Utah Warriors Fall In Heartbreaking Western Conference Championship Match

Jul 25, 2021, 7:14 PM
Utah Warriors Rugby...
(Courtesy of Utah Warriors Rugby)
(Courtesy of Utah Warriors Rugby)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Utah Warriors fell in a heartbreaking Western Conference Championship match, 17-13, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.

In the early minutes, two Giltini tries were called back, one due to an illegal forward pass and another as a result of an LA player stepping out of bounds. The Warriors were not without miscues of their own, as a lost lineout and a knock-on stalled Utah scoring opportunities in the first 20-minutes of action.

Both teams continued to trade field position, with the Utah Warriors holding possession in LA territory, for 10 minutes of action following the first half water break. Eventually, as nerves began to settle down for both teams, it was the Giltinis that drew first blood with a try in the 34th minute of play, giving LA the 7-0 advantage.

Utah responded with a penalty goal just before the two teams headed into the locker room for half, with LA leading 7-3.

“Our game plan coming into the game was to try to play a very physical brand of rugby and attacking defense, and I think we accomplished that while limiting them to seven points,” said Warriors Head Coach Shawn Pittman. “We gave zero points in the first 20 minutes, which is the least amount of points they’ve scored in the first 20 minutes of any game they played the season. So I thought we did a really good job of limiting their chances offensively in the first half.”

The Utah Warriors opened the second half scoring the way they ended the first half, with a booming penalty goal from Hagen Schulte to cut the LA lead to one, 7-6, in the 48th minute.

Utah finally captured the lead in the 58th minute when Sama Malolo powered his way between the posts for an automatic seven points, giving the Warriors the 13-7 advantage.

“In the locker room we talked about just believing, believing that we could do something really special today,” said Pittman. “I think the boys really did believe and you can see that the energy that came out in that second half. You could see that our boys had the belief that we could defend them for long periods of time without releasing points. I think we did that well in that second 20 minute part which helped out get out to that lead.”

The Giltinis, owners of MLR’s top regular season record, would not go away quietly, as they were able to find their way into the try zone, however a missed conversion kept LA from retaking the lead, as Utah held on, 13-12, in the 69th minute.

With the Warriors clinging to a one-point lead in the 75th minute, the Giltinis broke the Warriors’ defense and raced their way into the try zone to take the 17-13 lead after an unsuccessful conversion kick.

The Utah Warriors, billed as the comeback kings for much of the 2021 season, ultimately could not break the strong Giltini defense, turning the ball over to LA in the waning minutes, as LA held on for the 17-13 victory.

“It’s been a very unique journey from the beginning of the season to now,” said Pittman. “Reflecting on the season as a whole, I think we’ve built something that’s really valuable, and in our culture, we’re really resilient. We back each other. We hold each other accountable. The major thing is we are never truly down and out. And that’s a beautiful sign of a very strong culture and very strong community that we have built within the team.”

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