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Rugby United New York Snag Season Opener

by Ronan Nelson

San Diego – San Diego Legion opened the 2019 Major League Rugby with plenty of positives as they dropped their first match of the season to Rugby United New York in a tight 23-25 affair at Torero Stadium. With a strong crowd in attendance boosting the home side, San Diego surged in the second half in an attempt to overcome the first half deficit, ultimately coming up just short of the mark.

MLR’s newcomers came out of the gate with fiery pace. Moving the ball while to the wings with speed and precision, New York stretch the San Diego defense early and often through the opening 10 minutes, allowing outside-center Chris Mattina to cross over for New York’s first try of the season in the 9th minute. Fly-half Cathal Marsh converted the score to give New York a 7-0 lead. The visitors continued putting San Diego under the pump after their first score, utilizing strong forward play around the breakdown to open spaces in the wide channels. In the 23rd minute, a sweeping passage of play put winger Connor Wallace-Sims into open space and he crossed the line for New York’s second try.

The Legion’s chances of counteracting New York looked hurt by a yellow card to lock Chris Turori at the half hour mark, but the visitors’ inability to clear the ball down field gave San Diego opportune field position within the New York 22. After several phases of probing forward runs, scrum-half Nick Boyer powered his way to San Diego’s first try of the season! The South African veteran Joe Pietersen easily converted the score to send the Legion into the break trailing 7-15.

San Diego came out of half time with resurgent passion. The Legion forwards put New York under tremendous pressure through the opening 20 minutes, and the visitors struggled to buck San Diego’s attacks. New York forked over three penalties in the 44th, 50th, and 61st minutes which were easily slotted by Pietersen to put San Diego ahead 16-15, and the crowd surged to meet the swinging tide in favor of their team. A yellow card to New York’s Matt Hughston gave the Legion more to work with as the match drew to a close, and just 10 minutes later Pietersen was able to steer himself through the visitors’ defense for a valuable late try. With the conversion, San Diego led 23-18.

However, a completed comeback wasn’t in the cards for San Diego as New York charged back into San Diego’s end. After four minutes of sustained pressure from the scrum, the San Diego defense finally buckled and allowed a penalty try to put New York ahead 25-23, the penalty try’s automatic conversion turning out to be the final difference between the two sides.

San Diego Legion will return to Torero Stadium next Saturday, February 2 at 3:30 PM to take on the defending MLR champions, Seattle Seawolves. Tickets are still available for this important clash at sdlegion.com!

Watch the full re-play of the game here.