The third-best Raptors match of all time was one of the most exciting games in Major League Rugby history and took place during a crucial part of the 2019 season.
With both the Raptors and the Houston SaberCats looking to gain some ground in the table as the playoffs neared, the two teams squared off in what turned out to be an instant classic at Infinity Park in April 2019.
Just a week earlier, the Raptors used a last-second penalty goal by Robbie Petzer to hand the NOLA Gold a 34-33 loss at the buzzer. But as the first half would indicate, the momentum from the big win over the first-place Gold did not carry over into the match against the SaberCats.
The Raptors struggled in just about every phase of the match early on, but especially in the scrums. The SaberCats’ forward pack punished the Raptors early on and Houston ended up pocketing two penalty tries in the sixth minute and 13th minute as a result. Houston carried their comfortable 14-0 lead into the 20-minute hydration break.
The second 20-minute stanza wasn’t much better for the Raptors. Houston kept their foot on the gas and the points kept piling up. The SaberCats scoring barrage continued with two penalty goals from fly-half Sam Windsor in the 23rd and 28th minute of the match to give Houston a 20-0 lead. Houston then used tries from Malacchi Esdale and Kelly Kolberg to push their lead to 32 points in the 33rd minute of the match.
With just minutes remaining in the first half, the Raptors finally showed a sign of life. After Chad Gough broke the line, he found wing John Ryberg rumbling down the sideline with a full head of steam. Ryberg rumbled his way in for the Raptors first try of the match.
It may have taken almost 36 minutes for the Raptors to score their first try of the match, but it took less than five minutes to score their second. It was Ryberg again who plowed over a few SaberCats to close the gap before the half. After fly-half Will Magie’s two conversions, the Raptors went into the half trailing 32-14.
Riding the momentum of Ryberg’s back-to-back tries, the Raptors came back with a vengeance in the second half. They kicked their comeback efforts into high gear with a try by Peter Dahl and another from Robbie Petzer in short succession. Magie nailed both conversions to help the Raptors move that much closer to closing the gap.
Clinging to a 32-28 lead, the SaberCats got a little more breathing room when Deion Mikesell joked out a few people on his way to the SaberCats fifth try of the match. Windsor was not able to hit the conversion, but the SaberCats extended their lead to nine points.
The Raptors answered back with a Magie penalty goal just a few minutes later, but the Raptors trailed 37-31 heading into the 60-minute hydration break.
It took every bit of 67 minutes of game time, but the Raptors the Raptors finally took their first lead of the match when Malon Al-Jiboori scored a try off a lineout. Magie’s conversion put the Raptors up 38-37 heading into the final 10-minute frame, but the scoring was far from over.
Trailing for the first time in the match, Windsor got creative with the ball in his hands. He chipped the ball over the Raptors defense and was the beneficiary of a fortunate bounce that saw the ball land in his hands some 40 meters closer to the in-goal than when he started his line. Windsor’s try and conversion gave the SaberCats a 44-38 lead with 10 minutes to play.
The player that helped put a cap on the Raptors comeback was the same one that got the efforts started late in the first half. It was Ryberg who punched in his third try of the day and Petzer who nailed the conversion to help the Raptors retake the lead with just under five minutes to play.
To put the game on ice, Ata Malifa found wing Harley Davidson out wide for the Raptors seventh try of the match. Petzer hit the conversion to seal the deal, and the Raptors walked away with a 52-44 victory over the SaberCats.
Tries: John Ryberg (3), Peter Dahl, Robbie Petzer, Malon Al-Jiboori, Harley Davidson
Conversions: Will Magie (5/5), Robbie Petzer (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Will Magie (1/1)
Tries: Penalty Try (2), Malacchi Esdale, Kelly Kolberg, Deion Mikesell, Sam Windsor
Conversions: Sam Windsor (2/4)
Penalty Goals: Sam Windsor (2/2)
Check out the rest of the list!
6. Gold Rush