The LA Giltinis were upset 31-27 tonight by a desperate San Diego Legion side fighting to save their Major League Rugby season.
The Giltinis scored four tries-to-three yet led for just six minutes of a match in which they bravely fought back from a ragged start.
A Cyrille Cama try at the 74-minute mark gave the gritty MLR champions a late shot at an escape but the Legion closed out the game for their delighted home fans at the SDSU Sports Deck.
The Giltinis’ winning streak is over at seven games but that valuable momentum keeps the club in clear second in the Western Conference with a 9-4 record (44 points) three games out from the play-offs
The Legion wrestled possession of the Cali Cup for the southern California derby and advance to fourth in the conference with their 7-7 record (37 points).
The Giltinis trailed 26-12 at the 50-minute mark and had already conceded five penalty goal attempts. Sharpshooter Joe Pietersen banged over four for the Legion’s lead.
“We started poorly with our discipline to give away five shots at penalty goal in the first half and we were chasing the game from there,” Giltinis head coach Stephen Hoiles said.
“Our fightback was excellent but full credit to the Legion because they showed the superior intensity and deserved the win. It was a grand final for them.”
At the 10-minute mark, the Giltinis scored the opening try off a trick lineout play that thrust centre Billy Meakes up in the air to seize the throw.
He won clean ball and the driving maul that followed gave skipper Luke White the chance to surge over.
The momentum of that 7-3 lead was quickly switched by a committed San Diego side.
Veteran Legion fullback Pietersen slide over out wide for a strike-back try to grab the lead. The South African slotted the conversion and two further penalty goals for a 16-7 advantage.
The Giltinis were their own worst enemies in this 15-minute period with five back-to-back errors with a lineout throw stolen, a ruck penalty, spilt passes and a knock-on to end a quick-tap play.
The Giltinis steadied and a superb team try closed the scores to 16-12 after 31 minutes.
Off clean lineout ball won by No.8 Corey Thomas (below), centre Meakes bumped his way through in the midfield with sheer determination.
A relay of passes swept the ball left and back the other way to th
e right sideline where fullback Jordan Trainor popped a final pass to winger Will Chambers for the try.
Lock Nathan Den Hoedt, backrowers Thomas and Christian Poidevin and hooker Andy Tuala were among the Giltinis’ best. Meakes too had an influential game and his contest with the All Blacks great Ma’a Nonu was on throughout.
Nonu, now 39, bulldozed over for a key score on 50 minutes for the 26-14 lead.
Meakes all but matched him five minutes later but the ball slipped out of his hand as he went to ground it after an excellent Giltinis' build-up.
A Tuala drive off a driving maul from a lineout shortly after did get the Giltinis back in the game. The margin was tightened further to 26-20 by a Luke Burton penalty goal at the 66-minute stage.
The Giltinis spilt a high kick in the San Diego wind and the Legion pounced with a neat grubber-kick try for finisher Matias Freyre. That 31-20 edge was too great to retrieve even when backrower Cama gave another show of his energy off the bench with his lineout drive try.
“It was an excellent battle between Ma’a Nonu and our centres Meakes and Ben LeSage. That’s the beauty of where MLR has reached with quality match-ups like that,” Hoiles said.
SAN DIEGO LEGION 31
Tries: Joe Pietersen (16), Ma’a Nonu (50), Matias Freyre (71)
Conversions: Joe Pietersen (16, 50)
Penalty Goals: Joe Pietersen (5, 20, 29, 35)
LA GILTINIS 27
Tries: Luke White (10), Will Chambers (31), Andy Tuala (57), Cyrille Cama (74)
Conversions: Harrison Goddard (10), Luke Burton (74)
Penalty goal: Luke Burton (66)
Half-time: 19-12 San Diego
Venue: SDSU Sports Deck