By John Arthur
The Raptors traveled to sunny Louisiana today, taking on New Orleans Gold in Glendale’s penultimate road game of the Major League Rugby regular season. Entering the match as the only unbeaten MLR team, the Raptors surrendered their top spot in the league standings to the Seattle Seawolves last week. Ranked fifth in the league, New Orleans Gold held a 2-3 record coming into the match against Glendale.
With temps over 90 degrees and nearly 60% humidity, the NOLA match kicked off with conditions perhaps more suited to the Gold than the Raptors. The Glendale side came out swinging, however. Following a thirty-minute technical delay, things got underway in a hurry. Strengthened by the return of Connor Cook and Ben Landry, the Raptors structure looked exceptionally refined as the match opened, the Glendale side dotting down just three and a half minutes into the match. Will Magie converted the Bryce Campbell try to put the Raptors up 7-0.
Stout tackling from NOLA following the opening score gave Glendale some pause, but the Raptors pace pressured New Orleans. Both teams lost their initial line outs, but Glendale stretched the Gold defense. Moving quickly out of the scrum, Raptors winger Mika Kruse found the try zone in the 11th minute to put more points on the board. Magie’s second conversion good, the Raptors went up 14-0.
New Orleans followed with a string of offensive plays, knocking on the door from just a meter outside the try zone. Glendale’s defense proved formidable, however, and a pass stolen by Bryce Campbell positioned scrumhalf Shaun Davies for a long run. Unable to win the footrace, the move nonetheless prevented NOLA points. A strong maul effort after flipping the field saw Raptor John Quill dot down, though Magie was unable to split the uprights. Just 20 minutes in, Glendale led 19-0.
Struggling at the line out, a crafty grubber kick gave New Orleans position to find the try zone. Unable to convert, Gold cut into the Raptors lead: 19-5. As the opening half entered its final minutes, fatigue was plainly apparent on both sides of the pitch. With the intense humidity making the temperature feel like triple digits, New Orleans and Glendale were both more than ready for the halftime break. A yellow card on Raptor Sam Figg as the clock bled over 40 minutes punctuated Glendale’s struggles with penalties in the match.
Though ostensibly accustomed to the weather, the NOLA offense was anemic to start the second half; grip and ball control proved difficult for both sides, and the New Orleans team struggled with Glendale’s pace. Down a man, the Raptors side looked especially impressive given the conditions. An interception by Will Magie 47 minutes in saw him go the distance: dotting down for 5. His conversion good, Magie tacked on more points — 11 of his own for the day. The Raptors extended their lead to 26-5.
The second half was characterized by scrappy, disorganized play. Neither team demonstrating much continuity, the impact of heat seemed to become more and more of a factor. Handling errors prevented Glendale’s dominance in possession from being more apparent in the point differential. Resilient play from the Raptors was clear in an Ata Malifa run that fed Zach Fenoglio for a try under the uprights: the two vets coming off the bench to make the depth of the Glendale side apparent. Converted by Magie, the Raptors went up 33-5.
New Orleans showed some pace part way through the second half, chipping away field position in an attempt to put points on the scoreboard. Glendale’s defense was stout, but Gold found the try zone at 67 minutes. NOLA cut into the Glendale lead, 33-10. Following the NOLA try, Glendale slowed play in the final quarter of the match. Sam Figg picked up a dropped New Orleans ball and ran the distance to dot down for five as the regulation minutes expired, Magie converting to put the Raptors up 40-10. Bryce Campbell would put the exclamation mark on the contest, however, finishing a team effort with a grubber kick and magical bounce to find the try zone as time ticked past 80 minutes. Magie’s difficult kick converted, the Raptors saw a 47-10 blowout victory. Magie was named Man of the Match, and was complimentary of his squad: “We knew it was going to be tough, but the boys and staff really helped us. It feels good: going into the post season we know this team is going to be strong.”
With seven tries on the day, Glendale trails Seattle by just one point in the league standings while remaining the only unbeaten side in MLR. The Raptors have two remaining home games, hosting the Houston Sabercats on June 8 after a quick turnaround from this weekend’s play, then the Seattle Seawolves on June 16. Glendale’s final regular season match is on the road, the team traveling to California to tackle San Diego Legion. Glendale will play host to the league semifinals on June 30, with matches at Infinity Park deciding which of America’s professional rugby teams will compete for their first championship title. The top four teams in the league will gather in Glendale, competing in a double header that kicks off at 5pm Mountain Time. Winners of each match will then travel to San Diego on July 7 for the first ever, American professional rugby championship.