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Depleted RFCLA go down to Seattle in the wet

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1 month ago

In front of their biggest crowd to date, Rugby Football Club Los Angeles (RFCLA) came into their home match against the Seattle Seawolves on Sunday April 14 looking to keep the momentum going after a win and a tie.

Going into Week 7, RFCLA were at the bottom of Major League Rugby’s Western Conference with a 1-3-1 record; Seattle were tied for the lead with a 5-1 record.

The Seawolves kept on the offensive throughout the match, holding territory, winning the kicking game and creating openings for the backs while taking advantage of RFCLA errors, to storm to a 36-5 victory.

RFCLA started the match, played in 58-degree weather with light winds (10 mph) and some rain at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, without stars Will Leonard (outside center), Andrew Coe (wing) and Alex Maughan (prop) due to suspensions. Matt Heaton (flanker), missed the match to be with his wife during the birth of their child.

The Seawolves applied early pressure, driving into RFCLA territory after the kickoff, but a big clearance from RFLCA took them into Seawolves territory. RFCLA won a penalty in the 4th minute, but fly-half Dan Hollinshead (No. 10) put it wide to the right and the score stayed level at 0-0.

RFCLA took advantage of a sloppy kick from the Seawolves’ fly- half Sam Windsor (No. 10) but failed to capitalize, with the breeze and light rain pushing their own kicks into touch, “It’s all about the accuracy of the kick,” said commentator Will Hooley.

The Seawolves moved into RFCLA territory with a 5-3 back line play, but RFCLA stifled them, got a penalty and pushed them back to the halfway line for a line out. Windsor made some elegant runs inside his own 22 in the 12th minute but RFCLA’s backs kept the Seawolves from gaining ground in their running game.

With the rain intensifying, Hooley and co-commentator Ben Holden said the kicking strategy of both sides would be affected. In the 16th minute, RFCLA had already made 10 kicks and Seawolves had kicked it 7 times. RFCLA, who have been hampered by penalties and turnovers so far this season, were winning the turnover, penalty and knock-on contest until the 18th minute, when Seawolves pressure — with the backs keeping it close to the forwards in the mauls — earned the visitors a penalty for a high tackle by flanker Semi Kunatani (No. 6). Seawolves fly-half Windsor put it through the posts to take the lead 3-0.

The two teams continued to kick long to each other in the hope of forcing an error. Windsor let the ball go into touch — meaning the line out would go back to where RFCLA had kicked it from deep inside their own half — but referee George Myers said Windsor had touched it on the bounce. Myers called a scrum for RFCLA on their opponents’ 5-meter line. “We’re knocking on their door,” screamed the stadium announcer.

With Kunatani shifting to No. 8 for the scrums near the Seawolves’ try line, RFCLA created momentum with two rucks but a turnover on the pass gave the ball back to the Seawolves in the 23rd minute. “An easy get-out-of-jail card,” Hooley said.

Another turnover in the lineout — hooker (No. 2) Bruce Kauika-Peterson’s throw wasn’t straight — served as a reminder of RFLCA’s proneness to making mistakes this season. Another turnover after a strong RFCLA burst, just past the halfway line, allowed the Seawolves to kick to touch into the RFCLA 22. “A big opportunity for them.” said Hooley.

The Seawolves managed to draw another penalty off a maul, and kicked into touch at the 5-meter line. Coming out of the lineout, the Seawolves passed it out to the backs and on to No. 8 and captain Reikert Hattingh, who took it over for the try, his 41st in his career, bringing his MLR scoring tally to 200 points. “The man, the machine comes through,” said Holden. ‘You just don’t stop the big man from there,” Hooley added.

Fly-half Windsor put the conversion through the posts, bringing the Seawolves’ lead to 10-0.

Windsor’s kicking in the rain continued to keep the Seawolves’ pressure on. In the 32nd minute a long kick earned the Seawolves a lineout inside the RFCLA 22, and a Windsor run brought his team to about two meters shy. Following a ruck, Windsor faked to the outside and took it inside for the try. “Slipping and sliding his way,” said Hooley. “Great use of his hands and ability to stay on his feet… He read it really well.”

Windsor, MLR’s all-time leading scorer, made the conversion for his 12th point of the day. The Seawolves led by 17-0.

In the 36th minute, prop Conor Young (No. 3) came off the field after a minor injury occurring in the lineout. No. 19 Liam Antrobus came on to replace him.

RFCLA’s backs continued to pressure the Seawolves around the halfway line, but the visitors’ defense held strong. RFCLA drew a penalty, and kicked to touch inside the Seawolves’ 5-meter line.

A good throw-in from Kauika-Petersen kept the ball in RFCLA’s hands, but the Seawolves’ maul defense forced a turnover. “They just haven’t been able to cash in,” said Holden of RFCLA’s offense. At halftime, RFCLA had conceded 4 penalties to the Seawolves’ 5, but had committed 5 handling errors to the Seawolves’ 1. The Seawolves had enjoyed 63 percent of possession, while RFCLA had held 57 percent of territory. “It’s simple, Seawolves have had the territory,” said Hooley. RFCLA have “just coughed up chances.”

RFCLA had attempted 99 tackles and made 80. Seawolves had made 21 of 23 attempted tackles.

Halftime

RFCLA came out charging in the second half, but couldn’t capitalize on a big kick from scrum half Niall Saunders (No. 9) into Seawolves’ territory in the 44th minute. Hollinshead took advantage of a penalty inside his own 22 to send the ball back into the Seawolves half. “They need to get a good kick n chase going to put Seattle under pressure,” said Hooley. A cross-kick by inside center Jason Emery (No. 12) missed his wing but kept the momentum going. After a maul in the 47th minute, substitute hooker Ben Strang (No. 16) took it over for the try. Hollinshead missed the conversion, and RFLCA trailed by 17-5. RFCLA “are very much still in this match,” said Hooley. “They’ve been their own problem.” Seawolves’ fly-half Windsor’s 12 points remained the difference in the scoreline.

