The Rise of the SaberCats with Sam Windsor
Approaching his 33rd year, Sam Windsor’s importance to Houston looks in no doubt of wavering. A New South Wales-native, Windsor has been in the United States since 2017, signing with the Seattle Saracens in Washington before moving to Texas to work alongside former SaberCats Head Coach Justin Fitzpatrick.
Now under the guidance of Paul Healy, who joined the club as Head Coach in the summer, Windsor no longer performs the role of backs coach for the SaberCats, something he says has been somewhat of a relief for him this year.
“When Fitzy left, the ownership spoke with me and felt that it was better that, instead of juggling coaching and playing, it was better for me to just play,” Windsor said, “Which was a bit of a relief for me to be honest. 60 percent of the time I was planning sessions, worrying about training and then I wasn’t able to do extra training and wasn’t able to participate in a lot of the sessions.
“But Paul Healy is a coach that likes the opinion of his players, so he comes to De Wet (Roos), myself, Taylor Howden, Zach Pangelinan and Osea (Kolinisau) and we are asked about sessions. Heal’s runs a ship where it is very cooperative and everyone gets a put in and an opinion, which is great.”
The arrival of Paul Healy has seen developments off the field too. Healy, who like Windsor hails from Australia, comes to Houston with a wealth of experience in professional rugby. Coaching Stade Francais in Paris as an assistant coach, Healy also headed up the international programmes of Chile, Brazil and Germany before coming to the States to drive the SaberCats forward.
“I think the biggest change has been the overall professionalism of the whole setup,” Windsor said, “We’ve got a full time training base and home field now, so Paul Healy, Ash Jones (strength and conditioning coach), Campbell Johnstone (forwards coach) and Paul Emerick (skills coach) have worked really well to create what I consider to be the norm in professional rugby.
“We have a changing room, which we come into in the mornings, do rehab, prehab, treatment with the physios, we’ve got music playing, have some fun in there and you can relax. It doubles as a meeting room, so we do review and preview and it is there every day whenever we want it. To have that base, every day, it endorses the professional aspect of rugby.
“For the last couple of years, we were kind of jumping from training field to training field and we didn’t really have a home. Boys were spending more time in cars than on the training field, so that’s the biggest change for me; being able to call ourselves professional athletes by having the setup that we do.”
Windsor played professional rugby for Worcester Warriors in the second division of English rugby, as well as Ulster in the Pro12 and the NSW Country Eagles in the inaugural season of the National Rugby Championships, a professional club competition in Australia.
As a result, when starting up a new professional environment, Windsor was immediately one of the SaberCats’ most experienced players. Joined by the likes of Fiji 7s legend Osea Kolinisau in the first year of MLR and now the likes of Tiaan Loots and fellow Australian De Wet Roos, Windsor believes that the influence of himself, others, and new daily environment will help drive Houston forward.
“As I say quite a bit, the accountability factor is huge when it comes to rugby and when it comes to rugby, young men growing into the game, growing into professionals, you need accountability to drive standards and keep boys honest,” Windsor said.
“It is easy to slip into the mold of being a professional athlete. The glitz and the glamour, your name on the big screen, playing under the lights on TV. I think that boys quickly forget that it actually requires a lot to be a professional. Whether that is turning up early, doing extras, going your rehab, your prehab, doing your homework on your opposite number and the opposition.”
Beating Colorado on the opening weekend of the season 21-12, Houston have lost the following two weekends, falling short to Toronto and Old Glory DC. This weekend the SaberCats host Rugby United New York at the AVEVA Stadium, with Windsor anticipating an exciting game at the second purpose-built rugby union stadium in the USA.
“Looking at the competition this year, there aren’t any games where you think you are going to walk over a team, or are guaranteed five points somewhere,” Windsor said, “For us, New York, they came here, beat us at Constellation Field and we had a pretty horrible game against them in New York too.
“I think it will be a good game, we’ve kept a close eye on them, and we will be doing our due diligence leading into it. But, the squad that we have, the depth and the quality of player we have in certain positions, we are well matched with all the teams in the league and it is a matter of locking down a game plan and actually executing it.”
After disappointing results over the past two weekends it has been error count and penalties in kickable positions that have led to losses against the Arrows and DC. With those sides possessing such competent goalkickers in the form of Sam Malcolm and Jason Robertson, Windsor hopes that there will be less mistakes made by his team as they take on a New York side with so much attention on them.
“We gave ourselves so many opportunities against DC last weekend, but either a lack of awareness or execution or discipline let us down,” Windsor said, “New York recently got Charlie Hewitt traded out there a couple of weeks ago, so they are going to have a bit of decent background about the way we play and what our strengths are.
“That probably makes the challenge a bit harder, but for us it is an opportunity to keep growing as a team and put a better performance on the field, especially at the AVEVA Stadium. Teams are going to enjoy coming here because of the quality of it, but we want teams to loathe coming here, because they are going to get bashed, so we will see how we go.”
Catch Windsor and the rest of the Houston SaberCats this Sunday, March 1 at 6:00 PM ET on CBS Sports Network. The CBS Game of the Week is set to be an exciting matchup against Rugby United New York.
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