Game preview: Utah Warriors travel to Austin for opening weekend
Herriman, Utah — The Utah Warriors will begin their 2021 Major League Rugby (MLR) regular-season play this weekend against the Austin Gilgronis. The Warriors will travel to Austin, Texas and face off with the Gilgronis at 6:00 p.m. MDT in BOLD Stadium. The last time the two teams matched up in 2020, the Warriors ripped a would-be victory from Austin’s clutches with a late effort to tie the match, 20-20.
“Austin has a very strong team, and we’re looking forward to this being our first game of the year,” said Utah Warriors head coach Shawn Pittman. “Our players have trained really hard over the past five weeks, and this is going to be the reward at the end of the preseason.”
This weekend will allow the newly-named captain, Bailey Wilson, and vice-captain, Mikey Te’o, the opportunity to display their leadership capabilities for this 2021 Utah team. Wilson could possibly be the youngest captain in the league, but his rugby resume, intelligence, and skills more than qualify him for the job. Previously, he captained the USA U19s in the Rising Junior All-American Winter Camp and the USA U20s against Canada in 2019.
Following his stellar U19 and U20 captaincy tenures, Wilson was drafted into the Warriors on the heels of leading his local Utah Valley University team in 2018 and 2019. Wilson made an instant impact, starting in all five games of the 2020 season and carrying one of the team’s highest tackle counts.
“It’s been a long preseason, and the team has been working very hard to set ourselves up for success,” Wilson said. “I look forward to this weekend against Austin, where we can finally put all the pieces together for a full 80.”
Te’o brings a lot of professional rugby experience to his vice-captain position and to the team as a whole. He has caps with both the MLR’s San Diego Legion and the USA Eagles. Te’o’s last cap with the Eagles was in 2019 against Tonga in the Rugby World Cup, where he played in all 4 matches, starting twice. He also captained the Rhinos at the 2020 World Tens Series in Bermuda this past November.
In addition, this weekend will also allow Utah’s young, domestic new coaching staff an opportunity to show their skill sets. It wasn’t very long ago that both head coach Shawn Pittman and assistant coach Shaun Davies were players themselves. However, they are more than experienced for their roles and are passionate and hungry for success with this Utah team.
Pittman, a Washington State-native, made a name for himself as a USA U20 standout. He then spent two years with the London Welsh Rugby Football Club from 2010-2012 and was also called up as USA Eagle 396, where he appeared in 30 test matches from 2008-2013. He arrived to the Warriors last season, shortly after coaching the USA Eagles forwards in the 2019 Rugby World Cup and assisting with the Seattle Seawolves 2018 MLR championship as a coach.
Davies, on the other hand, is no stranger to the state of Utah. The South Africa-native has an extensive rugby career that ranges from winning two national championship titles with Brigham Young University to playing scrumhalf with the Eagles in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He is looking to make an impact as part of the coaching staff for the Warriors this season.
“I think right now everyone is extremely excited to start the season off on a high,” Davies said. “The big thing is that we need to channel that energy in a positive manner. A lot of players from both teams haven’t played much rugby over the last year, and the team that controls their nerves and sticks to the plan will execute well.”
This weekend’s roster will feature some new players for the Warriors organization. In addition to Mikey Teo, Aston Fortuin also signed with the Warriors for the 2021 MLR season. Te’o’s noted experience along with Fortuin’s Super Rugby and Pro14 rugby experience will help solidify the Warriors backs and forwards respectively during tomorrow’s match.
“We have some new faces that Warriors Nation can look forward to seeing on the weekend,” Davies said. “In particular, Aston Fortuin has been awesome for us. He has the size and physicality of a tight 5 player, but his skills are unbelievable. He really helps us play the exciting brand of rugby we want to play.”
Warriors veteran Angua Maclellan will also be featured on Saturday in the tighthead prop position, as he will lock shoulder with his friend, former All Black and current Gilgronis loosehead prop Jamie Mackintosh.
“Some of the big matchups are in the front row, with two friends, Jamie and Angus, going head to head,” Pittman said. “Set piece is going to be very important this weekend, and with that being said, we’ve worked hard all week to get our roles right here.”
Also making an appearance this weekend is the Warriors’ second-year fly-half Hagen Schulte, who led the Warriors in scoring last year over the five-game 2020 regular season.
“We have Hagen coming back in at 10, which will give the forwards some real confidence in the middle to dominate that gain line,” Davies said. “His strength is organizing and giving the big boys the early comms they need to reload and get set, giving us more options around the park.”
Although the Warriors own a 3-1-1 record over their Austin rivals, Davies said the Gilgronis won’t be the same team that has finished near the bottom of the table in all three years of the MLR competition.
“Austin has made some really positive changes and steps in the right direction,” Davies said. “They are going to be a big test for our boys, but we have had a really tough preseason to prepare them. The guys can take that confidence into this game and know that we have the personnel and systems to beat anyone in the MLR.”
The Utah Warriors season opener will be broadcast live on KSLSports.com and by using the KSL TV App. The game will also be streamed live on the MLR’s new The Rugby Network OTT platform or the mobile apps.
All Utah Warriors games broadcast on KSLSports, the KSL TV App and The Rugby Network can be accessed live by both domestic and international viewers.
Utah Warriors fans will also be able to tune into ESPN 960 for this weekend’s game. The game will not be available on ESPN 700, due to a schedule conflict.
UTAH WARRIORS VS. AUSTIN GILGRONIS
Date: March 20, 2021
Time: 6:00 p.m. MDT
Where: BOLD Stadium (Austin, TX)
Broadcast: KSLSports.com, KSL TV App, The Rugby Network
Radio: ESPN 960
Utah Warriors Gameday Roster:
- Franco van den Berg
- Sama Malolo
- Angus Maclellan
- Aston Fortuin
- Matt Jensen
- Lance Williams
- Bailey Wilson
- Jurie Van Vuuren
- Michael Baska
- Hagen Schulte
- Joe Mano
- Calvin Whiting
- Tyler Fisher
- Josh Whippy
- Mikey Te’o
- Tuvere Vugakoto
- Alex Tucci
- Olive Kilifi
- James Mocke
- Thomas Tu’avao
- Mike Gieselman
- Fraser Hurst
- Logan Tago
*Roster is subject to change without notice up to the start of the match
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