The LA Giltinis fell 21-11 tonight in chilly Houston when unable to overcome three yellow cards and the physical dominance of the Houston SaberCats.
The Giltinis’ courageous defence had helped hold an 8-3 lead at half-time even though they had already played six minutes with only 13 men.
Defiant and desperate tackling was not enough to force a result in the Giltinis’ first match since their Championship-winning finale to 2021.
The SaberCats commanded 71 per cent of territory and a whopping 63 per cent of possession, in part because the penalty count was a three-to-one landslide against the Giltinis for large chunks of the game.
Giltinis head coach Stephen Hoiles was disappointed the team was unable to cure ill-discipline and counter a direct Sabercats style they had predicted pre-match.
“The penalty count didn’t help us but we’ve got to be better than being defined by that. It was a tough night,” Hoiles said.
“We’re disappointed in ourselves. A lot of penalties were given at the breakdown and maul, we spoke about changing that in the run of the game and ill-discipline still hurt us.
“I was happy with some really good defence on our own tryline for long periods. There were a lot of bodies working there but we weren’t able to get any momentum in attack.”
The Giltinis’ half-time lead hinted they had weathered the worst of it after digging deep when winger Ryan James and hooker Sean McNulty were both in the sin bin at the same time.
Time and again, the Giltinis repelled SaberCats’ surges at the tryline from 5m lineout drives, quick taps and relentless pick-and-go sequences. They forced knock-ons, disrupted lineouts and showed their calm as champions by holding up the SaberCats over the tryline on three occasions in all.
A retreating scrum gave the Giltinis no stability and they were their own worst enemies with a careless pass just after half-time. The ball was intercepted on the blindside and run 55m to the tryline by SaberCats winter Gerhardus Labuschagne.
A second penalty goal from flyhalf Luke Burton gave the Giltinis an 11-8 lead which was held until the 62nd minute when the dam finally burst when down to 14 men again.
Flanker Angus Cottrell was off the field for a yellow card when SaberCats forwards Dean Muir and Willie Britz scored two tries in the space of four minutes for an 18-11 lead.
The penalty avalanche whistled by Argentinian referee Damian Schneider was suffocating. There was still a flicker of hope when scrumhalf Harrison Goddard stabbed an excellent 50-22 kick into the SaberCats quarter in the 72nd minute.
The lineout win was untidy, the ball was turned over shortly after when not protected at the breakdown and a counter-attacking chance was ruined by a knock on when the SaberCats kicked clear. Those blemishes in quick succession were typical of a night which will mean plenty of sharpening work at training over the next week.
The 2021 Major League Rugby champions had started smartly enough for an 8-0 lead.
After an early Burton penalty goal, the Giltinis snapped into a precision attack from the first scrum of the game at the eight-minute mark.
A well-timed Billy Meakes pass sent new centre partner Ben LeSage dashing into a hole. The Canadian Test regular, one of the few Giltinis to impress, fed flanker Christian Poidevin, who secured a bobbling ball before a backhanded pass to support Hanco Germishuys.
No.8 Germishuys (below) ran the final 15m for the first try of the new season.
The SaberCats’ poor first half execution from strong positions in the Giltinis’ quarter gave only temporary relief from the pressure throughout that period.
The Giltinis must regroup quickly before another road trip to face the Toronto Arrows in Toronto on Friday night at 7pm (PST).
HOUSTON SABERCATS 21
Tries: Gerhardus Labuschagne (42 min), Dean Muir (62), Willie Britz (66)
Penalty goals: Kian Meadon (15), David Koetzer (76)
LA GILTINIS 11
Try: Hanco Germishuys (8)
Penalty goals: Luke Burton (4, 26)
Half-time: 8-3 Giltinis
Venue: AVEVA Stadium, Houston