesser competition in the Toronto Arrows, Rugby New York, and Chicago Hounds alongside losses against stiffer opposition such as the Utah Warriors, Seattle Seawolves, and San Diego Legion. With their two most recent results coming as victories, expect the SaberCats to come out with all guns blazing on Friday.
Old Glory will come into this match in a relatively comfortable position, though head coach Josh Syms will be posed with a squad selection quandary. Does he rest starters in order to avoid injury ahead of the club’s maiden postseason campaign, or does he go for a stronger line-up in the name of pushing to secure a second-place spot?
Regardless of his choice, there are legions of young players and reserves at the club eager to prove themselves in a time of such opportunity. Among these is recent West Point draftee Koikoi Nelligan, a DC native with a lengthy resume dating back to his days in college ball which includes a try in the 2021 D1 National Championship match. Other rotational players who could be set to return to the starting XV could include full-back Owen Sheehy, who has impressed in his two starts this season, and hooker Facundo Gattas, who regularly features off the bench but is yet to start in 2023.
While Old Glory’s starters are tough to call this week, you can be certain of at least one name on the Houston team sheet: fly-half Davy Coetzer. Standing just 5’7” tall, the diminutive Springbok is one of the most influential players in MLR, racking up an impressive 115 points and 38 successful kicks at the posts so far this season. Both stats are second-best in the league in their respective categories, so fans will want to keep an eye on how Coetzer affects the play on Friday night. Also worth looking out for will be the prolific try scorer Gideon Van Wyck, who has ten tries to his name thus far in 2023.