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Rugby’s back! The Houston SaberCats have started their 2020 season at Aveva Stadium. Here’s the team’s schedule and roster

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Houston, TX (KTRK) — The Houston SaberCats 2020 season is here!

The Houston SaberCats are an American professional rugby team, founded in 2017. The SaberCats are one of seven original teams of Major League Rugby (MLR). The MLR has expanded to nine teams in 2019 and will expand again in 2020 to 12 teams – or more. Since playing their first game in 2018, the Houston SaberCats have made their mark as one of Houston’s top sports teams.

In 2019, the Houston City Council approved the construction of a $3.2 million rugby stadium – Aveva Stadium. The SaberCats are excited to have played their first game at their new stadium on January 25 against their biggest rival, Nola Gold.

After the approval of Aveva Stadium, the SaberCats named JT Onyett as President of the organization in June 2019. When appointed he commented, “I look forward to building on what the great SaberCats staff and players have already started as we look toward the future. Sport is about bringing people together and AVEVA Stadium will be a community stage year-round. We will work hard to not only make SaberCats matches exciting events but also fully utilize AVEVA stadium 365 days a year to bring more sports and entertainment to Houston.”

The SaberCats will play 17 games this season, competing again teams from all around the world including Seattle Seawolves, Utha Warriors, Colorado Raptors and Toronto Arrows.

Want to go to a game? Here’s the Houston SaberCats schedule. The Houston SaberCats encourage Houstonians to learn more about rugby and to check out one of their 2020 games.



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Six Nations, MLR, & Life U Bouncing Back: 10 Monday Notes

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France established itself as one of the world’s best, the MLR proved once again that 2020 is anyone’s year, and the Life Running Eagles restored order at the top of D1A rugby. 

All this and more as we look at 10 notes from the weekend:

1. France’s Time Is Now

When new France head coach Fabien Galthie took over the job after this past World Cup, hopes were that by 2023 he’d be able to foster all of the team’s young talent into a viable World Cup contender. 

Few people expected it of France to instantly become one of the best three or four teams in the world, and there was a to be a grace period to allow the squad, whose oldest player is just 28, to develop over time. 

But the French have thrown experience out the window with the start of Galthie’s tenure. Les Bleus are well on their way to a Six Nations Grand Slam, particularly after their barnstorming 27-23 win in Cardiff over Wales on Saturday. 

France may still be the team of the future but, as it stands, they’re also the team of the now. 

2. England Bullies Ireland. Again. 

In what’s starting to become a trend, England just tee’d off on the Irish in their encounter this past weekend. Following Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning, St. Patrick’s day victory over the Poms in 2018, England has dropped the hammer on the Irish three consecutive meetings. 

Sunday’s matchup was a dominant display from England, who won the game 24-12 in front of a packed Twickenham crowd. The Irish seemed short on ideas, and time and time again looked like crash dummies for the English defenders to smash into into with massive double tackles. 

Ireland never really looked in the game, and they’ll have to step their game up massively if they plan to win in Paris in the final weekend to preserve their title hopes. 

England needs to win against Wales in their next match to stay alive for the title, but if they can do so it’ll put massive pressure on France to win out the rest of the way. 

3. Is It Time For Italy To Be Dropped?

It feels like a broken record, but for how long will the conversation persist before Italy is actually dropped from the Six Nations?

The Italians haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015, bringing their losing streak to 25 games. Against 0-2 Scotland on Saturday, they couldn’t even muster a single point at home in the 17-0 defeat. 

At this point, it feels like keeping Italy in the Six Nations is a waste of time, and there are certainly other viable candidates to replace them should they drop. Japan, for instance, could be in the market for an annual Tier-1 competition, and there have been rumors that South Africa could one day make a bid to join the competition. 

4. This 2020 MLR Race Is Wide Open

Through three weeks, the latest edition of the MLR season is already proving greater balance and parity across the league, something everyone can appreciate. 

So many teams look like they could be viable playoff contenders, and at long last it appears there isn’t any team that will just get trampled over. Only two unbeaten teams remain, Toronto and San Diego, and those two teams haven’t necessarily blown the competition away each game. 

