Overcoming Injury and Tough Competition, Glendale Side Remains Undefeated in MLR
By John Arthur
The turf at Zions Bank Stadium was bathed in sun as the Glendale Raptors and Utah Warriors took the field in what would be a hotly contested battle. The Utah side came out strong, controlling territory in the early minutes of the game. An obstruction penalty against the Warriors in the 6th minute gave Glendale some breathing room, but the Utah team remained determined. A penalty against the Raptors just two minutes later gave the Warriors’ Tongan flyhalf Kurt Morath a chance to put his team on the board. His penalty attempt was not converted, however, possibly the result of the hot, windy conditions in Herriman, Utah.
Thirteen minutes in, Raptor Will Magie was able to make good where Morath wasn’t, putting three points on the board off a penalty conversion. Three minutes later recently signed Raptors back row man Sam Figg (an acquisition who’s been described as the biggest steal in the league), found the try zone. Will Magie’s conversion successful, the Raptors went up 10-0. A banged up Casey Rock came off 20 minutes in, replaced by another new Raptor, Dakota “Kody” O’Neil.
At the 26th minute mark, Utah was able to capitalize on a Glendale penalty, cutting into the Raptors lead off the foot of Morath, and inching closer: 10-3 Glendale. Three minutes later the Warriors’ side would draw things even, finding the try zone and converting to make it an even 10-10. A massive tackle by Raptor Sam Figg at 37 minutes shut down a strong run by Utah and likely saved points. Struggling to recover from the impact, Figg would come off minutes later, replaced by Brian Wanless. Glendale knocking on the door in the waning seconds of the half, the Utah defense kept the Raptors at bay, and the teams headed into the break tied.
The Raptors entered the second half with the Utah breeze at their backs. In a match characterized by tough, physical play, back up Glendale scrum half Jake Christmann took a hit from Utah in the opening moments of the half. Though he was able to recover, the Warriors capitalized on what was perhaps a moment of confusion for the Raptors side, dotting down for points in the 43rd minute and converting to give the team a 17-10 lead. Not to be outdone, the Raptors put on a sensational piece of play just 6 minutes later, taking the ball from their own try line the length of the pitch, with Harley Davidson finding the Utah try zone. A conversion by Will Magie brought things back even. The initiator of the scoring effort, Raptors prop Kelepi Fifita, was injured on the scoring drive. As a precaution he was taken off the field on a stretcher, and replaced by Nick Kwasniewski.
The previously gusty conditions calming significantly, the Raptors added more points to the board at 59 minutes; back row Peter Dahl touching down and Will Magie booting through the conversion to put Glendale ahead 24-17. Encouraged by a vocal hometown crowd, the Warriors made clear they weren’t done playing, scoring an unconverted try in the 64th minute and converting another just four minutes later to give the Utah side their second lead of the match. The Warriors began the closing minutes of the game with a 29-24 advantage. At 71 minutes, newly signed Raptor Kevin Lynch would enter to replace Jake Christmann, himself filling in for scrumhalf and long time veteran Shaun Davies, who was injured on the road last week against Seattle.
Going down to the wire, the final minutes decided the match at Zions Bank Stadium. At 73 minutes, Raptor Bryce Campbell touched down for 5, the conversion by Magie edging the Glendale side ahead, 31-29. An exceptionally athletic, elusive run by Raptors Wing Harley Davidson moved the ball downfield, ultimately feeding Mika Kruse to dot down five points. Unable to convert, Glendale went up 36-29 with just moments to play. Moving the ball well, Utah was knocking on the door in the 80th minute, but the Raptors’ defense held fast, securing the victory.
The Raptors are now the only undefeated team in Major League Rugby, improving their record to 3-0 and further distancing the team in the league standings. San Diego’s nail-biting comeback against Houston boosted their position in the standings, and they now sit behind the Glendale side in 2nd place with 10 points. Houston and Austin round out the top spots, tied in 3rd with 7 points apiece. The Raptors hold first for the second week running, sitting atop the MLR table with 14 points.
A long history and deep, talented bench mean that Glendale’s early season injuries are less impactful than they might be for one of the league’s newer squads. Today’s match against Utah was nearly identical in time of possession, territory, and missed tackles, ultimately coming down to a handful of clutch moments. The experience and longevity of the Raptors’ side pushed those moments, and the victory, in their favor.
The Raptors next match will be their second on the team’s home field at Infinity Park, pitting the squad against San Diego Legion at 6pm Mountain Time. 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+.