Utah takes down Houston in battle for playoff spot
HERRIMAN, Utah — Winning is the most important thing in rugby, but not the only thing, which was very apparent following the Utah Warriors’ 34-28 win over the Houston SaberCats on Saturday.
With the playoffs rapidly approaching, Utah absolutely needed a win, sitting three points behind the SaberCats for the final spot in the Western Conference seedings, and it made up that ground with the four points earned for the win on top a bonus point for scoring at least four tries.
That’s the good news.
The bad news was a late try yielded to Houston, which gave the visiting team two bonus points by virtue of it being the fourth try scored on the evening on top of cutting the defeat margin by less than seven points.
Houston’s final try came as time expired, with Utah unable to secure possession and run out the clock, leaving a sort of bittersweet feeling after, despite the win.
“It’s a bit of a downer on the win, but a win is a win nonetheless,” said Warriors center Tyler Fisher. “So we’ll focus on that and keep happy, and keep progressing.”
With Houston gaining those two points at the end, it remains tied with the Warriors in the standings with just four games remaining on the season for both teams.
But as Fisher mentioned, getting the win was the most important thing, and the Warriors set the tone late in the second half to accomplish just that.
First it was Joel Hodgson, touching the ball down in the try zone off an assist from Mika Kruse, tying the score at 18-18 after a missed conversion kick in the 35th minute. Five minutes later saw Joe Mano close out the half in dramatic fashion, scoring a try after a long run-out and then receiving an assist from Fisher, giving Utah a 23-18 lead into the break and a lot of momentum.
The second half proved full of penalty kicks, with the teams exchanging kicks before a made penalty kick from Caleb Makene gave Utah a 34-23 lead with just three minutes of play remaining.
But a miscue on a lineout deep in its own territory gave Houston a late opportunity, which it cashed in as time expired for the critical two points.
“It’s obviously disappointing that we didn’t get that lineout at the end,” said Warriors coach Greg Cooper. “And then we made a defensive error, so yeah, it was disappointing, but we got a win…but we’ve got to close games better than that.”
Also disappointing, for the Warriors, was having to play without both team captain Bailey Wilson and forward Thomas Tu’avao, both of whom have played key roles to the team’s success this season. Both were scratched late due to illness, which perhaps contributed to a somewhat slow start, among other factors, although the late starting replacements largely responded well.
Filling in were Jurie Van Vuuren and veteran Saia ‘Uhila, who both provided solid play, although the team’s depth was perhaps affected toward the end.
“It was a great win,” Fisher said. “We had a couple of shuffles in the lineup right before, but nothing changes. The boys came into their starting positions and stepped up.”
With the win at home, in front of a sellout crowd, Utah pulls even in the standings with Houston for third place in the Western Conference, and will next look to host Rugby ATL at home next Saturday.
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