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RFCLA Fall To SD Legion in Bruising Battle, 27-19

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3 weeks ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles hosted the San Diego Legion at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday, May 26, in Carson, California, looking for a third consecutive win and a chance to claim the state rivalry known as the Cali Cup.

Playing in perfect Southern California weather — 72 degrees with a slight breeze — RFCLA kept the Legion at bay for 70 minutes in a hard-fought, heavy-hitting match, also executing some thrilling runs before falling, 27-19.

The battle between the Australian fly-halves — RFCLA reserve 22-year-old Tas Smith and 41-year-old legend Matt Giteau of the Legion — started off with Giteau kicking for territory and Smith kicking his team out of trouble. RFCLA scrum-half and captain Niall Saunders (No. 9) also handled kicking duties, showing RFCLA’s depth, while Giteau struggled throughout the match.

RFCLA’s driving mauls, a big hit by flanker Mike Amiras (No. 6) in the 10th minute and some missed passes by the Legion’s backs led to the home team’s first try, with outside center Will Leonard (No. 13) kicking the ball downfield from inside his own half. Wing Jack Shaw (No. 11) chased it down for the try, and Saunders made the conversion for a 7-0 lead.

In the 18th minute, Semi Kunatani (No. 20), known as “the flying Fijian,” came on as a substitute at No. 8 with Jason Damm moving to lock. Two Legion yellow cards gave RFCLA a two-man advantage for 10 minutes.

After a penalty in the 29th minute, Saunders kicked for touch, and a lineout throw from hooker Ben Strang (No. 2) was followed by an RFCLA maul, as Kunatani went over for the try. Saunders’ kick went wide to the right but RFCLA led 12-0.

A Legion try in the 33rd minute narrowed the scoreline to 12-7 but RFCLA countered with a breakaway run, then an offload by lock Reegan O’Gorman (No. 5) to Strang, who tossed the ball inside to prop Alex Maughan (No. 3). Kunatani ran the ball in for a 19-7 lead and his 7th try of the season.

At halftime, RFCLA — hurt by penalties this season — had conceded only three to the Legion’s 10.

HALFTIME

The Legion started off strong in the second half, with flanker Christian Poidevin (No. 6) scoring in the 46th minute. Giteau missed his first conversion attempt this season, but RFCLA’s lead was cut to 19-12. At the 51-minute mark, RFCLA had won 9 lineouts to the Legion’s 7.

In the 54th minute, a turnover forced by Legion inside center Tiaan Loots (No. 12) deep in RFCLA territory, followed by some quick passes by the Legion backs, put the ball in the hands of lock Jay Tuivaiti (No. 4) for the try. Giteau missed another conversion attempt, but RFCLA’s lead was just 19-17.

Nine minutes later, Giteau missed a chance to take the lead with a penalty kick from near the halfway line.

A Giteau penalty kick for a 20-19 lead in the 74th minute, his last play of the match before being substituted, was followed by a try after a breakaway by Legion scrum-half Connor Tupai (No. 9). Full-back Alex Horan (No. 15) put the game out of reach, 27—19.

After the match, RFCLA scrum-half Tas Smith (No. 10) gave his opposite number Giteau credit in spite of the missed kicks. “He controlled the game” and “was the more experienced” fly-half in the second half, Smith said. Smith, who had looked up to Giteau growing up in Australia and then played with him on the Los Angeles Giltinis MLR team, was “keen to go up against him” in this match.

Smith praised his teammates for starting out fast and sticking to the game plan, especially when it came to kicking strategically. RFCLA’s forwards, Smith said, “won the physical battle in the first half [but] fell off in the second half.” It was RFCLA’s “game management” that cost them in the end, Smith said.

RFCLA are now 3-7-1. Their next match is against the Miami Sharks, on Sunday, June 2, 2024, at Dignity Health Sports Park.

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