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RFCLA Bounce Back to Beat Anthem RC, 33-29

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1 month ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles came into their match against Anthem RC on Saturday, May 18, hoping for a second consecutive win. RFCLA were still in the playoff race in Major League Rugby’s Western Conference. Anthem RC, hosting RFCLA at American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, were looking for their first-ever win.

After 80 minutes of back-and-forth rugby, with both teams making breathtaking runs and bruising tackles and engaging in driving mauls, RFCLA came away with the victory, 33-29.

RFCLA took an early 3-0 lead after a penalty kick but Anthem RC came back strong. A quick chip inside the RFCLA 22-meter line by Anthem wing Te Rangatira Waitokia (No. 11) in the 8th minute was recovered by inside center Junior Gafa (No. 12) and Waitokia took the pass back to go over the try line. Fly-half Cliven Loubser (No.10) made the conversion to give Anthem RC a 7-3 lead.

A yellow card against RFCLA hooker Ben Strang (No. 2) for shoulder-to-head contact in the 11th minute would leave RFCLA a man down for ten minutes. Anthem RC capitalized immediately with Loubser appearing to score, but the Television Match official (TMO) ruled him out of bounds.

RFCLA held off several threatening Anthem breaks as they waited for Strang to return, but in the 16th minute, the advantage proved too much. Anthem scrum-half Siasi Nai (No. 9) made a long pass to flanker Albert O'Shannessey (No. 7), who scored near the sideline. Loubster missed the conversion, but Anthem RC now led 12-3.

In the 23rd minute, an Anthem driving maul took the home team into the try zone but RFCLA’s defense held inside center Gafa up. The TMO overruled the on-field decision and the ref awarded a try. The conversion made it 19-3.

A minute later, RFCLA broke through the Anthem back line and wing Brooklyn Hardaker (No. 14) scored. Chait’s kick made it 19-10. RFCLA kept up the pressure, and in the 30th minute, substitute forward Semi Kunatani (No. 20) scored off a lineout. Chait missed the conversion but it was now a four-point match.

In the 34th minute, RFCLA’s defense went on the offensive, pinning Waitokia deep in his own 22. He kicked his team out of trouble, but the visitors kept the momentum, earning a penalty. Chait’s kick to touch gave them a lineout, and Kunatani led a driving maul to the try line. Another penalty gave RFCLA a lineout at the 5-meter line. Strang’s throw to Kunatani was perfect and after a series of short bursts close to the pack, Strang took it over for RFCLA’s first lead. Chait’s conversion made it 22-19.

HALFTIME

RFCLA took advantage of a few early second half Anthem mistakes and fouls, and in the 45th minute, Chait kicked a penalty in front of the posts to make it 25-19.

By the 48th minute, RFCLA had committed more penalties (7) than their opponents (4), but it hadn’t affected their momentum. A series of strong Kunatani runs toward the try line kept things going RFCLA’s way, but Loubser intercepted a pass out to the wing and ran 85 meters for the try. His kick from the sideline made it 26-25, Anthem RC.

A big hit by RFCLA flanker Mike Amiras (No. 6) in the 54th minute stopped a potential breakaway by Anthem wing Tomasi Alosio (No. 15). The two teams would continue to find space but both were unable to capitalize due to turnovers. in the 58th minute, RFCLA had made 93 tackles to Anthem RC’s 91, and missed 13 tackles to Anthem RC’s 10. Chait took a penalty to put RFCLA back on top, 28-26. Just three minutes later, an Anthem penalty gave them a 29-28 lead.

RFCLA once again looked threatening in the 64th minute, with No. 8 Jason Damm making a break, and a few passes later Kunatani darted up the sideline before offloading the ball to outside center Seth Purdey (No. 13). Kunatani was ruled out of bounds, but a quick lineout seconds later by Hardaker kept RFCLA on the offensive. An unshakeable Anthem defensive line stifled the relentless RFCLA pack and calm leadership by substitute scrum half Austin White (No. 23).

Heading into the last ten minutes, RFCLA had conceded six penalties to Anthem RC’s eight, and won nine turnovers to their opponents’ five. A penalty in the 75th minute put RFCLA back in Anthem RC’s 22-meter area. A series of lineouts and mauls later, Kunatani barreled over for the try. RFCLA missed the conversion but had sealed the win, 33-29.

Semi Kunatani was named player of the match.“Credit to the boys. We have a win and had a great game today,” he told on-field MLR reporter Roland Pratt. RFCLA controlled 58 percent of possession, and won 12 lineouts to Anthem RC’s 9, earning hooker Strang and his teammates an 85 percent success rate.

Substitute scrum-half Austin White said after the match that it’s all coming together for RFCLA: “We’re building… Everything is building up. Sometimes we were down but we kept our foot on the pedal.”

No. 8 Jason Damm agreed, praising his teammates for their “resolve and grit.”

“They came out quick on us,” he said. “But the way we weathered that storm and stayed in the fight shows the confidence we have in ourselves and what we’re capable of.”

Damm said that he and his teammates need to continue to work on their discipline and start off stronger from the kickoff.

RFCLA, now 3-6-1, will face the San Diego Legion at 6pm local time (PST) on Sunday, May 26, 2024, at home at Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, California. The match will be televised on Fox Sports and live-streamed outside of the United States on The Rugby Network.

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