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Legion fall to Arrows for second time this season

by: Chad Wise
images: José Romelo Lagman, Bob Rowland, and Jeff Chan

TORONTO  – A last-minute winner sealed the San Diego Legion’s fate Sunday afternoon in a 23-19 loss to the Toronto Arrows at Lamport Stadium, the second loss of the 2019 Major League Rugby season to the first-year team.

Just as the Arrows snapped a four-match win streak at Torero Stadium back in Week 7, the Week 15 result ends a five-match streak – six unbeaten – for the Legion. A losing bonus point further cements the Legion in second place in the League standings as the playoffs approach.

Two matches remain on the current away run of matches for Head Coach Rob Hoadley and crew. Next up is No. 1 NOLA Gold Saturday, May 11, at noon PT. Catch the action live on CBSSN.

The Legion defense found itself on the uncharacteristic back foot in the opening 10 minutes as the Arrows played fast and loose in front of the home crowd. Beginning with a reversed try in the third minute, Toronto was turned away from the try line time and time again to stout set piece play by the visitors. Several penalties behind San Diego’s 22 offered captain Dan Moor opportunities to take shots at goal, and evidence of Legion disciplinary issues without ball in hand, but went begging.

Scrum half Nate Augspurger typified the effort of the squad with a well-executed tackle of Moor into touch to win possession minutes from the first-half water break. A few phases later, captain Joe Pietersen dummied his way through the gain line to set JP du Plessis away with an offload in contact. The center slipped past the final defender for the opening score, 5-0.

Not making the mistake of leaving San Diego territory with the same zero on the scoreboard, Arrows fly half Sam Malcolm called for the tee in the 24th minute to draw closer at 5-3.  Not a minute later, du Plessis was shown yellow for an intentional knock. In the final minute of the sinning, the Legion lost center Dylan Audsley to an apparent injury as well as the lead to a second Malcolm kick afforded by a San Diego penalty.

Toronto had one last first-half spell with the match official’s whistle imminent. A loose pass fell in the vicinity of creative full back Mike Te’o, who volleyed the ball behind the out-of-position Arrows to chase. The bounce of the ball was kind and the 50-meter race to the try line was not much of a race at all for Te’o for a 12-6 lead at halftime.

Malcolm recorded his third penalty kick early in the second half before a defensive swipe in front of the posts prevented Pietersen from replicating the first try with an offload to du Plessis. The Legion shifted the momentum with the continued defensive dependability and looked to capitalize on a penalty in the attacking half. Pietersen lined up the kick along the touch line and launched a beauty toward awaiting flag bearers, only for the ball to ping back into play off of the uprights, keeping the score at 12-9.

Augspurger was sent to the bin in the 66th minute when a tackle was deemed to be made high, and it didn’t take long for Toronto to set eyes toward the in-goal area. Leandro Levas received the ball in a gap at the gain line and dotted down for the second lead change of the match. Malcolm cashed in on his fourth successful kick of the day from the touch line, 16-12.

Substitute Drew Gaffney followed the experienced Pietersen on the captain’s break a possession later to cross the attacking 22. The Legion found rhythm with ball in hand and pounded on the try line until the referee lost sight of the ball and whistled for a scrum. Nick Boyer slung the ball out of the feet of the pack and Pietersen wrangled the ball over a defender and into the try zone, 19-16.

After more than 75 minutes of sure-handed work in the set pieces, miscommunication at a lineout in front of the try line led to the Legion giving away possession on the doorstep, needing a penalty to slow the wave of Arrows. The penalty called for the third yellow card of the day for players in red jerseys, shelving substitute Dino Waldren for the remainder of the match. Steven Ng found the extra bit of space on the field to score the game-winning try, 23-19, before Toronto saw out the game from the ensuing restart.

The third loss of the season, and the second to Toronto, is the second in which the Legion has gained a losing bonus point in the standings, ensuring second place belongs to San Diego heading into Week 16. The Legion’s road trip heads down to Louisiana for Saturday’s match against MLR-leading NOLA Gold. The two regular season heavyweights will play each other twice in the span of three weeks to finalize playoff seeding.

Toronto Arrows Score Report

Tries: L. Leivas (67), S. Ng (79)
Conversions: S. Malcolm 2 (68, 80)
Penalty Goals: S. Malcolm 3 (23, 36, 42)

San Diego Legion Score Report

Tries: J.P. du Plessis (17), Mike Te’o (39), J. Pietersen (72)
Conversions: J. Pietersen 2 (40, 73)

Catch the Legion Saturday, May 11, live from Gold Stadium on CBSSN, and stay tuned for watch party information for fans in Southern California.

Watch the full re-play of the game here.