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Zach Pangelinan - Original SaberCat

June 2, 2022 - Major League Rugby (MLR) - Houston SaberCats News Release


On Friday night when Robbie Povey stepped up to take a penalty with the clock in the red against the Seattle Seawolves, history was on the line.

An original Major League Rugby team, through kicking those three points, he could send the Houston SaberCats to the playoffs for the first time.

Just minutes before, Zach Pangelinan had scored the bonus point try that put he and his teammates within touching distance of the two-time MLR champions thanks to the conversion.

It was following multiple offsides by the Seawolves and with AJ Alatimu having been shown a yellow card as a result of that culmination of those penalties, all associated with the SaberCats knowing what Povey's kick meant.

A losing bonus point was all the side needed to shut the door on the San Diego Legion, whose regular season would come to a conclusion the following day.

Pangelinan stood on his own, not looking as his teammate lined up the penalty, it's meaning to him quite possibly far outstripping that of any of his teammates.

As the only remaining player from the SaberCats' 2018 season, the emotion was plain for all to see on the 33-year-old's face as he knew for the first time he would be reaching the postseason.

"Robbie had ice in his veins when that moment came," Pangelinan said. "I knew Robbie had it in the bag. I wasn't nervous at all. I was just waiting to pick my head up and to celebrate by myself, because it is history for us, and I am a part of it. The feeling is unreal."

Since moving to Texas in 2018, Pangelinan has been a constant for the side on the road to making the playoffs this season.

In the inaugural season, the SaberCats finished at the foot of the seven-team league, in 2019 concluded their season with a 6-10 league, lost four of the five games played in 2020 and in 2021 had the lowest points total of all 12 MLR teams.

Between those efforts of last year and the 2022 season, there was immense change at the AVEVA Stadium. This included the arrival of Heyneke Meyer as Director of Rugby, the former South Africa head coach bringing with him a clear ideology for his first season in charge.

"The number one thing is culture," Pangelinan said. "At the beginning of the season, we had a team meeting to intro the season and set our goals.

"Heyneke being Heyneke, and a man of his experience, he said 'if the culture isn't right, this team won't go far'. The culture was a big thing for me that hit home.

"I have always believed that if you can good things happening and you can enjoy each other's company outside of the field, I think it definitely translates.

"If we are on the same page, I believe when we do train and we do play, it has a big effect. I think just getting our culture right and getting that winning culture around the guys and around the environment, is probably one of the biggest things.

"The culture here is strong, and it is a winning culture."

The formation of this culture started before the squad even got together in Houston, various online meetings spent with a 'buddy' and getting to know them a valuable part of the process that has made the SaberCats a winning side.

As a result, Pangelinan is confident in calling all of his teammates a friend. This bonding was needed also, with Meyer creating an almost entirely new squad, including an array of talent from South Africa, as well as USA internationals acquired from MLR rivals and the USA Rugby sevens program.

"Honestly, I think this season is definitely going to set the foundation for the new and improved Houston SaberCats," Pangelinan said.

"No offense to my previous teammates and coaches, but with us having the facilities we have got now - our training fields, our gym, our stadium - all ready to go, it is just really good.

"It is really awesome here, and as a rugby player, this is the place to be. They just needed to put the right people in the right places, and I believe they took the chance and now the fruits of our labor are blooming.

"It is kind of like the underdog season for us, it is just a season to get some respect back in the Houston SaberCats as an organization and I think we are on the right track to do that."

Talking on his way to training, Pangelinan jokes that he feels at home at the AVEVA Stadium thanks to the venue being a part of the multi-purpose sports facility operated by Major League Soccer franchise, the Houston Dynamo.

Before being a professional rugby player, Pangelinan's efforts were solely focused on soccer, a backline player earning international honors for the country of his birth, Guam.

Rugby began as a way to spend time with his friends, who played the sport in California, the 33-year-old started out with Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, earning a call to the USA Sevens team shortly after and never looking back since.

Now able to step into the playoffs for the first time, to end their regular season Houston will be coming up against fellow postseason first-timers, the Austin Gilgronis.

Sam Harris' Gilgronis come into the game looking to finish top in the Western Conference while the LA Giltinis host Seattle at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In their one meeting so far this season, the SaberCats were subjected to a 43-5 defeat at Bold Stadium, there being an opportunity for Houston to make a statement ahead of potentially playing their state rivals ahead of a possible encounter in the Eliminator Round a week later.

"The goal hasn't changed," Pangelinan said. "Throughout the seasons we have had our moments, the majority of the time we have one really good half and then have a decent half.

"Austin are a quality side, but they are beatable. Every team is beatable in the league, we just need to show up on that day, pitch up from minute one to minute 80, or whenever the last whistle blows.

"I think the boys are prepping well, ready for them and ready for them to come down. We might be seeing them twice. Either way, they have got one on us [earlier in the season] and we get an opportunity this weekend to even up the score."

Written by Joe Harvey

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