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Glendale punched its ticket to the inaugural Major League Rugby final with a 34-21 defeat of Utah Saturday at Infinity Park. The hosts built an early advantage off superior set pieces and led 34-7 late in the second half before the Warriors pumped in a pair of inconsequential tries. Glendale will face Seattle Saturday at Torero Stadium in San Diego.
The Raptors drew first blood in the third minute. Wing Mika Kruse stepped AJ Tu’ineau and Joe Nicholls, and then two phases later he had another threatening carry, finishing a give-and-go with an offload to No. 8 Sam Figg for the first try of the match. Will Magie converted – 7-0.
Figg was the most active player early on, picking off a Utah pass and appearing to score a second try off an errant Warriors lineout. However, the ball came forward off Glendale scrumhalf Shaun Davies, and the video replay caught the knock-on. Raptor lock Ben Landry also had an early try called back, as he stepped out of bounds while pulverizing a would-be tackler.
Glendale owned possession and territory in the opening 10 minutes. A countering run from fullback Maximo de Achaval was cut less than 10 meters short of the posts, but a breakdown penalty was called on Utah, and Magie slotted the easy three points.
An obstruction during a Landry carry gave Utah its best scoring platform via a point-blank lineout. The Warriors couldn’t take it cleanly, and Glendale was rewarded with a scrum. Utah attacked off the lineout following Magie’s exit kick, with Ara Elkington looping around the lineout and taking the ball up. Maka Tameilau crashed over the try line but couldn’t ground the ball.
Off the ensuing scrum, a short pass from No. 8 Tevita Tameilau to the streaking Paul Lasike was bobbled, resulting in a turnover.
Glendale extended the lead in the 29th minute through Harley Davidson. A long line break saw the ball go through several pairs of hands, including those of Chad London and Kruse, setting up the former Life All-American for the try.
Though the Raptors had a try nullified off a bobbled lineout earlier, this one wouldn’t be. Davies caught the tapped ball off the top of a Warrior throw and scurried in from more than 50 meters for Glendale’s third try. After a half hour, the home team led 22-0.
Utah finally got on the board in the 35th minute. Fullback Don Pati drew the attention of the Glendale defense, and wing Tonata Lauti slipped through a small gap with a blistering line before freezing de Achaval and dotting down. Kurt Morath converted, 22-7.
Kruse, who’d been instrumental in two of Glendale’s early tries, nearly got a score of his own on a kick and chase. He beat Pati to the ball, but couldn’t haul it in, resulting in a knock to end the half.
It took 12 minutes, but Glendale punched in the first try of the second half. John Cullen was penalized for pulling Davies into the ruck, and the Raptors kicked to the corner. They then won the lineout and waltzed in a driving maul, with Zach Fenoglio dotting it down. Magie converted, pushing the lead to 22.
Luke White added another in the 64th minute off a 10-meter lineout. Davies pulled the ball off the back of the scrum and darted weak, flicking a no-look pass back inside to Fenoglio, who carried it to the precipice. White crashed over on the next phase, making it 34-7.
Tevita Tameilau rumbled in for score off a point-blank penalty to give Utah a second score. Davies was called offside in a scrum on Glendale’s five-meter. His opposite, Nicholls, toed quickly and gave it to Tameilau to carry over. Nicholls converted, cutting the deficit to 20.
The Warriors showed more signs of life with an impressive 80-meter drive started by the dangerous Lauti. He shredded the Raptors for several meters before Alex Tucci barreled over Davies, but the scrumhalf tripped him up on the subsequent hurdle.
Utah kept possession thanks to some Glendale indiscipline, and a barge by Fets Vainikolo got the Warriors within inches of the line. Lasike picked up the offload that went to ground, and a phase later the Warriors were in. Ben Nicholls converted, cutting the deficit to 13 with under seven minutes to play.
The Warriors kept it interesting with a possession that spanned double-digit phases and most of the field over a few minutes. It ended in a Lasike knock-on, though, ending any hope of a miracle.