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RFCLA Push Seawolves to Limit but Lose 29-12

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2 weeks ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles headed to Tukwila, Washington, on Saturday, June 22, looking to avenge an April loss to the Seattle Seawolves and finish off the season strong with only two games remaining.

Playing in temperatures in the low 70s under slightly cloudy skies at Starfire Sports stadium, RFCLA tested and at times dominated the Seawolves, the two-time Major League Rugby champions who were playing their 101st MLR match. In the end, turnovers and yellow cards proved too costly. RFCLA, playing their 15th match as an MLR team, couldn’t turn the tide, losing 29-12.

The Seawolves struck first, in the 9th minute, when wing Ina Futi (No. 11) broke through the RFCLA defense and scored what appeared to be the first try of the match. A video review of the play ruled a knock-on as Futi tried to touch it down. The Seawolves responded immediately with another break, this time by flanker Monate Akuei (No. 7) after catching the goal-line drop-out kick. Akuei made a no-look pass to inside center Dan Kriel (No. 12) who took it over for the try. Fly-half Mack Mason (No. 10) made the conversion for a 7-0 lead. Going into the match, the Seawolves had the best goal-kicking percentage in the league.

The Seawolves kept the pressure on, making a few bursts, but the RFCLA defense held on. In the 13th minute, No. 8 Semi Kunatani caught a Seawolves kick and ran it back about 30 meters back into Seawolves territory. Ahead of this contest, Kunatani ranked 7th in the league with 931 meters gained, averaging 71.9 meters a game. His opposite number, Huw Taylor, averaged 29.1 meters.

RFCLA looked threatening in the 16th minute but missed an opportunity to score after losing a lineout at the Seawolves’ 5-meter line. A knock-on by inside center James Stokes after a scrum gave the Seawolves the ball back and a penalty for a collapsed scrum allowed the home side to kick their way out of trouble.

The Seawolves’ ability to switch the ball between the forwards to the backs and utilize both sides of the field proved a deciding factor in the first 20 minutes, with RFCLA struggling to keep their line. A break by No 11, followed by a charge by No. 7 and another run and offload by Akuei led to a penalty in the 21st minute, and Mason kicked it through the posts for a 10-0 lead.

RFCLA’s backs, assisted by Kunatani’ offloads, kept the pressure on the Seawolves, but the Seawolves’ back line held them up. Nolan’s kicking helped RFCLA out of several tight spots on defense. In the 24th minute, a long Nolan kick for touch gave Kunatani a chance to break through the defense and offload to Strang, who got it back to Kunatani. A series of rucks led to a lineout at the 5-meter line, and Kunatani pushed the maul over the line for a try, his 9th of the season. Nolan’s kick was just wide, but the Seawolves’ lead was cut to 10-5.

A pass by RFCLA wing Henry Speight (No. 11) to hooker Ben Strang (No. 2) in the 30th minute almost resulted in a try and moments later Kunatani made a break through before offloading. RFCLA’s backs combined with some sharp passes and bursts toward the try line but the Seawolves’ Futi finally forced a Kunatani turnover as he barreled toward the try line. RFCLA lead the league in offloads — passes made while being tackled.

A long kick and chase by full-back Rory Van Vugt from his own territory into the Seawolves try zone in the 33rd minute led to another scrum on the Seawolves’ 5-meter-line but Kunatani knocked it on as he tried to place it on the ground after a tackle. RCLA bounced back with a turnover of their own in the 37th minute, and Kunatani made several runs toward the Seawolves defense with his backs in support, until he was penalized for not releasing the ball after a tackle.

Going into the half, both teams had conceded 6 turnovers. RFLCA had missed 18 tackles to the Seawolves’ 16. RFCLA has three players in the top ten for tackles: forward Jason Damm in third with 164 tackles, flanker Matt Heaton in fourth with 160 and hooker Strang with 152.

HALFTIME

RFCLA started out strong in the second half. After a penalty just outside the Seawolves’ 22-meter line, the backs spun it out to substitute wing Brooklyn Hardaker (No. 23). The Seawolves stopped him but a lineout gave Kunatani another chance to run into the defense. A series of crunching tackles by Seawolves inside center Kriel and his backline slowed RFCLA’s momentum. In the 47th minute, the Seawolves countered with a long run by Futi and a powerful maul to take the ball over the try line, but RFCLA lock Reegan O’Gorman (No. 5) held the player up before he could touch it down for the score. A video review ruled O’Gorman had collapsed the maul before the try, giving the Seawolves a penalty try and a 17-5 lead. O’Gorman was given a yellow card and ten minutes in the sin bin. RFCLA are the second-most penalized team in the league.

RFCLA, down to 14 men, stepped up their defense, giving the Seawolves’ backs little room to maneuver. In the 50th minute, RFCLA forced a turnover, prompting boos from the home fans. RFCLA contained a threatening Futi counterattack, and a Strang burst in the 52nd minute led to a penalty inside the Seawolves’ 22-meter area, but another turnover gave it back to the Seawolves. A creative cross kick by RFCLA outside center Seth Purdey (No. 13) would put the Seawolves on the back foot again but Hardaker couldn’t pick it up for what would have been a certain try.

Nolan kicked a penalty into touch in the 56th minute, giving the visitors a lineout in prime position. Kunatani and lock Max Katjijeko (No. 4) led a series of rucks as the backs moved the ball forward a meter at a time. Nolan floated a pass out to Hardaker who couldn’t find space on the wing, but RFCLA kept possession. A miscommunication in the 58th minute after relentless pressure gave the ball back to the Seawolves.

A stolen lineout in the 59th minute put an end to RFCLA’s momentum. At this point in the match, both teams had a lineout success rate of about 80 percent.

In the 63rd minute, Hardaker chased down a kick by substitute back Will Leonard (No. 20) as he was tackled hard by Mason. Hardarker juggled it as he hit the ground before passing it to Purdey who went over for the try. Nolan’s kick from near the sidelines made it a 17-12 game.

RFCLA’s tackling kept them in the match but in the 72nd minute, a high tackle by Stokes gave the Seawolves a penalty and a chance for Mason to kick for touch. The home side won the lineout and the maul — which included a couple of Seawolves backs — took the ball over for a try. Mason’s kick went wide to the right but his team led, 22-12.

Kunatani countered with another big run but as RFCLA’s backs opened up the field on offense, they left themselves defenseless against breakaways by Kriel and his teammates. A yellow card against Kunatani in the 77th minute — his fourth of the season — was followed by a try by Seawolves prop Cameron Orr (No. 1). Mason’s kick made it 29-12.

RFCLA continued to test the Seawolves without Kunatani on the field, but couldn’t change the scoreline before the final whistle.

After the match, RFCLA wing Hardaker said the 80-minute battle against the Seawolves was “really enjoyable” and “was a massive positive, the way we stuck it to them for 70 minutes.”

“It was a tough one to lose especially when they’re top contenders [for the championship],” Hardaker said. RFCLA’s performance reminded him “how good we are when we back each other… How we can play and what we can do.”

RFCLA are now 4-10-1. They will play their final match of the season against the Utah Warriors at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, on Friday, June 28, at 7:30 pm. The match will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 2 and live-streamed on The Rugby Network outside of the USA.

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