The Seawolves’ kept the ball in RFCLA’s half, nearly going over for a try in the 50th minute but the player failed to touch it down. The Seawolves stole an RFCLA lineout and charged forward, but Saunders managed to kick the ball out to relieve the pressure. The Seawolves wouldn’t slow down. A Seawolves’ lineout resulted in a drive inside the RFCLA 5-meter line, but following a series of pick and go’s near the rucks and some staunch defending, RFCLA drew an obstruction penalty and a scrum in the 53rd minute.

Kunatani carried the ball out of the scrum, was tackled but Saunders made a burst past the halfway line before being tackled into touch. “They came out of nowhere,” said Hooley.

RFCLA stole it back in the 56th minute in the loose play, and Saunders took charge again, passing the ball out to his forwards and backs until the Seawolves managed to clear it into RFLC territory. Approaching the final 20 minutes of the match, the Seawolves had kicked for 660 meters and RFCLA had kicked for 492.

RFCLA drew a penalty in the 58th minute, and took the ball into the Seawolves’ 5-meter territory. Saunders was called for not being 10 meters back on a penalty, however, earning a yellow card and easing the pressure for the Seawolves. Saunders headed to the sidelines to the sin bin for ten minutes.

In the 59th minute, coming out of a scrum, the Seawolves took advantage of a four-man overlap on the open side and wing Divan Rossouw (No. 15) took it over the line.

Windsor made the conversion to extend the Seawolves’ lead to 24-5 as the teams went into the final hydration break. “Seattle are very much in control now,” Hooley said. RFLCA “must feel like they’re being suffocated. There’s no room for them.”

The Seawolves’ Windsor continued to use the kick to his team’s advantage, as his teammates chased them down and kept RFLCA on their toes.“It’s like they’ve turned it up a gear,” said Hooley.

RFCLA made a few substitutions toward the end of the match, but knock-ons and penalties would continue to hurt them. “He’ll be disappointed with the unforced errors,” said Hooley of RFCLA Coach Steve Brett. In the 65th minute, the Seawolves seized on RFCLA’s tiredness and burst through for a try after an inside pass by Windsor and a long sprint by Rossouw, but the ref ruled the pass forward and called it back.

The Seawolves kept up the pressure with a chip and chase kick, and after stealing a lineout, their pack brought it to the try line before knocking the ball on. RFCLA escaped with a scrum on their 5-meter-line, and Kunatani ran it out straight at Windsor, but the RFCLA player’s pass was forward and the Seawolves came out of the tussle on top. “He’s put his body on the line, that was the difference as to why that ball did go forward,” said Hooley, as No. 8 Hattingh took the ball to the blind side off the scrum and over for his second try of the match. Windsor kicked the conversion wide but the Seawolves led 29-5 with 10 minutes remaining.

With the final whistle approaching, RFCLA had made 157 tackles to the Seawolves’ 70. The home team had managed to retain 40 percent of possession and 45 percent of territory.

Showing now signs of quitting, in the 78th minute RFCLA inside center Jason Emery (No. 12) put the ball about 20 meters ahead with a chip, Hollinshead scrambled to recover it and passed to full-back Austin White (No. 15). But White couldn’t quite make it to the try line. “You can see it in Emery’s face,” said Hooley. “It’s just not to be.”

The Seawolves would have the last word in the 81st minute, when wing Toni Pulu (No. 14) intercepted an Emery pass in his own half and sprinted to the try line to take the score to 36-5. He touched it down between the posts, so Windsor didn’t need to take a kick for the extra points.

After five yellow cards (one red) against Old Glory DC last week, RFLCA managed to keep their penalty tally lower than the Seawolves’. Saunders received his team’s only yellow card of the match. The Seawolves’ No. 8, Hattingth, was named man of the match.

Reflecting on the match afterwards, flanker Semi Kunatani (No. 6) said one of the main reasons for the loss was that RFCLA just “didn’t get the set pieces right.” “We didn’t manage to fully execute,” he said, noting RFCLA’s trouble winning their own lineouts.

RFCLA also lacked patience in attack, Kunatani said, as well as discipline. RFCLA once again failed to take advantage of momentum during the game. “We had a good hit, then they’d break the first tackle,” Kunatani said. RFCLA’s defense had to keep scrambling every time the Seawolves got the ball. “They broke a few tackles and gained momentum from there,” he said. “If we can stop that, we’ll be in a good position.”

RFCLA head coach Steve Brett said after the match that although“there weren’t really many good things to come out of the game,” he was pleased with the pressure RFCLA exerted in the first 20 minutes. “We just couldn’t capitalize on the pressure we were building,” he said.

Brett said RFCLA need to work on their mental game going forward. “We don’t seem to get out of the hole we put ourselves into,” he said, adding that the team needs to find new ways to “build really good things, stacking good things on top of good things.”

Brett praised his players for keeping the penalties lower than previous matches, and ending up with less penalties that their opponents for the first time in several matches.

On offense near the Seawolves’ try line, Kunatani found himself switching from flanker to No. 8, a tactic he thinks worked. Unfortunately, he said, “we didn’t get a clear ball most of the time. That would have changed the picture.”

Praising fellow flanker Max Katjijeko (No. 7) for making some “good hits” during the match, Kunatani said he and his fellow forwards need to ensure RFLCA keep the ball in their possession, be patient, and build phases. “We need three or more carries instead of kicking it away,” he said.

RFCLA now have a 1-4-1 record and will play the Chicago Hounds at SeatGeek Stadium in Chicago on April 21.

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