Round 13 Recap
Austin Blitzes Past Arrows for Bonus Point Win
The Austin Gilgronis secured an important five-point win over the Toronto Arrows, 47-21 Saturday. Toronto struck first but it didn’t take Austin long to respond with the game’s first try from wing Zinzan Elan-Puttick. The home team extended its lead five minutes later with its second try, this one from the back of the driving maul. This conversion was good to make it 12-3 at 18’.
That score held until five minutes before halftime when Toronto looked to make a game of it with fullback Joquín Tuculet’s try. Austin played well past the 40 minute mark to seize momentum when speedy #8 Dominic Akina broke the line and dove into paydirt. The conversion was good and the hosts headed into the break up 19-8.
Austin #6 Kyle Breytenbach scored the first try of the second half as the Gilgronis began to open this one up. Akina showed off his impressive athletic pedigree once again with a long try at 60’, breaking through and running past Toronto defenders to put Austin firmly in the driver’s seat as the Gilgronis’ cruised to victory from there.
It was an important win for Austin from a number of perspectives. First and foremost it kept the team within a game of Utah for the second and final playoff spot in the Western Conference; it also extended its lead over fourth place San Diego. The 47-point effort was the team’s high score of the season, an impressive offensive display for a squad that generally relies on its defense for victory.
NOLA Gold Uses Big Second Half to Hold off DC
New Orleans notched a must-win victory for its playoff chances by holding off Old Glory in DC, 25-21. NOLA held a lot of possession early and was rewarded when Juan Cappiello broke through for the game’s first try eight minutes. DC came right back moments later when Captain Thretton Palamo, back from injury, made his impact felt with an impressive try.
The 7-7 score held until 24’ as the teams threatened but defenses stood up until Mungo Mason, the forwards’ Captain also back from injury, scored to give his squad the first half lead. NOLA fullback Hanno Dirksen capitalized his impressive first half, this time finishing one of his breaks at 28’, and the successful conversion knotted things back up at 14 apiece.
This rematch from Week One’s draw was testy throughout and culminated in two yellow cards being handed out at 35’, one to DC scrummy Danny Tusitala and the other to Cappiello. NOLA got a second yellow card for dangerous play, making it 14 on 13 rugby early in the second half, though the Gold were able to extend its lead to 17-14 in spite of the disadvantage.
The visitors scored the defensive try when Julian Dominguez was just able to stay in bounds as he charged through defenders and dotted down near the left sideline to make it 22-14. A penalty kick at 71’ made it a two-try game, and NOLA was able to hold off DC from there to take the four-point win.
Utah’s Huge Second Half Fuels Comeback Win
The Utah Warriors used a dramatic second half comeback to steal a win for the second week in a row.
San Diego took an early 7-0 lead with a try from prop Faka’osi Pifeleti six minutes into the match. The Legion thwarted a Warriors’ attack and escaped trouble moments later, but Utah did eventually respond with a penalty kick from Calvin Whiting at 18’.
San Diego scored its second from Dean Muir nine minutes later and Joe Pietersen’s conversion made it 14-3. Flanker Thomas Tu’avao, back from injury, made his presence felt by notching the Warriors’ second try of the match; the successful conversion made it 14-10 at the break.
Early in the second half the crafty Pietersen hit a drop goal to extend the Legion’s advantage to 17-10. It took only a few minutes for Utah to tie the game with a try from eight man Jurie Van Vuren, converted by Whiting. The tie only lasted four minutes, with San Diego right back via a Tomas Morani try.
It seemed like San Diego had complete control when Cameron Clark scored at 51’, in spite of the Legion being down a man. With tries coming in bunches, Utah’s Olive Kilifi notched his second in as many weeks, then the Legion were right back at it to make it 34-24. Wing Bjorn Basson scored his seventh try of the season to make it 41-24 San Diego with under 20 minutes to go. Utah mounted a furious rally from there.
First it was fullback Mikey Te’o centering one for the automatic seven pointer, then Chad Gough followed up to make it a three point game with eight minutes to go. The Warriors, Cardiac Kids of the 2021 season, once again used the final seconds to secure a comeback win. Te’o strengthened his claim as a top MLR MVP contender when he set up his wing James Vaifale for the game winner.
