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Chicago Hounds Win 54-31 In Spite of RFCLA Comeback

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3 weeks ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles came into the 8th week of the Major League Rugby season against the Chicago Hounds at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, looking for their second win. RFCLA “are still in the hunt for that fourth place playoff spot,” commentator Will Hooley said before kickoff.

RFCLA struggled to contain a powerful Hounds side but stayed in the match for the better part of 80 minutes, finally losing 54-31. Their record in Major League Rugby’s Western Conference is now 1-5-1. The Hounds have a 4-3-1 record in the Eastern Conference.

The Hounds capitalized early after an RFCLA knock-on from the kickoff, playing it out to the backs and to wing Nate Augspurger (No. 11) to take a 5-0 lead. Fly-half Adriaan Carelse (No. 10) missed the conversion.

RFCLA and the Hounds tussled for possession in the first half, with the Hounds winning the battle for territory and pressuring RFCLA with bursts from their backs on counterattacks. The RFCLA pack stopped two near-tries deep inside RFCLA territory and countered with runs from flanker Semi Kunatani (No. 6) but in the 12th minute, after a counter-attacking Kunatani run and a kick chased deep into Hounds’ territory, the referee reviewed the Hounds’ attempt and ruled that flanker Ben Landry (No. 6) had touched it down for the try. The Hounds led 12-0.

RFCLA counterattacks kept the scoreline close. A blindside burst by flanker Max Katjijeko (No.7) followed by a chip by wing Rory Van Vugt (No. 11) and a catch and run by Matt Anticev, making his first start at fly-half for RFCLA (No. 10), would allow inside center Dan Hollinshead (No. 12) to cut the Hounds’ lead to 19-5.

In the 25th minute, RFCLA drew a penalty after Hounds wing Augspurger tried to run out of his own 22. RFCLA scrum-half Niall Saunders (No. 9) took it quickly and with a 4-1 advantage in the backfield, Hollinshead went over the try line. His conversion made the score 19-12 and RFCLA were back in the game.

RFCLA mistakes — nine handling errors by the 33rd minute and four penalties by halftime— hurt the visitors but big defensive plays by RFCLA hooker Ben Strang (No. 2) and his pack kept the Hounds away from the try line until a difficult bounce off a kick in the 36th minute allowed the Hounds’ Landry (No. 6) to catch the ball and take it over the line for his second try, earning the Hounds a 26-12 lead after the conversion.

RFCLA remained on the back foot, making 89 tackles to the Hounds’ 38 in the first half. The Hounds retained 71 percent of possession, giving away two penalties to the Hounds’ four. Strong runs by Augspurger and Meakes and fluid passing among the Hounds’ backs resulted in a fifth try in the 41st minute, which was overruled as No. 8 Conall Boomer ran into his own player before taking it over the try line. Going into halftime, the Hounds remained on top, 26-12.

A yellow card for Kunatani in the first half was RFCLA’s 13th this season.

HALFTIME

RFCLA continued to pressure the Hounds in the second half with hard hits and big kicks. A Van Vugt breakaway from deep inside his own half in the 51st minute followed by two runs and an offload by Kunatani took the ball into their opponents’ 22. A Saunders breakaway after a big carry from No. 8 Jason Damm just moments later brought RFCLA to within seven, 26-19. Tas Smith (No. 21) replaced Saunders in the 56th minute. Hounds No. 9 Jason Higgins came off and was replaced by Nick McCarthy (No. 21).

Relentless pressure and an RFCLA knock-on in the 59th minute was followed by a breakthrough by the Hounds’ Meakes for his second try of the match, making it 33-19. A chip kick in the 61st minute by Hounds substitute scrum half McCarthy was recovered and touched down by wing Noah Brown (No. 14), extending the lead to 40-19. In the 68th minute, Hounds lock Mason Flesch (No. 4) took it over for another try; another conversion by wing Luke Carty (No. 15) made it 47-18.

A yellow card against Hounds flanker Maclean Jones (No. 7) in the 70th minute put RFCLA up a man for the rest of the match. Kunatani broke away for a try immediately, earning RFCLA a bonus point. “They’re two tries way from getting in the lead,” said Hooley, who said Kunatani had been “superb” all match and given a “top quality performance.”

RFCLA remained a threat, with runs by Kunatani and the forwards. Wing Jack Shaw (No. 14) scored off a Kunatani pass in the 77th minute and RFCLA trailed 47-31. But in the 81st minute, the Hounds’ Augspurger scored his third try for a 54-31 victory.

After the match Max Katjijeko said RFCLA need to “focus on starting from the first whistle” in their upcoming matches rather than taking time to get the momentum going. In spite of the loss, he said “the boys did good” against the Hounds. Fly-half Matt Anticev admitted “it was a tough day at the office” but also praised his teammates. “If you’re relentless and work hard and put the energy in, the results will come,” he said.

RFCLA play the New England Free Jacks on April 28 at 6:15pm local time (PST) at home at Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, California.

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