The stage has been set for an epic play-off semi-final at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 25 when the LA Giltinis and Utah Warriors duel again.
The two sides played a thriller in Utah on Saturday afternoon with a late try from the Warriors edging the gallant Giltinis 34-29.
The result had no bearing on the standings because the Western Conference play-off positions had already been finalised but their next clash is sudden-death to the vanquished.
The Giltinis enter the play-offs as the No.1 seed with a table-topping 12-4 win-loss record (63 points) from their impressive maiden voyage in Major League Rugby. The 10-6 Warriors (57) will be worthy opponents.
The Giltinis rallied from 17-5 and 27-17 down to lead 29-27 entering the final three minutes in Utah before being pipped by a Mikey Te’o try from the ruckbase.
The character to keep fighting was a strong sign that the Giltinis can regroup for their Sunday date with destiny at the Coliseum next weekend.
Winger Adam Channel (below) had his best game for the Giltinis with two excellent tries and scrumhalf Cristian Rodriguez initiated one try and backed up well to score one himself.
“The change room is always down after a loss but I’m super proud of the character shown by the boys to fight on after a frustrating first half,” Giltinis head coach Darren Coleman said.
“You look at the strong list that the Warriors put on the field on their home ground and the big crowd behind them and we were right in it until the final minute.
“We’re all excited to now get the Warriors into the Coliseum on our turf with some fit, hungry guys coming back into our side. I can’t wait. It’s going to be real intense.”
Winger Ryan James put the Giltinis’ ahead 29-27 at the 73-minute mark with a perfectly-delayed pass that put backrower Pago Haini through a gap. His pass put Seru Vularika over.
Credit to the Warriors. They won with just 14 men on the field after playing the final 15 minutes without replacement scrumhalf Fraser Hurst who was red carded for stamping on the head of Giltinis flanker Sean O’Brien.
The Warriors gained much of their momentum and field position for try strikes from a superior scrum.
The Giltinis will stiffen their scrum for the 3pm (PT) play-off with the return of experienced prop JP Smith from ankle trouble. Key game-breakers Matt Giteau (hip), centre Adam Ashley-Cooper (achilles), winger DTH van Merwe (knee) and halfback Harrison Goddard (hamstring) should all return from niggles while lock Dave Dennis will be ready to lead.
The Giltinis will shift from high altitude and artificial grass to the pure turf and home fans of their LA fortress for the return meeting.
The Giltinis stunned the home side with a precision lineout play just 60 seconds into the match.
The Giltinis created a wide blindside with a 20m lineout drive in-field and scrumhalf Rodriguez (below) expertly directed play back to the short side.
He held the defence and fed flyhalf Luke Carty, who made a sharp half-break before feeding a one-handed pass to winger Adam Channel. Channel celebrated his first MLR try at 5-0.
The Warriors jumped to 17-5 before a smart Carty kick took a high bounce like the teams were playing tennis on synthetic grass. James swooped and closed the scores to 17-12.
Channel’s second try was a pure finish from 20m out. Given an early pass by Vularika, he put on a body shake and a slick in-and-away to burn Warriors’ defender Hagen Schulte.
“Some of our squad members haven’t played a great deal of rugby for us. Adam was outstanding and we gave debuts to two new players, Cyrille Cama and Dylan James,” Coleman added.
“Cyrille got to play 30 minutes on debut after coming on for Christian Poidevin, who got back into it at flanker with some nice work after four weeks out with injury. ‘Poido’ will really benefit from that run.”
Midway through the second half, Glenn Bryce (pictured above) sliced through with a fine 40m run to show he could handle the shift from fullback to outside centre.
Rodriguez stayed active in support and was rewarded with a try to make it 27-24 before the two lead changes late in the drama.
UTAH WARRIORS 34
Tries: Sama Malolo (36, 52), Aston Fortuin (4), Jurie Van Vuuren (20), Michael Baska (23), Mikey Te’o (77)
Conversions: Hagen Schulte (4, 77)
LA GILTINIS 29
Tries: Adam Channel (1 min, 44), Ryan James (31), Cristian Rodriguez (55), Seru Vularika (73)
Conversions: Luke Burton (31, 55)
Half-time: 22-12 Warriors
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium, Utah
For your play-off tickets, for Sunday, July 25th, head to:
Individual game tickets are priced at $20 / $35 / $50 (plus service fees).