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Legion Come From Behind to Win on the Road 29-19 Over RUNY

by Chad Wise
images: Courtesy of RUNY/@flobophotosports

CONEY ISLAND, NY  – A gutsy, come-from-behind effort by the San Diego Legion (7-2-1) at MCU Park Sunday afternoon resulted in a 29-19 defeat of Rugby United New York (7-2), the team’s fourth unbeaten match on the road during the 2019 Major League Rugby season.

Captain Joe Pietersen iced the cake in the last five minutes to create the 10-point gap and take away RUNY’s would-be bonus point in a heated race for MLR Playoffs position. Conor Kearns, Paddy Ryan, and Save Totovosau scored tries at pivotal moments in the match as San Diego ended the host’s five-match winning streak. The Legion improve to 3-0-1 away from Torero Stadium, where the only team to take points off of San Diego on the road, Glendale, will try its luck again on Saturday, April 20.

“We take the same mentality into each game: we love to compete,” Head Coach Rob Hoadley said after the win. “We knew New York was a tough opponent after our game in Week 1. It was another great MLR match up with uncompromising play on both sides.”

Two quick scores by RUNY brought the home crowd to its feet before the visiting Legion could reply. American international lock Nate Brakeley finished off a forwards move from a set piece four minutes from the opening whistle and James Denise was the beneficiary of a Ben Foden break inside the RUNY half.

Down, 12-0, San Diego had not sustained possession for any length of time in a foggy atmosphere. Ryan shifted the momentum before the 10-minute mark when he pounced on a loose ball in a RUNY ruck and offloaded to Totovosau. The wing stretched his legs around the final defender to stay in play and dot down for the Legion’s reply, 12-5.

The fast pace of the opening 15 minutes did not last as the teams began to adjust to the opposition. Lock Jasa Veremalua exchanged pleasantries with RUNY loose forward John Quill as things heated up, necessitating warnings to both teams, but loose play slowed on the wet converted baseball field. The Legion held a minor advantage in the scrums while throwing away one scoring opportunity with an illegal lineout.

Ryan won a scrum penalty against RUNY loose head prop James Rochford inside the final 10 minutes of the half to set up a Legion throw in hostile territory. San Diego made no mistake with the throw and strung phases together to approach the try line, where scrum half Nate Augspurger found the Australian prop for the score under the posts. Pietersen converted from in front to knot the score at 12-12.

Under defensive duress from a driving maul and follow-up set pieces, San Diego conceded multiple penalties in their own half with time ticking away towards halftime. Two such penalties were spotted in RUNY lineouts before a third drew a penalty advantage negated by a Mike Petri try. The converted score restored RUNY’s lead at 19-12 heading into the changing rooms.

Kearns’ injection at the commencement of the second frame added fresh legs to a hungry back line, which opened space in the middle of the field for the hard-working forwards. Lock Lou Stanfill and prop Oti Pifeleti ventured into the RUNY 22 on separate attacks but turnovers prevented early scoreboard additions.

The pack won a penalty in RUNY’s scrum put-in at the attacking 22 and followed with a strong driving maul from the ensuing lineout. RUNY could not cope; the match official hit the home side’s Quill with a penalty for bringing down the maul at the try line, awarding a penalty try, 19-19.

RUNY responded with time in possession, only for Foden to drop a simple pass in the face of prop Dean Muir 15 meters from the line. The forwards were stable in the scrum to allow Augspurger to sling the ball out to his backs. Mikey Te’o broke the gain line with a full head of steam and delivered a one-handed offload to Kearns along the touch line. Foden was victimized again as the reserve raced past to chase his own grubber kick, collecting it in-goal for the Legion’s first lead, 24-19.

“We have threats all over the field and it’s great to have depth in the squad, too,” Hoadley reflected. “It’s a long season and every single player is contributing each week in training and games.”

“We were extremely profligate considering the amount of chances we created today. The turnovers conceded when in strong positions was the biggest thing that cost us. It’s something we need to tidy up to play up to our potential. The scrum continues to be dominant and we carried well to create a lot of quick ball past the gain line.”

Sloppy handling and a steady Legion set piece pushed forward through adversity into the final 10 minutes of the match. A scrum win preceded Pietersen dummying his way through the RUNY defense for the final try, extending San Diego’s margin of victory to 10 points at 29-19.

After 10 matches played, San Diego sits comfortably in third in the League standings on 36 points. Only NOLA Gold (8-2, 43 points) and the Seattle Seawolves (7-3, 37 points) are ranked higher, with RUNY outside of playoff contention behind the Glendale Raptors (5-3-2, 33 points) with a game in hand.

“That’s two four-try bonus points in two weeks,” Hoadley concluded. “We are creating a lot of opportunities and will have to be at our best to execute against a quality Glendale team next Saturday.”

Welcome the Legion back to San Diego this Saturday, April 20, in a Week 13 matchup against the Glendale Raptors at Torero Stadium. Purchase tickets here and be on the lookout for exciting game-day information on #WeAreLegion social channels.

Watch the full re-play of the game here.