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RFCLA Still in Playoff Hunt After 45-15 Win AgaInst Miami

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2 weeks ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles faced off against the Miami Sharks at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday, June 2, in Carson, California, looking to stay in the playoff race in Major League Rugby’s Western Conference with five matches remaining in the season.

RFCLA and the Sharks both delivered some exciting back-and-forth rugby to brighten up a gloomy, cloudy Southern California afternoon. After a thrilling team effort, RFCLA ran away with the win, 45-15.

Sharks fly-half Felipe Etcheverry (No. 10) made the first impact of the match, darting through the RFCLA defense and passing the ball off to inside center Nick Grigg (No. 12) for a try. Etcheverry missed the kick but the Sharks led 5-0.

A penalty kick by RFCLA inside center Jason Emery (No. 12) made it a 5-3 match in the 23rd minute. In the 34th minute, RFCLA lock Jason Damm (No. 4) went off with a yellow card. and Sharks No. 8 Ben Bonasso led his pack to the try line. Wing Michael Hand (No. 14) touched it down for the try. Etcheverry missed the kick again. The Sharks led 10-3.

Playing a man down, RFCLA flanker Max Katjijeko (No. 6) and Semi Kunatani proved unflappable, combining with their backs to allow fly-half Tas Smith (No. 10) to go in for the try. Emery converted the kick to make it 10-10.

The first half ended 10-10, a reflection of both teams’ defensive efforts and stifling of breakaways. No. 8’s Bonasso and Kunatani had come into the match looking to improve on their recent performances and didn’t disappoint. Kunatani had scored 39 points this season and racked up 701 meters in ball carries; Bonasso had 324 meters in carries and a 94 percent success rate in his tackles, compared to Kunatani’s 88 percent.


RFCLA went into half-time having made 96 tackles to the Sharks’ 54, and trailed in possession with only 42 percent. They had committed 6 penalties to the Sharks’ 5.

Halftime

Starting out the second half, with RFCLA’s Smith moving to scrum-half in the place of substituted Niall Saunders, Emery had taken over the kicking duties as fly-half. Kunatani made several good runs and offloads, but handling errors hurt RFCLA. The Sharks kept up the pressure, forcing penalties, kicking strategically and stealing lineouts.

In the 53rd minute, the Sharks’ Grigg broke through RFCLA’s defense after a lineout and scored to put the visitors ahead again. Etcheverry missed his third conversion of the night, but the Sharks led 15-10.

Smith and RFCLA came back with a well-placed grubber kick out to wing Jack Shaw (No. 11) in the 57th minute. Shaw came up short after the chase but the Sharks failed to clear it, giving RFCLA a scrum on the 5-meter line. Taking three Sharks with him, Kunatani bowled over for his third try in the last two matches. Emery made the conversion to give RFCLA a 17-15 lead.

Kunatani continued to lead his pack, driving the ball twice to the Sharks’ try line. In the 64th minute, after relentless RFCLA pressure drew a penalty and a yellow card five meters out in front of the posts, the RFCLA backs kicked into gear. After a series of runs, full-back James Stokes (No. 15) found Shaw on the wing, who took it over the line. Emery’s kick from near the sidelines made it 24-15 with 13 minutes remaining.

RFCLA’s backs continued to dazzle and work with their forwards to create opportunities and breakaways, and in the 71st minute, Katjijeko finished off a sequence of passes with a try under the posts. RFCLA led 31-15.


A try by RFCLA wing Andrew Coe (No. 14) after finding a hole in the back line made it 36-15. Emery’s kick widened RFCLA’s lead, 38-15.

Another burst in the 83rd minute by RFCLA’s backs gave substitute Austin White (No. 21) a try. Emery’s conversion ended the match, 45-15.

RFCLA’s Tas Smith was named player of the match, and told reporters on the pitch that switching to scrum-half “wasn’t too difficult [because] it’s my usual playing position.” He credited Emery for stepping into his shoes: “He did an awesome job steering the ship,” Smith said.

Speaking from the locker room after the match, inside center Jason Emery, who moved to fly-half during the match, said that he and Smith “were figuring it out on the go” and was happy with the overall performance. “We’ve been trying to play more offensively,” he said. “The last 20 [minutes] showed how we want to play.”

Flanker Max Katjijeko said that even though RFCLA started off slowly, “going into halftime we got the hang of it [and] started playing our type of rugby.”

“When we play together as a team we’re basically unstoppable,” he said. “We’ve got to take it game by game” as RFCLA head into the final stretch of the season, Katjijeko said. “We’ll enjoy this win and going into Houston [next week], we’ll analyze them and focus on what we do best.”

RFCLA now have a 4-7-1 record. RFCLA’s next match is against the Houston Sabercats on Saturday, June 8, at 5 pm PST.

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