How the Warriors’ Defense helped take down MLR’s Top Team
HERRIMAN — In searching how exactly to reboot an otherwise frustrating 2022 season, the Utah Warriors have focused on defense.
And the results have largely spoken for themselves.
Known primarily for their spectacular offense in years prior, the Warriors put on a defensive clinic last Saturday in taking a 22-8 win over the Austin Gilgronis.
“Our defense has stepped up massively these past two weeks,” said Warriors team captain Bailey Wilson. “All the boys across the board have picked it up and it’s been great to see.”
For Wilson, who plays the physically-demanding seven position, he’s been in the middle of just about all of it, logging more time this season than anyone on the team. It’s a position that doesn’t stand out to the casual fan, but is integral to any team’s success.
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) May 25, 2022
“I take pride in doing all the dirty work that doesn’t always get noticed,” Wilson said. “But I think everyone has taken that same mindset, and that’s been a big thing for us.”
Indeed everyone’s effort on defense is necessary for a team’s overall success, and it isn’t always easy for all 15 players to be completely engaged at every critical moment.
“Defense is a big mental challenge,” Wilson explained. “Everyone has to be up for it and everyone has to be bought in to work for one another. So it has to be all 15 of us, and not just a few, and I think that’s what you’ve been seeing. Everyone is bought in and we’re seeing the rewards.”
A lot of the credit has been lent to Warriors assistant coach Robbie Abel, who joined the team midseason to coach the forwards. Slowly but surely Abel’s efforts have reaped rewards, with the focus of keeping things simple and going back to basics.
“It’s really just been about simplifying what we’re doing defensively, and just going back to who we are as players,” Abel said. “We have boys who are tough, hard and resilient players and all I’ve tried to do is bring those characteristics through.”
Saturday was 𝑬𝑳𝑬𝑪𝑻𝑹𝑰𝑪 ⚡#ForTheNation
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) May 24, 2022
Heading the front line have been stalwarts such as Chad Gough, Olive Kilifi, Angus McClellan, Paul Mullen, Emerson Prior and Saia ‘Uhila, among several others. All of their efforts have been necessary for the Warriors’ resurgence.
“It’s all about testing ourselves over and over again,” Abel said. “Testing to see if we can keep coming off the line strong and winning collisions. For us, it really is just buying into our strengths with what we can do in the contact area.”
Buying into its strengths will be key as Utah (4-10) prepares to take on Major League Rugby defending champion Los Angeles Giltinis (10-4) this Saturday. Last time around it was the Warriors taking a 28-19 win back on March 13, although a lot has changed since.
“I think they’ve gotten a lot better, but so have we,” Wilson said. “I think we’ve been improving a lot, and again, it’s going to be all about stopping them up front so they don’t get a lot of gain out wide.”
Saturday’s game will mark the final home game of the season for the Warriors, which both players and coaches are sure to be up for.
“LA is going to be a big game, and it’s going to be a big one for us,” Abel said. “I wouldn’t want our last home game to be against anyone but them. It’s going to be great for our family and friends and we’ll see who wins the battle of the collisions. That’s where it’s going to be won.”
UTAH WARRIORS VS. LOS ANGELES GILTINIS
Date: Saturday, May 28
Time: 2:30 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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