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Legion Win Streak Ends With 20-27 Upset

by Chad Wise

SAN DIEGO – Two quick strikes and a 24-0 second-half run by the Toronto Arrows (3-3) disappointed the home crowd at Torero Stadium as the San Diego Legion’s four-match win streak came to an end Sunday, 27-20.

Holder of Major League Rugby’s best try-scoring defense through six weeks of play, the Legion (4-2) conceded three in 15 minutes in the second half after holding sway through the first 40 minutes. Captain Joe Pietersen converted both Legion tries and sent over a penalty goal and a drop goal to keep pace with the League’s top point scorers at 56.

“We certainly hurt ourselves with our lack of discipline that actually allowed Toronto to get a foothold in the game when we had looked dominant up until the 50th minute,” Head Coach Rob Hoadley said after the loss. “In the second half I think we overcommitted at rucks and allowed Toronto to find some space. Every credit goes to them for their comeback in that second period.”

The Legion fall to fourth place in the standings on 19 points, picking up a bonus point Sunday night by virtue of a seven-point loss. The Glendale Raptors (3-2-1) host San Diego’s second away match of the season Saturday, March 16, as the third-place team.

A perfect start for the Legion on the scoreboard was Jordan Manihera’s dream initiation to MLR. Keni Nasoqeqe drove through two defenders to draw within five meters of the try line within 60 seconds. Manihera charged ahead to latch on to Joe Pietersen’s pass at the gain line, striding inside the defender for the match’s opening try – his first in the MLR with his first touch.

The Arrows were able to put an end to their more-than-80-minute scoreless streak with a Sam Malcolm penalty goal, 7-3. The Legion had held off a Toronto attack on the try line during an extended offside advantage before forcing a turnover and the match official’s whistle. San Diego answered directly as JP du Plessis helped Psalm Wooching over the line for his first try of the season, 14-3, ahead of the water break.

Not long after conceding a penalty warranting a word from the referee did Wooching combine with Manihera to turn the ball over on defense. While Manihera remained on the ground, Jasa Veramalua launched the counter attack with a nifty run down one touch line and Dylan Audsley finished it off with an in-goal grounding on the other. Unfortunately for the home fans packing Torero Stadium, the linesman held his flag raised back at the spot where Veramalua had stepped into touch.

Manihera’s Legion debut was prematurely brought to a close with Siaosi Mahoni thrown into action as a cautionary replacement. The home side did not skip a beat with the early change, continuing to strive for possession and points. Pietersen’s penalty goal widened the gap at 17-3 as the final play of the half.

Paddy Ryan broke free with a run two minutes into the second half, and Pietersen rewarded his teammates with a confident, 25-meter drop goal for a three-score lead at 20-3. Urged into action as the first-half deficit grew after just three second-half minutes, Toronto did not let up on attack. The Legion line held through another penalty advantage, but the pressure did not subside until Spencer Jones hit try-scorer Avery Oitomen with a flat ball in the 52nd minute. Malcolm converted, 20-10, keeping the game’s perfect kicking record intact.

A quick break by Toronto captain Dan Moor a minute later was met with a try-saving tackle by Kyle Rogers. The try was only postponed, however, as Oitomen was found in space on the other side of the field for his second try and a 20-17 score line. The San Diego lead collapsed in the 65th minute after Mike Sheppard followed Andrew Quattrin’s run, 24-20.

An apparent turnover win by du Plessis at the breakdown was penalized, allowing Malcolm to successfully tick the scoreboard with a penalty goal once more, capping a 24-0 scoring run for the visitors at 27-20. Lou Stanfill singlehandedly pushed over a ruck directly from the kickoff, winning a penalty of his own, but the Legion did not have the last say in the loss.

“Again, credit goes to Toronto, but we didn’t make the necessary adjustments to stop their momentum,” Hoadley said. “Every time we did get opportunities to apply some pressure and get back on the front foot, we lacked ball control in attack. We needed to get back to what we were doing in the first half where we were creating consistently quick ruck ball, but failed to do so.”

Another short week awaits the San Diego Legion with the Raptors welcoming Hoadley’s squad to Colorado on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT.