MLR Preview – Austin Elite vs Houston SaberCats

MLR Preview – Austin Elite vs Houston SaberCats

The second match on Day One of Major League Rugby Season Two is an all-Texas derby at Dell Diamond, the new home of Austin Elite. Houston played host just two weeks ago where the SaberCats came up just short. In their previous meeting nine months ago Houston took a convincing win at home. Neither qualified for the post-season in 2018.

Both have different complexions to last year. Austin return with just 10 players who took part last season, one of them new captain Ben Mitchell. He joins Canadian international Josh Larsen in the second row, whose brother Travis will line up in the middle of a very large back row trio that employs two lock-sized flankers. One of them is 22-year-old Rikus Zwart who arrives from the Sharks academy in South Africa.

Two Uruguayans start the match with Chilean scrumhalf Marcelo Torrealba on the bench. Andres Vilaseca partners Sione Fangaiuiha in a hard-running midfield and Juan Echeverria is one of two new props alongside French import Simon Courcoul. Another on debut is former NRL winger Peni Tagive, while returning fullback Zinzan Elan-Puttick is named vice-captain.

Austin are absent another Chilean, No8 signing Sebastián Kalm possibly still recovering from a neck injury sustained last season. Doug Fraser and Rodrigo Silva are on Americas Rugby Championship duty while some other notables are waiting for visa clearance. Clermont Academy product Soheyl Jaoudat starts on the bench with former France Universities scrumhalf Mickaël Romera partnering with Timothée Guillimin after arriving at the tail end of last season.

Houston have named a team absent several leading players. Three Uruguayans are with Los Teros for the ARC, and there is no sign of second rows Charlie Hewitt and Victor Comptat. Alex Elkins started the last two preseason games but is not in the match day 23, nor are Fijian aces Josua Vici and Osea Kolinisau.

It’s an all-Irish front row with new recruits Pat O’Toole and Charlie Connolly making their regular season debuts. Other first timers are Australian flanker Luke Beauchamp and Germany international Ayron Schramm at No8. Los Teros terror Santiago Arata starts at scrumhalf. Filling in for Vici and Kolinisau are Joe Kelly and Max Tacket respectively.

The bench features Jack Riley, a returnee who missed the preseason, and new prop recruit Matt Almeida, likely the heaviest player in the league at an intimidating 310lbs (141kg). West Houston center Irving Carcamo is named as a backs reserve as is Dallas Reds veteran Kolly Kolberg.

Looking at the two rosters it’s Austin who arrives closest to full strength and a similar lineup were good enough to defeat a more complete SaberCats side at Constellation Field. That alone makes it near impossible to pick Houston. Adding the home field factor that will see Austin playing at Dell Diamond for the first time and this starts to look more like a comfortable win for the Elite.

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