Friday night’s thriller at Torero Stadium was a spectacle to behold. With a raucous crowd ready to throw off the stresses of the work week, the stage was set for a match that would become an instant San Diego Legion classic.
Long before San Diego drove over the try-line in the final seconds, the Houston SaberCats raced off to a quick 10-0 lead, stunning the crowd to silence. The home fans’ spirit returned quickly, as San Diego shored their defensive line and countered quickly. Our team’s breakthrough came thanks to some beautiful plays between centers JP du Plessis (#12) and eventual Knockaround Man-of-the-Match, Anthony Salabar; du Plessis firing through a gap into open space before offloading to Salabar who raced down the field for the try.
Salabar wasn’t close to done yet. Less than five minutes later the outside-center got the better of Houston‘s Zach Pangelinan, breaking into open space once again for his second try scorers of the match. Instead of allowing 14 unanswered points, however, Houston quickly fought back and retook a slim 20-14 lead.
San Diego Legion and Houston stayed close throughout the rest of the first half, but it was Salabar once again who stepped in to raise San Diego’s hopes. A streaking run from San Diego winger Ryan Matyas eventually opened space for Salabar who crossed over the try-line for his first hat-trick of the season.
The two teams entered into halftime with San Diego winning 21-20.
The second half was a much tighter affair than the first. Houston and San Diego went back-and-forth many times into each other‘s half with little regard for defensive structure. San Diego‘s fourth try of the match, scored on a rumbling drive by hooker Pat Blair (#2), was immediately countered by a strong SaberCats retaliation. Houston’s persistence from the kicking tee silenced the boisterous San Diego crowd late into the match as Houston took a 32-28 lead with 5 minutes to go. But the San Diego Legion were unrelenting. Over five minutes of persistent attacking on the Houston try-line wore down the steadfast SaberCats defense, opening the smallest of gaps for replacement forward Anthony Purpura to wriggle into. His initial drive was boosted by four extra forwards who pushed Purpura over the line in an unstoppable San Diego driving maul. The referees affirmation sealed the nail-biting comeback victory as the home team crowd erupted into celebration.
The victory puts San Diego Legion in second place in the Major League Rugby standings with 10 points from their three matches (four points for each win, one point for each four-try bonus point). Center, Anthony Salabar, earned his second consecutive man-of-the-match in the victory, leading the charge to keep San Diego Legion perfect at home.
San Diego Legion will make their second road trip of the season this weekend as they head to Glendale, Colorado to take on league-leading Glendale Raptors. The match kicks off at 5 PM PT and can be seen on Channel 4 San Diego, ESPN+, and on the Major League Rugby Facebook page.