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Resilient RFCLA Fall to NOLA Gold, 38-21

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3 weeks ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles hosted the New Orleans Gold on Sunday, June 16, for their last home game of the Major League Rugby season at Dignity Health Park in Carson, California. RFCLA had a 4-8-1 record while NOLA Gold was 8-5.

Playing under sunny skies in perfect 77 degree Southern California weather, NOLA Gold emerged the stronger of the two attacking teams, with their precise lineouts and driving mauls proving too much for the home side, coming away with a 38-21 victory.

RFCLA dominated possession for the first half, but took their time to score. The home side got the first offensive break with a burst down the wing by No. 8 Semi Kunatani in NOLA territory in the 2nd minute. Kunatani leads the league with 140 carries, averaging 8.75 meters per carry for a total of 1225 meters (4th place in the MLR). With 8 tries (44 points), he was ranked third.

For the first 8 minutes, RFCLA kept NOLA on the defensive, but a lineout by hooker Alex Maughan (No. 2) was ruled not straight, giving NOLA possession. RFCLA had a 77 percent lineout success rate going into the match.

NOLA didn’t cross RFCLA’s 22-meter line until the 10th minute, and the home side drew a penalty in the breakdown, RFCLA’s 94th forced turnover this season.

RFCLA outside center Will Leonard (No. 13) made a breakaway into NOLA Gold territory in the 16th minute and the ball found its way into the hands of newly signed wing Henry Speight (No. 11), but he couldn’t find a teammate with his no-look pass.

In the 20th minute, the RFCLA backs got the ball out to Speight who broke free, offloading it back inside where flanker/captain Matt Heaton (No. 7) grabbed the ball off the ground and took it over the try line for the lead. Fly-half Sean Nolan (No. 10) made the conversion to make it 7-0.

RFCLA enjoyed 55 percent of possession in the first half, and Nolan controlled the kicking game, but a mistake in the 30th minute, when he kicked the ball straight out, gave NOLA a lineout from where he had kicked it away in RFCLA territory. A few short bursts by the NOLA pack gave full-back Jordan Jackson-Hope (No. 15) room to run it in out wide for the try. Fly-half Reece Botha (No. 10) made the conversion to tie it up at 7-7.

In the 35th minute RFCLA countered, as scrum-half Tas Smith (No. 9) made a hanging kick of about 35 meters, wing Andrew Coe (No. 14) tapped it back to Kunatani who offloaded to Nolan, who passed it back to Coe for the try. Nolan’s kick made it 14-7.

Three minutes later, NOLA took a lineout at the RFCLA 5- meter line and flanker/captain Moni Tonga’uiha scored the try. Botha missed the conversion, but it was a 14-12 game.

RFCLA stopped another maul coming off a lineout in the 41st minute, holding up the ball carrier in the try zone. Going into the half, NOLA had a 100 percent lineout success rate, compared to RFCLA’s 83 percent.

HALFTIME

RFCLA started off the second half with another Nolan kick straight into touch, giving NOLA a lineout in RFCLA territory. After a driving maul to the line, hooker Ale Lopetti (No. 2) broke away for the try. The conversion was good, and NOLA led 19-14.

RFCLA got a lucky break in the 51st minute, as NOLA flanker Tom Florence (No. 6) made a breakaway run and found himself with a 2-on-1 advantage but failed to make the offload. But NOLA didn’t ease up, forcing a turnover and passing it out to the backs about 5 meters out. Phillipus Jacobus Snyman “JP” du Plessis (No. 13) made a grubber kick out to Botha who scored the try. Botha’s conversion put the visiting team up, 26-14.

RFCLA held up another potential try in the 59th minute, as NOLA kept the momentum with lineouts followed by mauls. A tackle by NOLA wing Taniela Filimone (No. 11) on RFCLA’s Nolan in the 62nd minute — a “bone-smashing hit,” according to one of the match commentators — shook the fly-half but he was immediately cleared to continue playing. In the 64th minute, NOLA’s Botha returned to the pitch after receiving an off-field head injury assessment.

NOLA stretched their lead with another lineout and rolling maul in the 69th minute as substitute hooker Diego Fortuny barreled over for the score. Botha’s kick made it 33-14.

RFCLA stayed in the match with a returned kick by full-back Rory Van Vugt (No. 15) followed by an offload to substitute hooker Ben Strang (No. 16) who passed it on to lock Max Kajijeko (No. 4) took it over for the try. The conversion made it a 33-21 game, but NOLA sealed the victory in the 80th minute with a try by Filimone, making it 38-21 at the final whistle.

Wing Henry Speight (No. 11), making his RFCLA debut against NOLA, said after the match that “it was an unfortunate result.”

“We were off to a great start, had all the positioning,” he said. “Our problem today was that we didn’t convert our pressure into points — which is exactly what NOLA did.”

Speight said the fans made his first RFCLA home game “special.” It was also the team’s last home game of the season.

“It was a great atmosphere and a great turnout,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to helping his teammates “finish the season with a bang.”

“Two weeks, two big games — not easy games,” Speight said. “If we’re going down, we’re going down swinging.”

RFCLA now have a 4-9-1 record and play the Seattle Seawolves, who are 10-4, at Starfire Sports Complex in Seattle at 7 pm (PST) on Saturday, June 22. The match will be broadcast on Fox 13+, Bally Socal and live-streamed on The Rugby Network.

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