Legion Stay in Driver’s Seat Atop the MLR Standings With 31-21 Win over Warriors

by Chad Wise
images: @busterboyd & @siaosimanu2580

HERRIMAN, UT  – The San Diego Legion moved one step closer to a second consecutive Major League Rugby Playoff spot Saturday, May 18, in a 31-21 defeat of the Utah Warriors at Zions Bank Stadium to complete the season sweep.

Head Coach Rob Hoadley rang in a few changes as Lou Stanfill vice-captained a Legion squad missing leading scorer Joe Pietersen. Tai Enosa filled in at fly-half and accounted for four points from the boot, proving instrumental on attack with scrum-half Nate Augspurger and a back line responsible for four tries and a try assist.

The Legion finished a stretch of four matches played on the road with 16 points in the standings, retaining first place overall with one match to play. Torero Stadium will play host to the final match of the regular season against NOLA Gold, Sunday, June 2, at 4:30 p.m. PT.

A young crew of forwards knocked on the door from a lineout in the first five minutes, losing the ball on the try line. Utah sent the ball wide from the five-meter scrum to Don Pati, whose grubber kick at midfield was recovered by Save Totovosau and cleared to safety. The Legion turned the ball over in the breakdown before the Warriors could make anything of the field position and won a penalty to set up a lineout. Oti Pifeleti crashed through the gain line with force and Augspurger spotted a gap in the retreating defense. The scrum-half took contact and offloaded to Jordan Manihera for the try and 7-0 lead.

Back-and-forth play in the middle third was whistled by the match official for an illegal tackle initially unnoticed, giving Utah a set piece opportunity on San Diego’s side of the field. The Legion withstood the pressure despite a successive advantage played in front of the posts as the Warriors lost the ball forward.

After the first half’s hydration break, Utah capitalized on a lineout near the 22 by pushing a maul over the try line. Hooker Jeremy Leber’s name was written in the scoresheet for the try beside Tim O’Malley’s for the conversion, 7-7.

It did not take long for the Legion to regain the lead, kicking for a lineout at the attacking 22 before a dummy run involving JP du Plessis and Enosa shifted the defense. The fly-half zipped the ball to Mikey Te’o and Totovosau finished off the set play with the try, 12-7.

The Legion were threatening again in the final 10 minutes of the half with creative ball movement, with a pass to dangerous Jasa Veremalua impeded by O’Malley. The center was deemed to have knocked the ball on intentionally and sent to the sin bin for a yellow card offense. Just as they had done 10 minutes earlier, Enosa, Te’o, and Totovosau exposed the opposition’s defense for the latter’s second try of the evening and a 17-7 halftime score.

Just as the Warriors returned to the full complement of 15 players in the 48th minute, Pat Blair was shown yellow as the Legion were penalized for a successive infraction at the maul. Even with a forward missing from San Diego’s pack, Utah failed to retain its lineout, allowing the Legion to clear. With the final hydration break and the culmination of Blair’s session in the sin bin closing in, the Warriors went back to the maul and struck pay dirt. The drive reached the five-meter line and the ball waited at the back for scrum half Johnny Ika to dot down 17-14.

A defensive scrum won the ball for the Legion in the final 10 minutes and Augspurger feinted to beat Arawa Elkington at the gain line and race away for a try, 24-14. With time running out on Utah’s upset bid, substitute John Cullen found the try zone to draw within a penalty kick at 24-21, but Te’o intercepted a pass after sending the kickoff high to seal the bonus-point victory, 31-21.

With No. 2 NOLA Gold (9-5) dropping a result in Week 17 and traveling to No. 4 Rugby United New York (10-4) in Week 18, first place in the regular season is in the hands of the Legion, who will watch action around the League this weekend on a bye. Playoff seeding will be finalized Sunday, June 2, as NOLA visits Torero Stadium. Purchase tickets for a pre-playoff meeting of two of the best teams in the League HERE.

Watch the full re-play of the game here.