It’s very promising for the development of the league, and makes each week far more exciting, given that there are no easy games this season. As ever, new faces will pop up as the campaign moves forward through the year, so the next 13 rounds of action are sure to bring many more twists and turns before this all shakes out. 

5. Legion, Arrows Leading The Pack

With so much balance across the league so far, it’s impressive how the San Diego Legion and Toronto Arrows have moved through the first three rounds unbeaten. 

The Legion are likely the deepest team in the competition at the moment, featuring a number of great players all across the board. They were pushed a bit by New England on Sunday, but their class showed through en route to a 30-21 win. 

The Arrows, meanwhile, won their third consecutive road game on Saturday night when they handled the Seattle Seawolves 39-17. Toronto is such a well-balanced squad, and have zero obvious deficiencies. Beating them will take a disciplined, accurate performance, which was almost pulled off by Houston a week ago. 

San Diego faces a tough test this week when it visits New Orleans, while Toronto heads down to Atlanta to try and reach 4-0 on the year. 

6. The Beast, Old Glory Looking Strong

It’s now two wins in a row for Old Glory DC, following its strong 22-13 victory in Houston on Saturday. 

After a rough start to the year in New Orleans, the men from DC added the legendary Tendai Mtawarira to the front row, and it seems to have sparked something inside the rest of the squad. Considering this is just the team’s first year together, it’s likely they’ll only get exponentially better throughout the season. 

Old Glory will travel to San Antonio, TX to take on the Austin Gilgronis this week, and the Sabercats welcome RUNY to Houston. 

7. Heartbreak, But The Losing Streak Is Over

The Austin Gilgronis snapped the franchise’s 20-game losing streak when they faced the Utah Warriors on Saturday night, but the result wasn’t nearly as sweet as it could have been. 

The AG’s seemed to have the game locked up, until a pair of late penalties gave the Warriors one final chance to tie the game up. Leading 20-13 in the 81st minute, the Gilgronis had Utah on the ropes and pinned back inside its own half. Making little ground, it was only a matter of time before the Warriors would make a mistake and see Austin win its first game in two years. 

Unfortunately, Austin got impatient and went for a poach and were penalized. Furthermore, the ref tacked on an extra 10 meters to the penalty for an AG’s player throwing the ball down in frustration. Given an extra lifeline, Utah fly-half Hagen Schulte delivered an incredible 45 meter kick for touch right down the the Austin 5-meter line. 

The Warriors then rolled in a maul and converted the kick to tie the game. It was a bittersweet ending for the Gilgronis, who ended the longest losing skid in league history, but will be frustrated with their inability to close the game out. However, signs are really pointing towards a massive 2020 turnaround for Austin. 

Austin hosts Old Glory DC in San Antonio this week, while Utah travels to Colorado to play the Raptors. 

8. RUNY Finding Its Footing

Rugby United New York has bounced back well after a poor opening outing against the Freejacks. They followed up last week’s 49-31 win over Austin with a gritty 22-19 road victory against Rugby ATL. 

Tipped as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference for 2020, RUNY flashed that potential on Sunday afternoon, turning in a big defensive performance and taking opportunities when they were presented. 

Atlanta suffered its first ever MLR defeat, but ought not to be too concerned just yet. They played a good game, and on another day could well have pulled off the victory. As the attack structure for Atlanta comes more into shape as the year moves on, Rugby ATL will be continue to be a dark horse in the playoff race. 

RUNY will play Houston down in Texas this week, and Atlanta will take on Toronto at home. 

9. NOLA Holds On, Bounces Back

The Gold traveled up to chilly Glendale, CO to face the winless Raptors, and found themselves in an extremely tight ball game. 

It came down to the final whistle, but a forward pass from Colorado at the death ruled off a potential match-tying try, preserving the 27-20 win for NOLA. 

The Gold have a massive fixture coming up this week when San Diego comes to the Shrine on Airline, while the Raptors try and get in the win column against the Utah Warriors. 

