Utah Warriors Win Thriller Over LA Giltinis In Final Match Of 2021 Regular Season

Jul 17, 2021, 9:33 PM | Updated: 9:47 pm
Utah Warriors Rugby...
(Courtesy of Utah Warriors Rugby)
(Courtesy of Utah Warriors Rugby)

HERRIMAN, Utah – The Utah Warriors defeated the Los Angeles Giltinis, owners of Major League Rugby’s best record, 34-29 in a thrilling match to close out the 2021 regular season.

It took Major League Rugby’s top offense just two minutes before they got on the board as the Giltinis took it into the try zone, giving the visitors an early 5-0 lead following a missed conversion. A knock-on by LA on the ensuing kick-off gave the Warriors favorable field position andThe Utah Warriors defeated the Los Angeles Giltinis, owners of Major League Rugby’s best record, 34-29 in a thrilling match to close out the 2021 regular season. Aston Fortuin punched it in for the Warriors while a successful conversion gave Utah the 7-5 lead in the fifth minute of action.

The blistering scoring pace slowed after the opening minutes as penalties by both teams slowed promising drives until the 21st minute when Utah’s Jurie Van Vuuren muscled his way to five points, increasing the Warrior lead to 7, 12-5.

Utah continued to build on their lead as wing Josh Whippy broke through the LA defense before passing out to an open Michael Baska who, after returning from USA Rugby’s UK Summer Tour, raced down the field for another Warriors’ try, improving the Utah lead to 19-5 after a missed conversion kick.

“The first half, when we stuck to our structure and played how we wanted to play, we scored some really awesome tries,” said Warriors’ Assistant Shaun Davies. “Hopefully, going into the game in LA next week, we can have the ball-in-hand a little more, pla through our phases and really just put pressure on them. Obviously, LA is a team that wants to hold onto the ball. They’re really good at attacking, so the more that we can hold on the ball and the more we can attack, the more we can frustrate them which bodes well for us.”

The potent Giltini offense finally answered Utah’s 19 points with a try of their own, bringing Los Angeles within five points, 17-12.. Not to be outdone on their home field, Utah’s Sama Malolo continued his impressive play from a week ago, powering his way into the try zone for his fourth score in the past two weeks, giving the Warriors a 22-12 lead at the break.

“I thought the first half was really good,” said Warriors Head Coach Shawn Pittman. “We did give away some points to them, especially off of a couple kicks. But overall I thought we played well early on, our mauls were very positive, we were playing semi-expansive rugby, and I thought we went into the half with some really good confidence.”

The Giltinis opened the second half the same way they did the first, as they moved the ball down-field and into the try zone in the opening minutes to narrow the Utah lead back to five points.

Again, it was Malolo who responded for the Warriors as the hooker broke into the try zone for the Warriors, retaking a double-digit lead in the 53rd minute of play.

“Sama has played phenomenal for us these past couple of matches,” said Pittman. “He’s scored a lot of tries, some of which have taken a good deal of individual effort but the forward pack has really given him the platform to score. But he’s done a phenomenal job around the field and we’re really grateful to have him on our team.”

The Giltini attack was quick to respond to Malolo’s try as Los Angeles broke several Warrior tackles and rushed into the try zone just minutes later. The successful conversion by LA drew them within three points of Utah, 27-24, as the two teams entered the second-half water break.

In the 65th minute of action Utah’s Fraser Hurst was given a red card by referee Michael Lash, forcing the Utah Warriors to play with only 14 men for the remaining 15 minutes of play. The Giltinis were able to take advantage of the Utah red card eight minutes later, racing in for the try, taking their first lead since the two-minute mark in the first half.

Trailing by two in the waning minutes, the Warriors, similar to past games this season, took the ball down-field and inside the five meter-line. It was then that Warriors’ Vice Captain Mikey Te’o took the ball into the try zone and dotted it down, giving Utah the five point lead with one minute remaining on the clock.

Down a man from the red card earlier in the match, the Warriors’ defense stood tall as LA threatened in Utah territory in extra time, forcing a Giltinis ball-carrier into touch, clinching the 34-29 victory in the final regular season game of 2021.

The Warriors now turn their attention to a rematch against this same LA team next Sunday, July 25, in the Major League Rugby Western Conference Championship at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network beginning at 4:00 PM MDT.

“We definitely have to tighten some things up to put ourselves in contention for winning the game next week,” said Pittman. “The LA team we face next week will look a lot different than the one we faced tonight. So, we put ourselves in some holes on occasions, especially in the second half of today’s match, giving away multiple points, making poor decisions on attack. So, if we can tighten those things up for next week, on a smaller pitch which will allow us to play a bit more physical, then we should be in good shape.”

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