Giltinis Remain Undefeated Following SaberCats Scare

1 year ago

The pace-setting LA Giltinis won a thriller in Houston on Saturday with a 48-35 victory that included a staggering eight lead changes.

The 4-0 Giltinis remain Major League Rugby’s only unbeaten team after eight tries and composed plays at the biggest moments doused the spirited Houston SaberCats (2-3).

Those four wins and 29 tries confirm the Giltinis as MLR’s biggest entertainers at a significant moment in the new club’s history.

It’s magnetic rugby to draw the strongest possible home crowd next Saturday when fans are allowed back into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the SoCal rivalry match against San Diego Legion (6pm PT).

No opponent had got within 15 points of the Giltinis in their previous three wins but the SaberCats threatened the biggest upset of the season when they led 35-34 at the 51-minute mark.

It was a huge show of resilience by the Giltinis to find a killer finish.

“The biggest positive for us was showing such good composure at 35-34. The SaberCats had the momentum, we were under pressure and it was the first time this season the scoreboard said we could lose this,” Giltinis head coach Darren Coleman said.

“The SaberCats stayed in the fight all the way.

“For us, Mahe Vailanu was immense in all parts of his game whether it was the physical stuff or good touches with the ball.

“Charlie Abel scrummed his butt off at prop, everything Adam (Ashley-Cooper) and DTH (van der Merwe) did was quality and ‘Moose’ (Nathan Den Hoedt) was very good with his lineout and kick-off catches.”

The clinical class and rugby smarts of Wallabies greats Matt Giteau and Ashley-Cooper set up the game-breaking play.

Replacement flyhalf Giteau banged a strong kick downfield with the blustery Texas wind behind him. Ashley-Cooper chased and forced a penalty when a SaberCats players failed to release the ball under his pressure.

Giteau’s penalty kick to touch created a 5m lineout and the platform for the driving maul off the lineout that sent standout hooker Vailanu spearing towards the tryline.

That 41-35 jump was turned into 48-35 when back-up hooker Lindsey Stephens and his ballooning mullet were driven over in the final minutes.

Giteau carried a tweaked lower back through the final 20 minutes so both late conversions were knocked over the crossbar by back-up goalkicker Luke Burton.

The Giltinis had strong performers aplenty. Ashley-Cooper and winger DTH van der Merwe played with skill on key plays while fullback Glenn Bryce was again all authority at the back.

Scrumhalf Harrison Goddard picked up another two tries, kicked shrewdly and got the best of the high-paced Giltinis’ attacks flowing.

No.8 Pago Haini carried strongly off the back of two scrums in his time before a quadriceps injured hobbled him. Busy flanker Christian Poidevin was a constant support runner in attack on top of his tackling prowess.

Vailanu’s thumping tackles, explosive runs and soft hands when passing were a classy package to go with his strengths at the set piece.

The first half was riveting with six lead changes as the hustling SaberCats led at 7-5, 15-12 and 18-17 for their Houston fans.

The Giltinis got their trademark fast start in the third minute when Goddard crossed for a try.

The initial, long bounce pass from Carty was untidy but fullback Bryce turned it into gold with a jink and an off-load. Winger Ryan James went outside his man but cleverly unloaded inside with his free right arm. Top handling from Ashley-Cooper, with a nifty behind the head off-load, and Poidevin turned it into a try for Goddard.

The wind was to the SaberCats’ advantage in the first half and it forced distinct tactics from the Giltinis.

Contestable kicks were put into the sky, including the re-start after Houston had grabbed an 18-17 lead at the 30-minute mark.

Savvy centre Ashley-Cooper retrieved the kick-off with typical hustle. Strong runs from winger van der Merwe and front-row trio Blake Rogers, Abel and Vailanu got the Giltinis onto the front foot in the SaberCats’ quarter.

Ashley-Cooper took the ball up one more time. His quick lay-back may have been to turf but Goddard swooped on it and turned it into his second try.

Late in the first half, standout Vailanu put on a huge dominant tackle to hold up a SaberCats runner. The ball spat out the side of the maul and flanker Angus Cottrell gleeful made the turnover count for a try and the 29-21 half-time lead.

Burton showed classy touches at inside centre. His cross-kick to the wing for van der Merve’s early try was sharp thinking on the run when he spotted the SaberCats winger out of position. Just as valuable was Burton dashed back 50m in defence to shutdown a Sabercats’ breakout that might have increased their 35-34 lead.

Starting flyhalf Carty (two-from-five) had difficulty with his goalkicking accuracy in the crosswind but enjoyed his 40 minutes as a starter for the first time.

SaberCats halfback Nick Boyer, released by the Giltinis earlier this month, was a constant thorn.

His blindside run off a scrum set up the SaberCats’ first try and he sliced over himself from the ruckbase for the 35-34 edge.


Tries: Harrison Goddard 2, Mahe Vailanu 2, Nathan Den Hoedt, DTH van der Merwe, Angus Cottrell, Lindsey Stephens

Conversions: Luke Carty 2, Luke Burton 2

Penalty goals: 0



Tries: Robbie Povey 2, Taylor Howden, Nick Boyer

Conversions: Sam Windsor 3

Penalty goals: Sam Windsor 3

Venue: AVEVA Stadium, Houston

Half-time: 29-21 Giltinis

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