10. Life Shows Grit, Bounces Back vs Lindenwood

After suffering their first loss since 2017 a week ago, the Life Running Eagles had their backs against the walls. They welcomed the #2 ranked Lindenwood Lions to town in a rivalry match between two of the perennial juggernauts of college rugby. 

Watch the replay right here on FloRugby!

Falling behind 14-3 in the first half, it looked like Life may be on its way to a second consecutive loss, but the boys dug in and found a way to comeback and win 29-22 with an epic goal line stand to end it. 

Life harkened back to the Running Eagle teams of old on Saturday, bringing an aggression and attitude that would not be stopped. The Lions played some fantastic rugby themselves, but couldn’t quite get over the hump and defeat Life for the first time in the program’s history. 

Both teams figure to be right in the thick of the D1A playoff run, and this won’t be the last time they square off in 2020. 



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Six Nations Round 3: What Did We Learn?

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France outplayed Wales in a thriller to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive, while England beat Ireland after a dominant first-half display, and Scotland blanked winless Italy in Rome.

Here’s what we learned from the three matches of the third round of the 2020 Six Nations:

England 24-12 Ireland 

England came out bristling with intent at Twickenham, producing their best rugby since the Rugby World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand as they raced out to an impressive 17-0 half-time lead.

There could be only one winner in the battle of the Farrells, England skipper Owen and Ireland coach Andy, and England’s dominant defense ensured Owen got the better of his father.

The result, however, leaves both England and Ireland still in the hunt for the championship title, with the latter next hosting Italy before a showdown with France. England face a potentially trickier return to Twickenham against Wales in round four before finishing off away to Italy.

“England were fighting to stay in the championship and that’s what we need to be doing in the next two games,” Andy Farrell said.

Owen Farrell hailed his side’s victory as “another opportunity”. 

“We’ll enjoy this win first, it’s a big win for us and brilliant to be back at home. We’ll celebrate that and then get on to the next opportunity.”

Italy 0-17 Scotland 

It had been touted as a potential wooden spoon decider, but the Scots made no mistake and, ugly as it may have been, will have left Rome content with a 17-point win.

Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg redeemed himself after personal errors cost his team in two opening losses to both Ireland and England.

The full-back showed all his pace to score a stunning solo try for the Scots, still missing snubbed playmaker Finn Russell.

“He marked his captaincy with a win and also with a great try,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said of Hogg.

“He’s been full of positive energy and shown good leadership through a tough time losing games and other distractions.”

It was a 25th consecutive championship defeat going back to 2015 for Italy, who, with games away at Ireland and home to England, are set to take the wooden spoon for the 15th time.

Scotland host France at Murrayfield before traveling to Wales for their final game.

Wales 23-27 France 

France edged Wales in a nail-biting encounter in Cardiff that saw French fly-half Romain Ntamack produce a superb show alongside half-back partner Antoine Dupont. 

Ntamack score a vital intercept try and also booted 12 points as France remained unbeaten after previous wins over England (24-17) and Italy (35-22).

“We knew we could maintain the intensity,” France coach Fabien Galthie said of his youthful team, boasting just 234 caps to Wales’ Six Nations record of 859.

Talk of a Grand Slam was not immediate, however, with Galthie adding: “We just want to enjoy the moment.

“The players are so exhausted, they gave everything. We’re progressing step by step and in Cardiff we took another step.”

France, boosted in defense by ex-Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards, next travel to Scotland before rounding off their campaign at home against Ireland.

For Wales, it was a second loss on the bounce for coach Wayne Pivac after a 24-14 defeat away by Ireland following a 42-0 drubbing of Italy in their opener.

Pivac was left ruing what he said were dubious referring decisions, including one deliberate knock-on by Paul Willemse that went unpunished and notably at the final scrum when fresh French replacement Demba Bamba, somewhat surprisingly, won a penalty at the first scrum after the sin binning of tighthead Mohamed Haouas under Welsh pressure.

