The Glendale Raptors hosted San Diego Legion on Sunday afternoon, entering week four of the inaugural season of Major League Rugby. With temps in the 50s and uncharacteristically cloudy skies, the match kicked off at Infinity Park at 6pm Mountain Time. Entering the contest, Glendale sat atop the league standings, with San Diego in second place after a come from behind win against Houston last week. Standings will continue to transform this weekend, with the Utah Warriors taking their first victory against Austin Elite Rugby, and the Seattle Seawolves claiming a win on the road against New Orleans Gold.
Kicks characterized the early action in Glendale: many possession changes and little in terms of especially organized effort from either side. The Raptors were poised to strike 10 minutes in, but were unable to find the try zone. The team instead settled for an 11th minute penalty conversion off of the boot of Will Magie, giving the team an early, if modest, advantage. Magie’s leg has proven potent for the Raptors this season, a weapon the team has counted on for the first four weeks. San Diego responded minutes later, Sione Tu’ihalamaka dotting down at 14 minutes in. The conversion successful, Legion pushed ahead 7-3.
A lengthy, decisive push by the Raptors at 18 minutes crossed the try line, but no points were awarded as the ball was held up – the result of a high tackle penalty on San Diego. Not to be deterred, the Raptors touched down 60 seconds later off an elusive, slippery scamper by fullback Maximo De Achaval. Magie’s conversion put Glendale back on top, 10-7. San Diego attempted a penalty kick at 21 minutes, following a hydration break, but were unable to convert. Long kicks punctuated by tough, physical play defined the first half of the match – a contest decided by which team was able to capitalize on the other’s mistakes. San Diego put the exclamation point on the opening period, Pat Blair finding the try zone and converting in the 39th minute to go into the break with a 14-10 lead over the Raptors.
Coming off the break both teams returned to the pitch with a seemingly renewed urgency, setting a blistering tempo though neither side was able to gain much momentum. The Legion struck first, dotting down at 46 minutes and converting to put themselves up 21-10. Muscling against the San Diego defense, Raptors prop Kelepi Fifita broke several tackles to find the try zone in the 49th minute, his first of the season. Magie’s boot true again, the Raptors drew within striking distance at 17-21. Not to be outdone, Glendale’s defensive prowess was put on display ten minutes later, when a huge hit from Mika Kruse brought the Legion attack to a halt, and a penalty kick shifted momentum in the Raptors’ favor.
Seconds later, an exceptional team effort found Glendale touching down for five. On a play that stretched personnel from one touch-line to the other, the Raptors’ Seth Halliman found the try zone in the 61st minute, giving the Colorado side the advantage. Magie’s conversion put Glendale up 24-21. At 67 minutes San Diego capitalized on an offside penalty on the Raptors, converting the kick to bring things even at 24 points apiece. In the 72nd minute the Glendale side would again be called for a penalty – a costly error that would give San Diego the lead following their kick conversion. Down 27-24, at 74 minutes the Raptors were allowed some breathing room after a Legion penalty gave the Glendale side a late opportunity to put points on the scoreboard. 76 minutes in they did just that, a try by Zach Fenoglio and the conversion by Magie putting the Raptors up 31-27.
Desperate for points the San Diego Legion repeatedly attacked the Raptors in the closing moments of the match, but the Glendale defense held strong, and the home team walked off victorious. Sporting the only undefeated record in the league, the Raptors move to 4-0 entering a two-week bye, while the Legion slide to 2-2. Denver native and veteran Raptor Zach Fenoglio was named Man of the Match, an honor he also enjoyed in the team’s road match against Seattle. Fenoglio wouldn’t take much individual credit when asked about his late-game points: “We’d put them through the phases but we hadn’t finished yet,” he said. “This was important for us to put up some points there at the end. Ata had an amazing carry and made it easy for me. That’s a team score through and through.”
The Raptors enjoy two weeks of rest and preparation before their next match, traveling to take on New Orleans Gold June 3 at 2pm Mountain Time. Still finding their footing in the league, the Louisiana side fell to Glendale in the preseason. Their suspensions completed, the Raptors will look forward to the return of back row Connor Cook and lock Ben Landry in the New Orleans match. Throughout the inaugural MLR season, CBSSN will broadcast the game of the week, with non-game of the week matches broadcast by AT&T Sports Net or Cox Communications, and also available through ESPN+.