Warriors find their footing after rocky start to the Season
HERRIMAN — Niall Saunders has been an instant standout for the Utah Warriors this season and his recognition as such certainly isn’t without merit.
Saunders is a native Irishman who joined the Warriors just prior to the start of the season after playing for the legendary Harlequins organization of the English Premiership. Standout plays have become common for the Warrior starting scrum half, including Sunday’s heady go-ahead try versus the Los Angeles Giltinis past Sunday in helping provide the 28-19 win.
But while Saunders has necessarily received a lot of the attention, he’s the first to recognize the standout play of those around him, which includes the play of the team forwards.
Big and brawny, the play of the forwards on the rugby pitch is often overlooked, much like it is for offensive and defensive linemen on the football field, despite their role being crucial for any team’s success.
“On Sunday you saw each of them get over 20 tackles, which is impressive in any league,” Saunders noted of the team’s forwards. “A lot of those boys go unnoticed, but definitely not to us. They build the basis for our attack, and I really do think they won the game for us last week.”
Standouts on the Warriors’ frontline last week and throughout the season have been Paul Mullen, Saia ‘Uhila, Tuvere Vugakoto, Bailey Wilson, Jamie Lane and Franco Van Den Berg, among several others.
It’s a group that perhaps took a bit of time to truly get going, considering the arrival of their specific position coach, Robbie Abel, came only after the team’s first two matches of the year, both of which the Warriors lost.
St. Patrick’s Game this Saturday ☘️
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) March 14, 2022
“Robbie’s influence has been massive for us,” Saunders noted. “We weren’t operating at a level we wanted to be, but you saw on Sunday, and certainly the week before, how much better everything from the scrums to the breakdowns have been. So Robbie has been a massive, massive influence for us.”
Abel joined up with the Warriors late due to work visa clearance issues in arriving in Utah from New Zealand. But better late than never, with the specific position players he coaches singing the same praises doled out by Saunders.
“Robbie is an extremely experienced rugby player himself, and just coming out of playing he holds a lot of current knowledge and wisdom that he shares with us,” Van Den Berg said. “He’s shared a lot of really positive things that we’ve worked hard to apply that has given us a real edge.”
Abel’s influence along with other factors have rejuvenated the Warriors considerably, leading to two consecutive wins to follow up on the three tough straight losses to begin the 2022 season.
Next up for Utah are three straight home matches beginning with this Saturday’s matchup versus the Toronto Arrows.
“I’m extremely excited to play at Zions Bank Stadium for three straight games,” Van Den Berg said. “This place gets incredibly loud and our fans really help out to give us a big edge for the entire game. We just feed off of all of it. We play for our family and for our community and we work hard to show that at home.”
“We’re trying to make Zions Bank (Stadium) a fortress for us, that nobody is going to come in here and take a win,” Saunders said. “So these three games — we’re licking our lips for this and we’re expecting three straight wins and we’re working hard for it.”
Following Saturday’s match versus the Arrows will be matches versus the Houston Sabercats and then the San Diego Legion before the Warriors take a bye week before heading back out on the road.
OTHER ADDITIONS COMING
Another key addition coming soon to the Warriors is the widely-reported addition of former BYU football standout Paul Lasike. Having played with Lasike over in England, Saunders is very familiar with Lasike’s play, causing him to grin quite widely when asked what his former Harlequins teammate will add to the Warriors’ overall play.
“I couldn’t be more excited to have Paul over here,” Saunders said. “I know exactly what he can do and he’ll bring all the experience he’s gained playing for the Premiership. It’s just going to be huge for all of us here. I know we’ll all learn a lot from Paul, and even the coaches and yeah, I couldn’t be more excited.”
Lasike is expected to formally join the Warriors within the next couple of weeks.
— Utah Warriors Rugby (@utwarriorsrugby) March 16, 2022
UTAH WARRIORS VS. TORONTO ARROW
Date: Saturday, March 19
Time: 2:30 PM MDT
Where: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman
Broadcast: KMYU, the Rugby Network, KSL Sports, TSN
Radio: ESPN 700 and ESPN 960
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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