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Utah Warriors Erase Two-Score Deficit For Third Week In A Row

(Courtesy of Utah Warriors)

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – For the third straight week the Utah Warriors erased a two-score deficit and put an end to New York’s three-game win streak with a 29-28 victory over Rugby United on Saturday afternoon.

New York opened the scoring early with a try by Apenisa Cakaubalavu in the fifth minute of play, giving Rugby United an early 7-0 lead over the Warriors.

Two consecutive penalties by New York, however, positioned the Warriors at the 5-meter-line just minutes later, setting up a Utah maul and an ensuing try by Sama Malolo, knotting the game at 7-apiece in the 12th minute.

The battle between two of Major League Rugby’s top teams lived up to the expectations of a physical, tightly contested battle as the match entered the first water break tied at seven.

Two minutes following the first-half water break, Utah’s Paul Mullen was given a yellow card and sent to the sin bin for 10-minutes, focing the Warriors to play a man down. New York quickly took advantage of the yellow card as fly-half Harry Bennett took the ball into the try zone to give Rugby United the lead back, 14-7 in the 24th minute after the successful conversion.

Olive Kilifi gave the Warriors a quick answer in the 30th minute as the Utah prop muscled his way into the try zone for the third consecutive week, tying the game at 14. The tie only lasted five minutes before Sakaria Taulafo powered his way into the try zone for an automatic seven points, as New York reclaimed the lead, 21-14.

Despite a tough New York defense, the Warriors would not be denied before the half as Thomas Tu’avao was able to dot it down in the 39th minute, but an unsuccessful conversion from Utah’s Cliven Loubser left the Warriors trailing RUNY 21-19 at the break.

“The first 20-minutes was like the beginning of a boxing match where we were trying to feel each other out,” said Warriors Head Coach Shawn Pittman. “The half time was all about upping the physicality and forcing them to hang with the tempo we were playing at.”

For the third straight week, Utah found themselves behind two scores in the second half after Wilton Rebolo was able to dot it down for Rugby United in the 45th minute, giving New York a nine point lead, 28-19.

With the Warriors threatening near the try-line, a Utah knock-on gave possession back to Rugby United. It was then that Utah went to the bench in the 56th minute, bringing on USA Eagles Mikey Te’o and Mika Kruse along with Jurie Van Vuuren and Aston Fortuin.

New York was forced to go a man down in the 58th minute following a yellow card and Utah was able to take immediate advantage as Te’o passed outside to Cliven Loubser who was able to race his way into the try zone, cutting Rugby United’s lead to four, 28-24, after an unsuccessful conversion.

“Having Mikey and Mika come off of the bench later in the second-half was always the plan,” said Pittman. “We wanted to up the chaos and force New York to make tough decisions with Mikey and Mika on attack, and fortunately it worked out well for us.”

Leading 28-24, New York missed a critical penalty goal in the 65th minute that would have extended their lead to seven. In the ensuing possession, Utah scrum-half Danny Christensen weaved his way through the New York defense and into Rugby United territory. Despite the promising field position, a tough New York defensive stand was able to keep Utah out of the try zone and force a Warriors’ turnover.

Just a couple minutes later, however, the Warriors were able to regain possession and following a powerful maul, Chirstensen passed the ball out to Kruse who rushed into the try zone and gave Utah their first lead of the game, 29-28 in the 77th minute.

“Danny is the man and the boys all love him,” said Warriors Assistant Shaun Davies. “He’s come on hugely this year and there’s no one on our team with more heart and desire to help the Warriors get better no matter what it takes. He played well today and with both Fraser [Hurst] and [Michael] Baska getting the call up to National Tours, he’s going to get a lot of playing time against Rugby ATL and I’m excited to see what he can do as he continues to see the field.”

A New York penalty on the ensuing kick-off gave Utah a scrum at midfield. The Warriors were able to keep possession for the remainder of the match to come away with the victory and five table points to remain in second place in MLR’s Western Division for another week.

The victory over New York marked the third straight match in which the Warriors were able to erase a two-score deficit in the second half to come away with the victory, a habit that has earned them the moniker ‘Comeback Kings.’

“That game was massive for us as a team,” said Davies. “It wasn’t the prettiest win for us but it was a win we needed to be able to get with New York’s physical style of rugby. The boys just continue to believe in themselves and what we’re doing here and then you include how much fun they’re having, it results in everyone working extremely hard for each other.”

The Warriors are back on the road next Saturday, June 26, in Houston, Texas as they will face off against the Houston Sabercats in a rematch of Utah’s high scoring 50-43 victory over the Sabercats in Week Six. That game can be seen on KSL and The Rugby Network, along with radio broadcasts on 700 AM and 960 AM.

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