By Colton Strickler
It might’ve taken them a little longer than they would’ve liked, but the Glendale Raptors finally picked up their first win of the 2019 season, knocking off Austin Elite Rugby 24-13 on Sunday evening.
“It’s really important that we got the win tonight,” Glendale captain Luke White said after the match. “I think we had spoken about our performances in the first two games and we had a strong performance against Seattle, we just let ourselves down. We didn’t show up against New Orleans and we identified the issues. We had fixes for them, and I think tonight we went about fixing those issues well and we brought the energy that we needed. It wasn’t the prettiest performance by any means, but it was a good way to get the wins started.”
Glendale (1-2) made a point to come out extremely aggressive, but it was Austin (0-4) that took the first lead of the match when Andres Vilaseca nailed a penalty goal early on. Unfortunately for the Elite, their early lead was their only lead.
The Raptors offense ran through their fly-half Ata Malifa, who was able to slice through Austin’s tight defense on multiple occasions. The first of those instances came early in the first half when Malifa threw a dummy, stepped through an opening and took the ball in for the match’s first try. Scrum-half Carlo De Nysschen nailed the conversion to give the Raptors an early 7-3 lead.
Keeping their foot on the gas, Glendale’s second try of the match came after the 20-minute hydration break when fullback Dylan Taikato-Simpson stepped and threw a beautiful no-look pass out wide to a wide open Harley Davidson on the wing. Robbie Petzer wasn’t able to hit the conversion, but the try extended the Raptors’ lead to nine points.
Offense has been Austin’s weakness through the first quarter of the season, and Sunday evening’s match was no different. It took the Elite a little while to muster something up, but they finally got something going just before the half when flanker Rikus Zwart rumbled through a handful of Raptors for a try. Vilaseca was unable to hit the conversion, but Austin went into the half only trailing by four points.
Austin’s offense all but dried up after that.
“Our defense again was really good,” Austin captain Ben Mitchell said after the match. “We missed a couple tackles, but overall our defense has been good over the last four games, it’s been the attack that’s let us down. We’re just turning the ball over too many times and that’s what’s really hurting us in games. We’re not conceding too many points, but we’re not scoring enough points.”
That is exactly what happened in the second half. Glendale wasted little time getting points back on the board, and they did so on the back of a Malifa line break once again. Another Malifa dummy opened up the Elite defense and allowed De Nysschen to take an offload in for the Raptors’ third try of the match. After kicking his own conversion, the Raptors began to pull away from Austin.
“The big difference was that we weren’t clinical and they were,” Mitchell said. “When we were down in their 22, we must’ve been down there five or six times and didn’t come away with any points. That’s on us. They were just better at that when they got inside our 22. They came away with points.”
The Raptors added one more try from Peter Dahl later in the match to put the game on ice, but the Elite, to their credit, never quit. They defended hard until the very end, forcing two knock-ons late in the match. Mitchell punched in a try inside the final two minutes to close the gap a little bit, but Austin eventually fell 24-13.
“It’s a good way to get the wins started. We’ve got a winning side and we’ve got all of the capabilities to go throughout the season with a strong winning record, it’s just a matter of staying switched on mentally. We’ve got all the skills, all of the physicality, we’ve got all that it’s just a matter of staying switched on throughout the 16 games. We are looking forward to the rest of the season and I think that was a good way to get the ball rolling.”
The win and the bonus point propelled Glendale into fifth place in the table while Austin remains in last place with just two points on the season.
Glendale will travel to Utah to take on the Warriors (1-1) next weekend while Austin will look to get their season back on track when they host the second-place San Diego Legion (3-1).
Tries: Ata Malifa, Harley Davidson, Carlo De Nysschen, Peter Dahl
Conversions: Carlo De Nysschen (2/3), Robbie Petzer (0/1)
Penalty Goals: Carlo De Nysschen (0/1)
Austin Elite Rugby
Tries: Rikus Zwart, Ben Mitchell
Conversions: Andres Vilaseca (0/2)
Penalty Goals: Andres Vilaseca (1/1)
Colton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.