Former Harlequins hope to bolster Warriors this Saturday vs. Austin
HERRIMAN — Despite the current circumstance, two of the Utah Warriors most accomplished players couldn’t be more excited to return.
As the Warriors prepare to take on the Austin Gilgronis this Saturday, both Niall Saunders and Paul Lasike are back to full practice status, preparing as if there’s a lot on the line this Saturday.
And for both of them, there is a lot on the line, despite the playoffs now being an impossibility for Utah.
“We just want to finish off strong,” Lasike said. “It’s been a rough season, there’s no hiding that, but hopefully if we have something to hang our hat on for the rest of the season it will be a really nice thing. So our goal is to finish strong and with something to be proud of.”
Lasike has played just briefly for the Warriors after transferring over from England. Fans saw too brief of a look at the former BYU and Harlequins standout when he logged just 20 minutes of play off the bench versus the Houston Sabercats back on March 26.
Since then a nagging injury to his calf has forced him to the sidelines, which has been a cause of massive frustration.
“I really don’t even want to talk about it. It’s just been really bad luck and old age, I guess,” Lasike said. “But it’s been a frustrating time for sure. But I’m here and ready to get back, so I’m really happy about that.”
A lot of the same can be said for Saunders, who last played versus San Diego back on April 1 before joining Lasike on the sidelines. Back issues have underscored the former Harlequins standouts’ issues, although they appear to be behind him now.
“I just love playing rugby. I’m my most happy when I’m out there on the pitch,” Saunders said. “So these past few weeks have been really miserable for me. I’m just smiling and couldn’t be more excited to get back out there.”
Saunders and Lasike are both expected to add to the team’s depth off the bench this Saturday when Utah takes on one of the top teams in the league. Considering how accomplished both players are, the additions could well be considered massive for a team that has seen its share of struggles this season.
Both Saunders and Lasike have been keen observers of their team’s issues, but both have noted a bit of resurgence in recent weeks that they hope to add on to.
“I think it was just us coming together and driving standards,” Saunders said of the improved play. “You can see it in training, and the coaching staff has been a big key with that. Everyone is hurting, and it’s a collective responsibility on all of us to get better, and that’s what is driving standards.”
“We’re still too inconsistent, but overall we’ve made strides,” Lasike added. “The problem is that just about everyone else in the league has made strides as well…But we plan on finishing out the season strong.”
Finishing strong versus the league-leading Gilgronis won’t be an easy task, although Saunders is confident the Warriors can come away with a win.
“Austin is a well-structured team, so it’s hard to break them down,” Saunders said. “But at the same time, we have electric backs that can show some magic when they’re on the ball. So with our line and our backs, (getting a win) is definitely doable and we’re expecting to come away with a win.”
UTAH WARRIORS VS. AUSTIN GILGRONIS
Date: Saturday, May 21
Time: 8:00 PM MDT
Where: ZIONS Bank Stadium, Herriman
Broadcast: The Rugby Network, KJZZ, KSLSports, ESPN700
Brandon Gurney is the Utah Warriors Team Reporter. With nearly two decades of experience covering BYU Football in print and on radio, Gurney brings a wealth of experience to the Utah Warriors beat. You can read all of Gurney’s stories on the Utah Warriors throughout the 2022 Season at warriorsrugby.com
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