The Welsh, who started the campaign as reigning Grand Slam winners, now face a tough trip to England and finish up against Scotland.

by Luke PHILLIPS

© Agence France-Presse



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Las Vegas Brings Competition, Rain and Disagreeing Analysts

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Las Vegas Motor Speedway brought a fair amount of clarity regarding Ryan Newman’s crash in Daytona 500 and the aftermath. If the transcript of Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark’s press conference is to be believed, Newman’s family was joking in the hospital about him “having no neck” and referring to him as thick last week. Note that the official transcript did not use the alternate spelling, “thicc,” that seems to be getting a lot of use these days.

Much like Daytona, Las Vegas was plagued by rain. Crikey. If this continues, it’s going to be a tough season.

Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

Pre-race coverage Sunday dealt with overrunning issues, which is somewhat unusual for FOX Sports. NASCAR RaceDay started on FOX Sports 2 because of the Penn State-Indiana basketball game running long. The move to FOX at 3:00 p.m. was delayed because of PBA Bowling running long. That is not a misprint. That happened.

Naturally, the coverage began with a recap of the whole Newman scenario over the previous six days. We had thoughts about the whole experience from Larry McReynolds, who admitted to being very concerned last Monday.

Sunday’s race will probably go down as one of the more interesting races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in recent years. There was a good amount of action for position, especially around the restarts. Those were ridiculous. It’s actually rather shocking that there weren’t more wrecks Sunday.

Aside from the 55-lap stretch that Kevin Harvick led early on, no one led for more than 28 laps at a time for the entire race. No one really got away, either. There was always someone close by. My guess is that a race like Sunday is what NASCAR wants to see every week with this rules package, but it’s been fleeting over the past year.

Since there was a lot of action toward the front of the field, a lot of the coverage was contained there. As a result, it was a little difficult to see things going on further back. A number of drivers had to start in the rear, most notably Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. In Hamlin’s case, he spent the entire day trying to get somewhere near contention and never got there. Busch was able to get to 10th before dropping back to a 15th-place finish after having contact with John Hunter Nemechek to bring out the yellow that ended the race.

An interesting moment Sunday occurred after the end of stage two. Martin Truex Jr. won the race off pit road and looked like he was in good position. However, while Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon were talking to Truex on the radio, the news came through (via James Small cutting into the interview) that he had loose lug nuts. That’s an interesting and unexpected moment that FOX was able to catch.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race ended behind schedule. Viewers got a few interviews before FOX left Las Vegas.

Overall, this was an OK race to watch. I would have preferred a little more inclusivity on the broadcast. Also, there were some issues on the final restart. The booth incorrectly noted that the final caution flew before Joey Logano got the white flag. I thought it came afterwards in real time. As we know, it did come after the white, ending the race.

Viewers at home might have been a little confused watching this because Joy and Gordon accidentally made viewers believe that there was going to be another restart. Had that happened, it would have been just as interesting as the first one, especially since drivers such as Jimmie Johnson had moved up after stopping.

The Joy-Gordon pairing appears to be coming along a bit. Sunday’s broadcast was not as quiet as the Daytona broadcasts were, but the end of the race shows that they’re still getting used to being by themselves in the booth and getting into that proper groove. With some luck, this two-man pairing will work out.

Boyd Gaming 300

Xfinity Series teams had to deal with a 25-hour delay due to rain. When the rain wasn’t falling, you had an interesting race to watch.

For me, the most notable moment of the race was when Myatt Snider spun out with 39 laps to go in the tri-oval. Fairly innocuous spin, to be honest. But, there’s some extra stuff at play here.

Basically, for lack of better words, Snider was dumped in the tri-oval by Noah Gragson. In addition, Gragson had one of FOX Sports’ helmet cams for the race. That means that viewers got a replay from the driver’s seat of the incident that made it look like Gragson turned to the right. Gragson was also wearing white driving gloves, so it looked a little like that from the outside as well.

The situation resulted in a significant difference of opinion between the two analysts in the broadcast booth. First, you have Michael Waltrip. He seemed to not want to take sides here, stating that it was “tough to tell.” On the other hand, you have Austin Dillon, the guest of the weekend. He came out right out and said, “it looked like he turned right into him and put him in the grass.”

