Two late Utah Warriors tries derailed the LA Giltinis 28-19 tonight in a see-sawing game of missed chances at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The Giltinis looked in charge when impressive scrumhalf Tas Smith scored a try from the ruckbase for a 19-16 lead at the 67-minute mark.
USA Eagles hooker Joe Taufete’e made a strong rumble in the lead-up and the new signing’s presence after half-time was a homecoming for fans to celebrate.
The Warriors came back hard with one of the solo tries of the Major League Rugby season when Utah’s English scrumhalf Niall Saunders scored on 70 minutes.
His quick-tap effort and pace over 20m caught four Giltinis defenders off-guard and his try grabbed the lead 21-19 for the visitors.
The Giltinis dominated possession and territory in the game and were confident of a strike back in the closing 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, a Ryan James knock-on 20m from his own line., from a difficult Orene Ai’i pass, was turned into a turnover try by Warriors flanker Lance Williams with just five minutes to play.
The Giltinis will curse this match as one that got away after leading 7-0, 12-10 and 19-16 without finding a back-to-back score to subdue the gritty Warriors.
"That quick tap try really hurt us and just emphasised we should have made far more of the territory and possession we dominated in the first half," Giltinis head coach Steve Hoiles said."We're not clicking in attack as we would like. There are a lot of frustrated guys in the dressing room but we are all up for the work we need to do."We did have some positive points. Tas had a very strong game at scrumhalf, Nathan Den Hoedt had his best game of the season with some charging runs and Ryan James got really involved off his wing."There was no lack of effort so we'll get to work to add the polish we are missing."
The MLR will be delighted that a crowd-pleasing rivalry has developed between the two clubs. It was a tense and exciting follow-up to the Giltinis’ last-gasp 17-13 win when the clubs met in the Western Conference final last July.
Scrumhalf Smith (below) had an excellent game in his first starting assignment in place of Harrison Goddard, who was forced out with COVID-19.
Meakes used his smart footwork to force his way over from close range for the opening try and a 7-0 lead midway through the first half.
Trailing 10-7 at half-time, the Giltinis needed a strong start to the second period to show far better ball retention and patience.
It came instantly with the excellent build-up to the Dave Dennis try at the 42-minute mark. Fullback Jordan Trainor’s neat stepping got the team close to the line and Dennis crashed over off a Smith pass.
James made a terrific break in midfield shortly after but a forward pass later in the movement was an unfortunate theme to a game of squandered chances.
Taufete’e steered one driving maul strongly upfield off a lineout to give a hint of how valuable he will be to the club when he settles in.
The enthusiastic crowd relished the chance to celebrate women’s rugby sevens at its best with the USA and Australia playing before and after the match.
“It’s been an amazing experience at this stadium and special to play on home turf,” USA star Naya Tapper said.
The Giltinis drop to 2-3 and will face Californian rivals San Diego Legion at 4pm (PST) next Saturday at the Coliseum.
UTAH WARRIORS 28
Tries: Lance Williams (40 min, 74), Niall Saunders (70)
Conversions: Cliven Loubser (40, 70)
Penalty Goals: Cliven Loubser (30, 53, 62)
LA GILTINIS 19
Tries: Billy Meakes (25), Dave Dennis (42), Tas Smith (67)
Conversion: Orene Ai’i (25, 67)
Half-time: Warriors 10-7
Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum