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Legion 45-17 Austin Elite Rugby

by Chad Wise

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Four tries scored in the first half kicked off a six-try outburst for the San Diego Legion (4-1) Friday night in a 45-17 win over host Austin Elite Rugby (0-5). San Diego now tops the Major League Rugby standings on 18 points with the bonus point victory.

The current League leaders have conceded only five tries on their four-match win streak. The Legion will benefit from their first bye of the season having played five matches in a row but didn’t show signs of fatigue in the blitz of Austin.

“Difficult to pick out individuals as everyone contributed,” Head Coach Rob Hoadley said. “It is the first time since New York in Week 1 that we have played in dry conditions and it gave us the opportunity to exploit space. We can still be more accurate in terms of finishing opportunities but we are happy to create a lot of chances.”

A consistent set piece foothold was a main component of the attack that starved Austin for possession for much of the match, starting with mauls and a fifth-minute scrum push. The half-back duo of Nate Augspurger and Joe Pietersen sent the ball away from the pack and into the hands of JP du Plessis, who took a defender into the try zone on his way to opening the scoring. A San Diego penalty on the next possession saw Austin kick a penalty goal to cut the lead to 7-3.

Defensive pressure on a winless Elite team that has had scoring trouble early in the season drew an offensive penalty out of Austin just after the water break. The resulting lineout from Pietersen’s kick was thrown 15 meters from the try line, where the Legion forwards pushed the maul for Dean Muir’s first try of the season. The captain converted, 14-3.

Ryan Matyas   nearly latched on to two kicks – one his own and another from Pietersen – before Dylan Audsley and Psalm Wooching took the Legion closer with forward runs. Pietersen fed du Plessis, who took contact and got rid of the ball for Devin Short in space five meters from the line. The loose forward scored his second try in as many matches, 21-3, just three minutes after Muir’s.

The Legion didn’t stop at three tries after being held to two in four consecutive matches. Pietersen pinned Austin wing Peni Tagive back at his own try line with a well-placed kick and a fervent chase ensued that forced a turnover. The ball bounced into the corner from an Audsley kick, only for Matyas to dot down in-goal with feet behind the short end line. Following a brief stoppage for an Austin injury, the Elite took Jasa Veremalua into touch to end one scoring opportunity but gave one right back. Augspurger jumped on Mikael Ramera’s first pass from the lineout and dove over the line to secure the bonus point at 28-3.

The home team would have the last say on the scoreboard before the half time whistle with captain Ben Mitchell powering through from 10 meters. Augspurger was in the try zone after intercepting another lineout throw but couldn’t get the ball down to keep the score at 28-10.

Successive Austin penalties under pressure brought a warning from the match official to open the second half. The set piece continued its dominance and again pushed over the try line after five minutes, but any potential grounding was blocked from view. Fakaosi Pifeleti replaced Nathan Sylvia in the front row for the next scrum and capped off a forward-led assault with a try moments later. The front rower picked up the ball from the ruck and launched himself past the defenders to extend the lead to 35-10.

“We scored through backs and forwards and carried a threat across the field,” Hoadley said. “The forwards won the physical battle on the gain line and gave us the platform to find space. We are building strength in depth and it was great to see the impact from our finishers.

The free-flowing attack continued to complement the defensive effort that stifled Austin on home turf, drawing more infractions out of Austin as well as a yellow card for substitute Dylan Pieterse. San Diego was unable to capitalize on the advantage, however, as time without the ball extended Elite possession through penalty trouble. Just as the player in the bin was ready to come back onto the field, the Elite broke free along the wing for Josh Larsen to score.

“We gave away far too many penalties on defense in the second half,” the head coach lamented. “It was lazy by us and will need to be eradicated for us to continue to build from our defense.”

Audsley added a penalty goal for the 38-17 lead 10 minutes from time and converted Savenaca Totovosau’s try a minute later after a 60-meter run by Augspurger to make it 45-17. Austin could barely gain the attacking 10 as the Legion saw out the victory with more victories in the set pieces.

Hoadley’s squad will watch Week 6 from home before welcoming the Toronto Arrows (2-2) to Torero Stadium March 10. Purchase tickets for the homecoming here.