WARRIORS PICK UP FIRST WIN OF 2019 OVER ELITE
When the Utah Warriors showed up to Dell Stadium to take on Austin Elite Rugby on Friday night, it was apparent that they had put their week of observation to good use.
“For sure,” Utah head coach Alf Daniels said of whether having the first week off was an advantage. “I mean, we were an unknown this week having not played against any of the MLR teams in the preseason, so we were definitely at an advantage of being an unknown team and I guess we got to see a couple of things about them that we thought we could exploit tonight and I thought that showed especially in our set piece with our scrum, our lineout, and our maul work.”
The Warriors (1-0) jumped on the Elite (0-2) early and never looked back, even with Austin nipping at their heels for a majority of the match and it was largely in part to, as Daniels referred to, their defensive scrums and their ability to gain ground with their mauls.
Unfortunately for Austin, the difference came down to the inability to score tries. What makes the result even more frustrating is the fact they were on the other side of the equation just a week earlier as the held the visiting Houston SaberCats tryless but still found themselves on the losing end after Sam Windsor hit all seven of his penalty goals to defeat Austin 21-20.
Utah got the scoring started early on when inside center Tim O’Malley broke the line and rumbled into Austin territory. After sucking in the defense with some quick pick-and-goes, wing Fetu’u Vainkolo spun the ball wide to flanker Arawa Elkington who took the ball in for a try. O’Malley nailed the conversion to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead.
Austin answered back with back-to-back scores of their own in the form of penalty kicks from fly-half Timothee Guillimin to cut Utah’s lead to just one before the 20-minute hydration break.
Just like at the beginning of the match, Utah came out of the break swinging and that ultimately resulted in Lance Williams slipping out of the side of a big driving maul and in for the try to give the Warriors a 14-6 lead after O’Malley’s conversion.
Austin’s big troubles on offense began at the 27-minute mark when Utah began to cause trouble defensively with their set pieces. After bypassing a makeable Guillimin kick, they elected to scrum and coughed the ball up after Utah forced them into a penalty. The same issues spilled over into an Austin lineout just a few minutes later when the ball went over the top and into the hands of the Warriors.
After realizing some of the problems they were having with their set pieces, Guillimin knocked a penalty goal through the posts to give Austin a fighting chance as they went into the locker room down 14-9.
Unfortunately for Austin, that’s where the scoring dried up and according to their captain Ben Mitchell, that falls squarely on their own shoulders.
“I think it was something we made mistakes on,” Mitchell said on his team’s inability to finish sequences. “We didn’t really hold the ball on, didn’t get much momentum going forward in the pack and that’s where we kind of hurt ourselves really. We gave away some penalties at the wrong time and our set-piece didn’t function as we would have liked, and we were kind of starved of good possession of the ball.”
Both teams settled in and played some solid defense throughout the second half, but it was the mistakes that Utah avoided and the ones that Austin couldn’t that propelled the Warriors to victory.
For as good as Guillimin was in the kicking game in the first half, his struggles in the second half, and a questionable call on a kick that appeared to sneak in on the right side of the left upright, didn’t do Austin any favors.
Even with Guillimin’s second half struggles, Austin still had plenty of opportunities to jump out in front of the Warriors who were handed two yellow cards in the last 15 minutes of the match.
“I thought we were very good on defense tonight again,” Mitchell said. “I thought we brought a more physical and aggressive edge to the game than we did last week and that was definitely something that we were looking to improve upon. Definitely a lot of things to work on on attack and sort of our game management side of things.”
Perhaps Utah’s biggest opportunity came after O’Malley nailed a penalty goal to give Utah a seemingly comfortable 17-9 lead. Austin then took the ensuing kickoff deep into Utah territory and forced a penalty. After trying to play quickly out of the penalty, Brendan Rams stumbled an knocked the ball on just two meters short of the try zone in what pretty much summed up Austin’s night offensively.
“I think last season we probably would’ve allowed some of the yellow cards, those turnover counter attack opportunities to end in points, but the boys showed a lot of heart to get back defensively and to get back in and stop them from scoring. The fact that they didn’t score a try tonight is probably especially pleasing to us as a team.”
Guillimin wasn’t able to hit any of the three kicks he attempted in the second half and the Elite ultimately fell 17-9.
Austin will get back in the saddle next Friday when they host the Toronto Arrows while Utah will enjoy a week off before heading over to San Diego on February 17.
Austin Elite Rugby
Penalty Goals: Timothee Guillimin (3/6)
Tries: Arawa Elkington, Lance Williams
Conversions: Tim O’Malley (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Tim O’Malley (1/1)
Colton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Colton Strickler, MLR Correspondent. Photo: Norma Salinas.
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