The LA Giltinis triumphed 39-32 in a pulsating 10-try spectacle today to deal with the dangerous Utah Warriors on the road.
Flyhalf Luke Carty and backrower Hanco Germishuys were outstanding in their returns to the starting line-up as the Giltinis built their record to 11-4.
The bonus-point win keeps the Giltinis on top of the Western Conference which has also locked in the Austin Gilgronis and Houston SaberCats for the play-offs.
The Eastern Conference puzzle has been resolved with the New England Free Jacks, Rugby ATL and Rugby New York heading to the play-offs. In what seeding order will only be resolved by next weekend’s final round of the regular season.
The Giltinis’ poise in big moments and skilful execution to create tries were huge positives from the visit to Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.
The Warriors were worthy rivals and outscored the Giltinis 15-12 in a bizarre 27-minute period when they were down to 14 and 13 players.
When those three Utah yellow cards had elapsed at the 66-minute mark, the home side had closed the scores to 32-27.
The Giltinis snapped into gear with a classy Ben LeSage grubber kick. Germishuys had the cool head to wait for the ball to bounce just right before seizing it and grounding it over the try-line.
Carty’s goalkicking (below) was exceptional all day in the breeze at high altitude. He curled over his second conversion from the sideline in a decisive six-from-seven kicking effort to extend the score to 39-27.
"That was a good win because I was nervous going into those last 12 or so minutes against a quality team coming home hot," Giltinis head coach Stephen Hoiles said.
"We did a lot of things great in that game. We looked really threatening in attack, identified the space and had a rhythm that has been hard to find at stages this year with the turnover of players.
"That's Luke Carty going to 70 minutes for the first time this year and a big part of playing with width was down to him. Hanco made a crucial late turnover after scoring a key try. It's good to have him back.
"That's the most points we've conceded this season so the defensive coach, me, will look at that."
How much Germishuys adds to the Giltinis was highlighted just four minutes into the game when the USA Eagle made his return from suspension.
A powerful 30m charge from the back of the scrum blasted the Giltinis away from their own tryline.
Just minutes later, the Giltinis clinically turned a 5m lineout into a surge at the Warriors’ tryline. Prop Charlie Abel (below) finished it with a shrewd pick-and-go where he stretched to dot the ball over the white line for the opening five-pointer.
It was a sweet moment to add to his post-game catch-up with brother Robbie, the forwards coach for the Warriors.
To the credit of the Warriors, they responded with a strong Paul Lasike try and a lineout drive of their own for a 12-10 lead after 24 minutes.
Flyhalf Carty’s return to the No.10 jersey had already included some neat passing and organisation before a five-star play just before half-time.
Carty chip kicked perfectly. Centre Bill Meakes roped in the high-bouncing ball and dashed ahead before positioning flanker Christian Poidevin.
The flanker had plenty still to do and fended off a would-be tackler in his final run to the tryline to complete a 70m play.
Carty’s conversion pushed the Giltinis advantage to 20-12 at half-time.
The Warriors were down to 14 men, because of a yellow card, when they fought back with a quick try after the break to close the scores to 20-17.
The ill discipline of the Warriors scuttled the home side’s chances. They had to deal with three yellow cards in 17 minutes.
Hooker Lindsey Stevens capitalised in that period with a try from a rolling maul off a 5m lineout to make it 27-17. In the same fashion, replacement hooker Andrew Tuala grabbed another for 32-17.
Replacements Ryan James and Cyrille Cama both made incisive runs to show the impact of the Giltinis bench late in the game.
Germishuys was strong to the end and a powerful turnover at the breakdown under his posts with three minutes to play was a final show of his class.
LA GILTINIS 39
Tries: Charlie Abel (6 min), Christian Poidevin (38), Lindsey Stevens (45), Andrew Tuala (57), Hanco Germishuys (69)
Conversions: Luke Carty (6, 38, 45, 69)
Penalty Goals: Luke Carty (21, 29)
UTAH WARRIORS 32
Tries: Paul Lasike (11), Chad Gough (24), Jurie van Vuuren (41), Olive Kilifi (66), Joe Mano (78)
Conversions: Calvin Whiting (24, 66)
Penalty Goals: Calvin Whiting (61)
Half-time: 20-12 Giltinis
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah