Raptors Hold Off Elite’s Late Surge for Opening Day Win
Image: Justin Purdy
Raptors Hold Off Elite’s Late Surge for Opening Day Win
By: Colton Strickler
A snowy day in Glendale, Colorado wasn’t about to put a damper on Major League Rugby’s opening day.
The snow stopped when Austin Elite (0-1) kicked the ball off to start MLR’s second match of the day, but the 38-degree-day combined with the early morning slop made for some slippery conditions early on in the Glendale Raptors (1-0) 41-26 win.
In somewhat of a surprise, the team from Texas managed to push aside the snow and put some points on the board first. With some help from Roland and Andrew Suniula, Austin’s big centres, the Elite were able to break Glendale’s line and send a ball out wide to wing Reece Czarnecki who took the ball into the corner for the first try of the match. Austin’s fly-half Timothee Guillimin nailed the tough conversion and the Elite found themselves up 7-0 in the 13th minute.
Had Austin been able to maintain the fire they came out of the gate with, they very likely could have left Glendale with their first win in their back pocket.
According to Austin Elite head coach, the penalties they committed early halted their momentum and allowed Glendale to get back into the match.
“All of the penalties that we gave away kept Glendale in the game and prevented us from advancing,” Elite head coach Alain Hyardet said through a translator.
Like an old car, the Raptors just needed a little bit of time to get warmed up before they went to work this cold day. The time it took to get started though left Glendale head coach David Williams with a bad taste in his mouth.
“It was a terrible start to be quite honest,” Williams said the first half. “We didn’t stay to what we were going to do. We spoke about it all week and a couple of weeks beforehand and we just didn’t perform for the first half an hour. Obviously in the last six minutes we actually did what we said we were going to do and we got some good results out of that.”
Glendale was able to cut Austin’s lead to four after the Raptors’ fly-half Will Magie converted on a penalty kick earlier in the half. Austin had a chance to regain those points on a penalty kick of their own, but Guillimin wasn’t able to connect and Glendale made sure to capitalize in the 10 minutes that followed.
The Raptors got their money’s worth out of their second row in the final six minutes of their first half. Connor Cook, John Quill, and Ben Landry all punched in tries, with Magie making all of the conversions, to give the Raptors a 24-7 lead heading into the half.
The Raptors carried the momentum they closed out the first half with them into the second half and jumped right back on the Elite with two more tries. Glendale lulled Austin to sleep with textbook phase play early and sent an inside ball, against the grain, to fullback Maximo de Achaval for the first try of the half. Glendale’s Harley Davidson scored the Raptors final try of the game on a hands ball wide just a few minutes later.
With a commanding 38-7 lead, it seemed that Austin was all but finished. In between the tries from de Achaval and Davidson, the Raptors began to run into some trouble. Inside centre Bryce Campbell was presented a yellow card which, as the Raptors would come to find out, was a sign of things to come.
Not long after, Landry, one of the Raptors’ props who had scored earlier in the match, was presented a red card for a dangerous tackle, and Austin was suddenly presented with an opportunity to make up some ground.
Elite flanker Hanco Germishuys started the rally with 55-metre try down the touchline made possible by a broken tackle and a dummy that froze a Glendale defender in his tracks. Guillimin’s conversion made it a 24-point game, and the Elite went right back to work.
Austin turned Glendale’s attempt to kick for positioning into points by feed Victor Comptat off a ruck down low for a try. Austin found themselves down 17 after Guillimin’s conversion, and they weren’t done just yet.
Glendale attempted to stop the bleeding with a 45-meter penalty kick, but Magie pushed his attempt wide right. Glendale then lost Cook, the flanker who has also scored earlier in the match, to a red card for another illegal tackle.
Now facing a favorable two-man advantage, Austin made their way into Glendale territory. In an attempt to halt their attack, Glendale prop Kelepi Fifita was presented a yellow card for an intentional offsides. With less than 10 minutes to play, Glendale would have to finish the match with just 12 men on the pitch.
“It’s completely unacceptable that we finished with 12 players, but I said fair praise to the 12 lads that stuck it out at the end and really ground out a good performance,” Williams said of playing down three men. “You can’t plan for that, unfortunately. You’ve got to think on your feet and kind of use your experience and get around it but it’s really up to the lads on the pitch. You give them certain things to work on like don’t contest in the rucks, fan out, and I think the guys did a great job of doing that.”
Austin used their numbers to their advantage and sent a ball over the top Czarnecki for his second try of the match. Guillimin was unable to convert, but Austin found themselves down just 12 with around six minutes to play.
Czarnecki threw an errant pass on the ensuing possession that Glendale took advantage of. Glendale’s slow phase play combined with Austin’s eagerness to regain possession resulted in a penalty, which allowed Magie to put the game on ice with a penalty kick.
Despite a late rally and a three-man disadvantage, Glendale knocked off Austin 41-26.
“I’m happy we got the win but I’m not happy how we got there,” Williams said after the match. “We didn’t play very well today. These teams are a lot better this year. Every team has got good players around and they’re going to keep coming at us and we’ve got to stay in the game for a full 80 minutes or we’re going to come out on the result.”
Despite a tough loss, Hyardet was proud of the way his team competed down the stretch.
“I’m very happy about the attitude,” Hyardet said through a translator. “The attitude was very positive. We never got down on ourselves.”
He feels that his team will continue to improve as the season progresses.
“We are excited, we just made some mistakes at the end,” Hyardet said. “We are very excited about what’s happening. The team showed some good attitude, now we need to control the excitement and the way to play. That’s something that will get better with time.”
Austin will head to Houston next Saturday to take on the SaberCats while Glendale will be on the road to take on the Seattle Seawolves.
Tries: Connor Cook, John Quill, Ben Landry, Maximo De Achaval, Harley Davidson
Conversions Will Maggie (5/5)
Tries: Reece Czarnecki (2), Hanco Germishuys, Victor Comptat
Conversions: Timothee Guillimin (2/3)
Penalties: Timothee Guillimin (0/1)
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