It was not the most beautiful game of rugby ever played, but Old Glory was able to pull away from the Houston Sabercats on the road for a 22-13 win. This was accomplished by some excellent kicking from Jason Robertson and backed up by an aggressive defense.
The opening of the match saw Houston come out strong, but the first points went to Old Glory when Jason Robertson converted a short penalty. The Sabercats answered with a try under the posts just minutes later, putting them up by four.
The rest of the half was dominated by errors, with both sides making progress before losing it with a penalty or knock-on. Robertson converted one of those penalties to points, to make it a one point game, before a maul from ten meters out gave DC a try and a 13-7 lead. Houston chipped away at the score with a couple more penalties to tie up the game, 13 apiece.
DC almost scored another try on a lineout maul with time expired in the half, but an obstruction call removed the score. Instead, the teams headed into halftime tied.
The tie was quickly broken by another penalty and three points for Old Glory, before the game settled into a long scoreless stretch. The Sabercats drove up to the try line, only to foiled by another turnover. Renata Roberts-Te Nana was sent off with a yellow card after tensions started to flair.
Old Glory responded to being a man down by maintaining pressure and getting another penalty to increase the lead to 19-13. Their defense continued to frustrate any Houston attempts to build momentum, although Robertson missed his fifth kick for points.
The Sabercats made a last push for the goal but couldn’t make a lasting dent in the Old Glory line. Finally, after several infringements, Houston’s Diego Magno was shown a yellow card and Robertson nailed the kick to pull DC away to a 22-13 lead with little time remaining. Old Glory recovered the ensuing kickoff and the game ended there.
Final score: Old Glory 22-13 Sabercats
1. Don’t underestimate a determined defense
In many ways, the Old Glory defense didn’t look particularly brilliant. It certainly wasn’t the suffocating stranglehold that Toronto displayed against the Sabercats the week before. However, they successfully denied Houston a single point in the last fifty minutes of the game.
What made the Old Glory defense so good was effort. This was a team that, even as the minutes wore on, was willing to do what it had to do. Every defensive play, the team was willing to get in position and hit hard. That makes a difference, because it makes everything just that much harder for the attacking team. It makes teams earn every point they put on the board.
This defense is what held the Seawolves to just a single try. It’s what prevented Houston from scoring for fifty minutes. It’s what denied ATL for almost seventy minutes in the preseason. However, it isn’t without its flaws.
Because Old Glory defense relies so much on effort, when they become demoralized things can slip quickly. Against NOLA, going into halftime down 22-8 and unable to gain any foothold with their inferior scrum, the demoralized Old Glory team let in three more tries before the second half water break. Summoning 100% effort for a game that feels lost is hard. However, those conditions aren’t likely to be replicated by anyone except San Diego and Toronto.
2. DC took a page from Seattle’s book
The Seawolves scored a single try to OGDC’s four, but they only trailed by six at the end of the game because of five converted penalties. They made DC pay for every penalty in their half by racking up 15 points on the boot of Brock Staller.
Learning from that experience, Old Glory took every opportunity for points that was given to them, leading to 15 points on penalties. They weren’t about to pass up the points after what they’d seen from Seattle. Whether this becomes a long term strategy for them remains to be seen.
3. What are the limits to the Old Glory attack?
I’ve described the Old Glory attack as “explosive” in the past. Opportunistic might be a better word. The team had some brilliant moments, particularly in the backs, but they struggled to find the consistency to convert that brilliance into points. We saw frequently that Old Glory can score if they don’t take too long to do it, because once the phases keep going the newness of the team causes inevitable mistakes.
DC has done really well to maximize its strengths in attack, mostly relying on the individual skill of its players. They run hard and straight and have shown an impressive ability to exploit gaps. However, this papers over the fundamental weakness of their attack, which is simply the errors that result from a lack of cohesion. DC has proven that this attack can work, and it should serve them well against the next few teams on their schedule. But when they play San Diego in a month’s time, it may not be enough.
4. The Houston Sabercats have the fight to make it to the playoffs
If there is one thing the Sabercats have shown throughout these first three games, it’s a tenacity, a desire to win. It takes character and grit to come back from a 19-point deficit to get literally inches from a victory. It takes character to bounce back from that lose and have a good showing of yourself the next week. Against Toronto and Old Glory, that character wasn’t quite enough.
But to make the playoffs, Houston just needs to finish above Utah, Colorado, and Austin. Utah has looked strong, but Houston has the potential to make the top three in the west. If they can get their guys in space and clean up the mistakes, they could be a formidable side. At very least, they have the culture to make that happen.