By John Arthur
The Glendale Raptors sit atop the league standings in their inaugural season of professional rugby, the only team that remains undefeated after three weeks of play. Despite their winning record, however, the team’s first season in Major League Rugby has not been without early challenges.
Connor Cook, who plays in the back row, and lock Ben Landry were both suspended for three weeks following red cards in the Raptors’ home opener. Glendale Head Coach Dave Williams admits being without his starters is difficult, but is a task the Raptors side is clearly equal to: “It challenges the depth of the squad and gives other guys a chance to step up. The team certainly did that against Utah.” Both Landry and Cook are eligible to return to play following the Raptors match this weekend.
In addition to the suspensions, Williams was down two key players during Saturday’s match as a result of injury. Back row John Quill was benched with a shoulder injury, and veteran scrumhalf and team captain Shaun Davies was out as well, taking a tough hit to the head in Glendale’s rainy road victory over Seattle. Stepping in for Davies was Jake Christmann. Just 19 years of age, Christmann has played rugby in the states and the UK, and displayed his mettle in Utah. Williams was impressed with what he brought to the pitch: “It’s unfortunate that Shaun was injured, but we knew we needed a backup 9,” he said. “Jake stepped up and did well. We’ve also got Kevin Lynch on the bench, another new player just brought on, who came on board with some much-needed energy. I’m pretty happy across the board to be honest.”
The Utah match last Saturday saw big hits, and tough, physical play. Another recent Raptors acquisition, Australian talent Sam Figg, reluctantly left the pitch in the final minute of the first half, banged up following some big tackles. With a try under his belt in the sixteenth minute, he certainly made his presence known before retiring to the bench. Figg, who has been described as one of the most valuable players in the league, has impressed Williams early in the season: “Figgy is a great lad. We knew that coming in. He demands a lot of himself, and that’s exactly what we want – above and beyond.”
Perhaps the most tense moment of the Raptors/Warriors battle came early in the second half, when Glendale prop Kelepi Fifita was taken off the pitch on a stretcher following a sensational Raptors try. Accompanied by Glendale Director of Rugby Mark Bullock to a Salt Lake City hospital, Fifita underwent precautionary testing, which ultimately indicated no serious injury. Williams joined post-match: “It was tough but he was talking to us throughout. Good work on the part of the medics for doing what needed to be done. Kelepi was on a flight home Saturday night, and will be checked here this week. We’ll get him whatever treatment he might need and make sure he’s good to return to play.”
The Raptors host San Diego Legion this Sunday at 6pm Mountain Time. Playing their second home match of the season, the Glendale side will look to further solidify their position at the top of the Major League Rugby standings. Asked about personnel challenges this weekend, Williams is confident: “We’re fully expecting everyone on the team to be available for selection. Our injured players are working out even as we speak, and the boys are trickling in for treatments. It’s then up to me to make the selections.”
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+.