Under cloudy skies and intermittent rain and snow, the Glendale Raptors hosted Austin Elite Rugby at Infinity Park for both teams’ inaugural professional match. The typically fickle spring weather in Colorado didn’t dampen the spirits of either team, with both displaying the high-level competition and poise that will be a mainstay of professional rugby in the United States. With temps in the high 30s throughout the first half, the inaugural season of professional rugby got underway.
As the match got underway, a couple of Raptors were shaken up, a portent of the hard, aggressive play that would characterize the day. Austin was issued a yellow card 10 minutes in, but the Glendale side was unable to capitalize on the advantage. The Texas side drew first blood, touching down for five points 14 minutes in, and converting to take an early 7-0 lead: the points would prove the only ones Austin would put up in the opening half. Raptors flyhalf Will Magie converted a penalty attempt 21 minutes in to cut into the Austin lead. Plenty of penalties were seen throughout the day, as the two teams felt out their debut on the professional stage. Austin made its own penalty attempt at 30 minutes in, but was unable to convert.
Glendale responded in the 32nd minute with a try by back row Connor Cook, with the conversion by Will Magie seeming to give the Colorado squad new life. Rallying powerfully late in the first half, Raptor back row John Quill found the try zone at 37 minutes, converted again by Will Magie to increase the Glendale lead. Playing into injury time, veteran Raptors lock Ben Landry touched down for more points in the 41st minute. Magie went into the break perfect on kick attempts, giving the Raptors a 24-7 advantage going into the break.
The Raptors looked in form entering the second half, with fullback Maximo de Achaval touching down a try four minutes in. Magie converted to put the team up 31-7. Glendale’s Harley Davidson, who plays both winger and fullback, found the try zone again at 47 minutes, and with the successful conversion, further extended the Raptors lead. A minute later, the Raptors would lose Ben Landry for the remainder of the match, as he was red carded for a dangerous tackle. Austin capitalized on the penalty, finding the try zone at 52 minutes and converting to cut into the Glendale lead. The Texas team would put more points up at 59 minutes, converting to bring the match within striking distance.
A missed penalty kick by Will Magie in the 64th minute kept things even, and a flurry of penalties in the minutes that followed saw Austin again knocking on the door. The rough and tumble match again came to a head 72 minutes in, when Raptor Connor Cook was red carded for a tackle the ref deemed too vigorous. A yellow card on Raptor prop Kelepi Fifita just two minutes later would further Austin’s numbers advantage, meaning the Glendale side would finish the match three men down. Austin touched down for five in the 75th minute, but missed the conversion, bringing the score to 38-26 in Glendale’s favor. With time quickly running out, the Raptors secured victory off the foot of Will Magie. Burning precious seconds, Magie converted a penalty attempt to push the Raptors advantage to 41-26 in the 80th minute, sealing the team’s first professional win.
John Quill was named Man of the Match, the veteran looking composed in his first Major League Rugby match. A long-time Raptor, Quill also holds 25 USA Eagles caps. The Raptors second game of the regular season will see the team on the road, traveling to Seattle to take on the Seawolves on April 28 at 8:30pm Mountain Time. The match will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. Throughout the inaugural MLR season, CBSSN will broadcast the game of the week, with AT&T Sports or Cox Communications broadcasting non-game of the week matches.