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RFCLA End Season With 31-24 Win Over Warriors

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1 week ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles headed to America First Field in Sandy, Utah, on Friday, June 28, aiming to end their first Major League Rugby season with a victory against the Utah Warriors.

Playing under clear skies, temperatures in the high-70s and nearly 11,000 fans— a Warriors record — RFCLA won an intense, high-energy, back-and-forth battle, 31-24.

RFCLA started out strong, stealing a lineout in the 2nd minute. Fly-half (No. 10) Tas Smith’s long kick put his team inside the Warriors’ 5-meter line. A few rucks later, with the ball cleared out and offloaded several times by RFCLA No. 8 Semi Kunatani, flanker Max Katjijeko (No. 7) drove the ball to the try line. He couldn’t touch it down but after a ruck, inside center Seth Purdey (No. 12) made a burst and offloaded to hooker and captain Ben Strang (No. 2), who was waiting out on the wing. Strang took the ball over for the try, giving RFCLA a 5-0 lead. Full-back Rory Van Vugt (No. 15) missed the conversion.

In the 8th minute, the Warriors took a lineout at the RFCLA 5-meter line, and finding space, wing Joe Mano (No. 11) broke through for the try. Fly-half Joel Hodgson (No. 10), ranked 4th in the league with 107 total points scored, missed the conversion, making it a 5-5 game.

Wing Andrew Coe (No. 14) kept RFCLA on the offensive in the 12th minute with a kick return. Going into the match, Coe had 89 carries for 747 meters, averaging 8.3 meters a carry. In the 14th minute, following a yellow card for the Warriors, Strang’s lineout throw went straight to Katjijeko, allowing RFCLA to drive the maul toward the try line. Strang went over for another try, his 5th of the season. Van Vugt’s kick was good, and RFCLA led 12-5.

Warriors’ fly-half Michael Manson (No. 10) put the pressure back on with a kick that forced Van Vugt out of bounds, but RFCLA continued to control possession. The Warriors’ backs struggled to break through RFCLA’s defense while down a player, and RFCLA edged out the home side in the kicking game.

In the 24th minute, Coe found blindside wing Brooklyn Hardaker (No. 11) with a pass near the halfway line and Hardaker made a dramatic run up the field before finding Coe again with a pass, but Coe couldn’t quite find a teammate out wide and the referee called a knock-on.

A lucky bounce off a kick in the 27th minute gave the Warriors another opportunity but RFCLA’s defense forced a penalty, and a kick put the visitors back into Warriors territory. A few pick ’n go’s followed before Smith passed it out to his backs. Strang pummeled through the back line and his forwards took it to the Warriors’ five-meter line.

RFCLA scrum-half Cristian Rodriguez (No. 9) and fly-half Smith alternated at the foot of the mauls in the first half, sharing duties with No. 8 Semi Kunatani. In the 27th minute, Kunatani took the ball out of a maul and over the line for his 10th try of the season, just two short of Warriors’ fly-half Michael Manson (No. 10), who leads the MLR. Van Vugt’s conversion made it 19-5 to RFCLA.

In the 34th minute, Damm dodged a yellow card for a high tackle that was deemed unintentional and “low danger.” Moments later, RFCLA flanker Bruce Kauika-Peterson (No. 6) received a yellow card. Hodgson took a quick kick for a 5-meter lineout and the forwards drove into the RFCLA defense, earning a scrum. The Warriors drove a maul into the try zone but Smith held the player up.

RFCLA, playing with a man down toward the end of the first half, stifled the Warriors’ offense, which scored 8 tries in Week 17 against the Dallas Jackals. But in the 40th minute, with an overlap on the wing, Manson finally broke through for the score. Hodgson’s kick made it 19-12, RFCLA.


Going into the second half, RFCLA had made 74 tackles to the Warriors’ 87, and had missed 18 to the Warriors’ nine. RFCLA has three players in the MLR top ten for tackles: forwards Matt Heaton, Strang and Damm, who have more than 160 tackles each.

Both teams kicked strategically, and Kunatani kept RFLCA on the offensive with barreling runs and offloads to his backs. Kunatani is ranked 5th in the league in meters gained, with 1,086. At about the 50-minute mark, RFCLA had made 93 passes; the Warriors had made 69.

RFCLA’s defense remained tight, holding the Warriors to small gains in the first part of the second half. RFCLA’s Van Vugt survived a big tackle in the 55th minute by Manson, which almost created a breakaway opportunity for the home side. A penalty for a high tackle on Van Vugt in the 58th minute gave RFCLA a lineout deep in Warriors territory, and in the 62nd minute outside center Will Leonard (No. 13) ran through several opponents for a try. Van Vugt’s kick gave RFCLA a 26-12 lead.

In the 66th minute, the Warriors finally found space with a series of passes between full-back Caleb Makene (No. 15) substitute back Thomas Tu”avao (No. 22) and Mano. Makene, who started the play near his own 22-meter line, touched it down for the try. Hodgson made the conversion to make it 26-19, RFCLA.

The Warriors didn’t let up, and in the 73rd minute, after a rolling maul, Hodgson found Manson on the wing for a try. Hodgson’s kick went wide to the right, and RFCLA kept their lead, 26-24.

RFCLA’s backs, known for their open style of play, made a break in the 77th minute. Kunatani then took the ball to the try line, and Smith made a long pass out to substitute back Derek Adams (No. 20) who dived over for the try. Van Vugt missed the kick but with two minutes to go, RFCLA led 31-24.

The Warriors got a penalty in the 79th minute, leading to a lineout on RFCLA’s 5-meter line, but Strang intercepted it, sealing the victory.

RFCLA finish the season with a 5-10-1 record; the Warriors are 5-11.

RFCLA’s Will Leonard, voted player of the match, told a reporter afterwards that he was “proud of the boys.”

“It was a hell of a match,” Leonard said. “Our defense was good, our attack was good. Our fan base is growing in LA and we’re going to build toward next season.”

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