Here’s the situation: Technically, both analysts are somewhat compromised here. In Dillon’s case, Snider is a teammate at Richard Childress Racing. It could be assumed that Dillon was going to back his colleague up. At the same time, Waltrip had been talking up Gragson for a good chunk of the weekend prior to the crash. FOX Sports 1 had aired multiple pieces about Gragson over the weekend since he grew up in Las Vegas.

Waltrip continued to try to defend Gragson even though the footage seemed to show Gragson directly turning into Snider’s left rear with what seemed to be next to no wheelspin. Eventually, Dillon was able to convince Waltrip that what he saw was what happened.

For what it’s worth, the two drivers did talk this out after the race on pit road. I don’t think Snider got any closure from that, for as FOX’s Bob Pockrass noted, the two didn’t end with a handshake:

Gragson stated in a bullpen interview that the air pushed him into Snider. Plausible, but it seemed like such a sudden move from the No. 9.

Guest analysts aside, the goal of being an analyst is to provide an objective accounting of what is happening (in this case, on the track) and why it is happening. Personal feelings really shouldn’t come into the equation.

The postponement ultimately pushed the majority of the Xfinity race onto FOX Sports 2 (FOX Sports 1 had an XFL game during the time the race was on). For me, that means that I couldn’t watch the race in HD, as Spectrum only has an SD feed for FOX Sports 2. Weak. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s rather surprising for 2020 that I can’t get the channel in HD. Also, FOX Sports 2 doesn’t have anywhere near the reach that FOX Sports 1 does. That said, even with the cord-cutting that you hear about these days, the channel’s reach is still better than it was at launch in 2013 since it is now carried by Comcast’s Xfinity service. You know, the dudes that have the naming rights to the series.

Of course, the move to FOX Sports 2 didn’t come without issues. Originally, FOX Sports 2 was scheduled to air a live Major League Rugby match live in that time slot. The coverage was billed as starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. That time came and went with no change. An update on the bottom of the screen updated that time to 7:50 p.m., then the network went past that. I can understand some viewers getting a wee bit surly about that. At least we didn’t miss anything.

The rain delays themselves didn’t really have that much content from the track. For instance, it rained during the pace laps on Sunday, resulting in a delay of 45 minutes. FOX Sports 1 did five interviews, one of which being with Gragson while he was being dripped on inside of his car, before leaving for a repeat of NASCAR Presents: Neil Bonnett, The Winner (Note: I believe that was originally part of the Beyond the Wheel series). By the time that ended, the track was almost dry and it was time to go once again.

The second delay literally had two interviews before FOX Sports 1 cut to This Racing Life: McKenna Haase. Admittedly, this was a pretty good show whose debut more or less got nixed because of the rain delays (sensing a pattern, here?) on the night of the Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona. Upon the conclusion of the Haase special, which I should write about at some point for The Critic’s Annex, FOX Sports 1 left Las Vegas for other programming. Adam Alexander stated that if the race resumed, it would be on FOX Sports 2. It was nearly three hours before NASCAR called the race for the night.

Post-race coverage was fairly quick. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg) before FOX Sports 2 left Las Vegas to get back to … the same rugby game they left to go to Las Vegas in the first place. On my on-screen guide, the race was supposed to run until 10:00 p.m. ET (of note, the broadcast was also supposed to start at 7:30). If that was supposed to be the case, then FOX Sports 2 left Las Vegas 15 minutes early.

Overall, this was a decent race to watch. With a lot of the bigger names from recent years having moved to Cup, FOX Sports is in a position where they have to promote some of the newer drivers in the series quite a bit more than they have in the past. That can lead to some annoying things, like the focus on Kim Burton (Harrison Burton’s mother) in Daytona. Yes, Kim is really into Harrison’s racing. She’s no different today than she was 30 years ago. On the other hand, it can also lead to increased focus on drivers such as Sieg and Brandon Brown. If anything, the increased focus can only benefit the smaller teams in the series.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will travel to Auto Club Speedway for 700 miles of racing. Should be interesting. Meanwhile, Monster Energy AMA Supercross will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. TV Listings can be found in the Television tab.

We will have a critique of the Cup and Xfinity Series races from Fontana in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll cover Friday night’s Strat 200, also known as the race which brought forth a bounty.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below.  Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.



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