The win was Utah’s first over the Legion in its history and may have ended San Diego’s late season push for a playoff spot. Utah stays five points ahead of Austin and is now ten points ahead of the Legion, in control of the second playoff spot in the West.
New York Outlasts Atlanta to Seize Control of the Eastern Conference
It was Rugby United New York that came out on top in the East’s top of the table match over Rugby ATL. The game was hotly-contested throughout, but New York seemed to have quiet control over the game.
New York scrum half Andy Ellis scored first to the delight of the home crowd and the centered try gave the hosts an early 7-0 lead. Atlanta eight man Jason Damm, one of the league’s leading ball carriers, came right back with a five pointer to tighten the gap, 7-5.
New York #11 Apenisa Cakaubalavu made a brilliant break off an ATL clearance kick, found streaking #8 Kara Pryor, who finished the try and put his team up 12-5. The home team was dealt a blow shortly after though when Ellis left with an ankle injury from an awkward-looking tackle that drew a penalty. New York did capitalize on the infraction though, eventually notching a try after banging the ball deep into Atlanta territory to extend the lead.
ATL’s Johan Momsen continued his impressive season by finishing a key try to slice the gap to 17-12 at 36’. That score held into halftime as these teams regrouped and took a deep breath in the locker rooms.
Conor McManus followed in his mentor Ellis’ footsteps, highlighting an impressive shift in relief by centering a seven-pointer early in the second half. Atlanta threatened right after but the scoring attempt was thwarted by a clutch interception from Chris Mattina.
This game took its toll as Kara Pryor was next to exit with a hamstring injury, bringing Charlie Hewitt on and testing New York’s depth and versatility as Evan Mintern made the switch to eight man.
Atlanta’s try just before the 60 minute mark closed the gap to 24-17, but James Rochford picked off the ATL pass as the visitors tried to play out of their own 22 to put New York back up by two scores, 31-17. Reserve prop Alex Maughan made his impact on the game with a try at 69’ to set up a dramatic final ten minutes of this match.
New York’s defense held, however, thwarting a number of valiant ATL attempts to tie this match. The win brings Rugby United within two points of Atlanta with a game in hand. Rugby ATL will try to build a new winning streak after having its six-gamer snapped next weekend versus Houston.
New England Comeback Spells Deja vu for Seattle
It took a dramatic comeback but the New England Free Jacks secured a fourth straight win on Sunday night to keep itself firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race. For Seattle, it was a second straight defeat after holding a seemingly comfortable late lead.
Recent Seattle addition Lauina Futi scored the game’s first try three minutes in off of a nice switch play out wide, then New England responded with a penalty kick at 10’. The Free Jacks notched the second try of the match moments later when Beaudein Waaka saw space out wide and executed with a brilliant kick over the top to Mitch Wilson that gave his team the lead.
Seattle came back at the quarter point of the match with a stolen line out and 90 meter field flipper. After a brief pause from a loose ball that was knocked on by New England’s scrambled defense the Seawolves’ Suliasi Tamaivena took a hard line off the ruck to put the visitors back on top at 23’.
A New England penalty kick closed the gap to 14-13, then Tamaivena scored once again for the first try of the second half to put Seattle up 21-13 at 48’. Those would be the last points for the Seawolves however, as New England closed the game on a 12-0 run.
The win keeps the Free Jacks in third place in the Eastern Conference as it fights for that second seed and final playoff berth. The Seahawks continue to build for next season with plenty of promise and are in the “learn how to win” stage of the young team’s development.
Giltinis Surge Past SaberCats in Return from Bye Week
Coming off of a loss and a bye week, the LA Giltinis stormed past the Houston SaberCats en route to an eight-try blowout.
Prop JP Smith got the scoring started five minutes in with the first of his two tries on the day. He was followed up by DTH van Der Merwe, Christian Poidevin, and Glenn Bryce finished the first half scoring as LA ran out to a 26-0 halftime lead.
Things did not get much better in the second as LA scored another four tries to just one for Houston, notched by Diego Magno in the 74th minute.
LA next faces a resurgent San Diego Legion team that will be fighting for its playoff lives on Sunday afternoon.
Harry Hardy brings over 15 years of experience from D.C. United and
Written by Joe Harvey | Photo by Karl Moore It was only
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