Warriors remain undefeated at home
HERRIMAN, Utah — The Utah Warriors could well be argued the hottest team in the Major League Rugby competition, and sustained that moniker on Saturday with a 41-35 win over the Seattle Seawolves.
The 41 points were the most Seattle, who many consider the MLR’s top defensive team, have given up this season with Utah scoring six tries and a penalty kick. Spurred on by an always energetic home crowd, Utah struck early, and responded to everything Seattle threw its way, en route to a fourth straight win.
“It was amazing,” said Warrior fly half Joel Hodgson. “We really appreciate all of what the fans do. They make a lot of noise and create a great atmosphere. So we try and put on a show to entertain, so hopefully we’re doing that.”
Hodgson again played a key role throughout the match and scored one of Utah’s six tries, placing the ball across the line just before the end of the first half, giving the Warriors a 21-14 lead at the break.
Leading off the scoring was Thomas Tu’avao, who scored a try in the game’s very first minute off an early Seattle turnover.
“That start was really important to us because this has been the No. 1 team in the conference up until last week,” said Warriors coach Greg Cooper. “So we knew it was going to be tough and we did enough to win, so it was pleasing.”
Seattle responded in the ninth minute, scoring a try off a maul to tie things at 7-7 before taking a 14-7 lead in the 22nd minute, taking advantage of Utah being issued a yellow card and playing a man down.
The Warriors received yet another yellow card, forcing them to play with just 13 players, yet responded in extraordinary fashion, scoring the final two tries of the first half. Mika Kruse scored a try in the 26th minute before Hodgson finished off the half with his aforementioned score.
“This team’s really showing a lot of heart every week,” Cooper said. “They’re hungry to attack and we defended unbelievably well with 13 men, but we gave a few soft tries away — something we’ll need to work on to fix up.”
“We went down to 13 men and they didn’t breach us,” Hodgson added. “It was a case of making sure we really believed what we’re about as a team. We took whatever Seattle threw at us and coped. So it was about digging deep and going to that dark place for one another.”
Seattle perhaps took a queue from Utah’s first half start in the second, scoring a try just one minute into the match’s final 40 minutes to tie things up at 21-21.
But Utah responded seven minutes later, with MLR leading scorer Joe Mano receiving an assist from Caleb Makene to take back the lead at 28-21.
But true to form, Seattle again responded quickly, scoring a try of its own just two minutes later to tie things at 28-28.
Utah then managed to take control for the duration, however, as the yellow cards expired which allowed it to come at the Western Conference defending champions on equal terms.
Hodgson contributed a penalty kick in the 58th minute to take back the lead for the Warriors at 31-28 before Cliven Loubser and Lance Williams added tries in the 64th and 72nd minutes, respectively. Although Utah missed on both conversion kicks, it found itself with a commanding 41-28 lead down the stretch.
“I think we’re just finding our groove,” Hodgson said. “The Utah brand of rugby is a lot of heart and a lot of determination. This team’s always been about the attack…but I think with defense we’re now backing it up. Our forwards are really (playing well.)”
Regrettably Utah allowed Seattle a crucial two bonus points by virtue of yielding a try with just two minutes remaining, which cut the score to 41-35, which proved to be the final.
So despite taking the win and matching Seattle’s win-loss mark at 6-2, Utah still remains in fourth place in the Western Conference with 27 total points to Seattle’s 29, San Diego’s 30 and Houston’s 31.
But taking the win over Seattle was the big thing, with players and coaches expressing confidence and a lot of pride after the match.
“These are our conditions and our people,” Cooper said. “The theme this week was that this is our fortress and our family, so it’s always important to protect what is a winning formula here.”
Utah will hit the road and take on Old Glory DC on April 22 as it attempts to push its winning streak to five games. Seattle will work to rebound from the loss versus the Toronto Arrows.
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