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Friday night's match between the Utah Warriors and the Austin Elite at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah came down to who could play a full 80 minutes and finish the game. Leading 27-22 with less than ten minutes left and Austin with momentum, Utah reasserted itself scoring two tries in the final six minutes to earn its first MLR victory, 41-22.
“Our focus was to come out hard straight from the get-go, get up ahead to them, and keep that lead,” Utah scrumhalf Joseph Nicholls said. “We did that well in the first half as the pace and the tempo were where we wanted it.”
“In the second half, we struggled and we knew Austin was going to come back with big runners, good moves, and big tempo that we had put off for the next 15-20 minutes. We did our best and it was hard for us to have the scoreline come so close but we knew we had the gas in the tank. The forwards try with the lineout bumped us up and gave us the edge and burst to finish strong.”
Even though Utah scored six tries and over forty points in the win, Nicholls attributed the victory to the defense. “We gave away unnecessary penalties, but we defended like Trojans on the line... and made them work for their points. For us, that’s a big up as a team. When you defend for 15 minutes and just keep going, it’s kind of demoralizing on attack. We made them fight for those points and just to get the ball back and put points back on them, it does something to you mentally. As much as our attack was strong, our defense pulled the win through for us.”
Austin CEO Thierry Daupin was critical of the Elite’s performance after the match. “We do small mistakes that cost us a lot and we were not able to recoup and be able to do something positive. When it was 27-22 with seven minutes left, we had the chance and momentum and all the sudden, we missed the ball and they score right back. This shouldn’t happen. It’s very frustrating because we are not focused. We lost our focus at the most important time. We have a young team but also people need to realize that this is professional rugby and we need to be ready.”
The Elite will have plenty to iron out the kinks as they don’t play again until May 26th when they host San Diego at Round Rock. “It will be a very good time because we are going to have a few players back,” Daupin said. “We are going to work very hard because we can’t lose focus with seven minutes left in the game. That means we are losing the attitude in training. We are going to work on the attitude and the efficiency during the training to make sure we can play full 80 minutes.”
Unfortunately, the Warrior’s first win came at a high cost as fullback Jared Whippy fractured his leg like his brother Josh did a few weeks earlier.
Head coach Alf Daniels commented on the loss during the postgame press conference saying, “It will test the depth and resilience of our team and will show everybody what this Warrior team is made of. We’ll take a few knocks, but I’ll tell you what, we are not out of this competition by any means and we are going to keep fighting. It’s always hard you lose quality players like both of those boys and we’ll be tested more with a couple of our boys heading off to national duties in a couple of weeks. It will be a massively big test for us.”
It took four weeks to secure Utah’s first win, but the team will use this achievement as motivation for the rest of the season. “It’s been a rocky road for us,” Nicholls stated. “Different players meshing and we didn’t have much time to get into the season but today, I would say personally, we have the mental strength and capacity to pull through on the big games."
“When you watch the major international teams, they have their big match temperaments,” Nicholls continued. “When it counts most, they keep calm, they keep the phases going, and they push through for the win. For us to be able to do that today and come back from being five points apart to pulling it off at the end, that’s a big up and a big factor that we learned we can do now.”
Seattle is next on the docket for Utah as it attempts to get back to 0.500 next Sunday.