MATCH PREVIEW: LEGION TRAVEL TO TEXAS TO FACE AUSTIN ELITE RUGBY
ROUND ROCK, Texas – Leaving the (not-so-recently) sunny confines of Southern California for the first time this season, the San Diego Legion (3-1) will take to Dell Diamond Friday night riding a three-match win streak.
A winless Austin Elite awaits following four consecutive home disappointments on a converted baseball field to open the 2019 Major League Rugby fixture list. It’s the third Friday match for the team that fell to Glendale Raptors Sunday, not long after the Legion had seen out a 21-10 win over Utah Warriors at Torero Stadium. Despite the 0-4 record, Austin has been outscored just 85-61 and holds two bonus points in the standings.
“We had a good session on Tuesday, and look to continue our momentum by embracing the challenge of our first road game and bringing energy and accuracy Friday night,” Head Coach Rob Hoadley said. “The squad are well aware of the threat posed by a hungry Austin team that has been unfortunate to be on the end of a few close results.”
Watch the Week 5 matchup live at 5 p.m. PT on Facebook Watch.
The Week 6 bye outlook for both teams will be of little consolation until later in the weekend as they prepare for a fifth straight match week with just four days between 80-minute efforts. Members of the oft-called-upon front row in a scrum-heavy clash on Sunday – Dean Muir, Paddy Ryan, and Nathan Sylvia – were subbed around the midway point with an eye on quick recovery turnaround.
Ryan earned his third MLR First XV of the Week selection on the back of a quite busy 60 minutes, while lock Lou Stanfill was named to his second of the campaign. Forming a powerful combination with Keni Nasoqeqe in the second row of the scrum and hounding the breakdown from the opening whistle week after week, the USA Eagle of 56 caps has been heralded as a “warhorse” by his head coach.
“He is never one to shy away from work and has a tougher workload than most at the moment juggling family life, work, and travel,” Hoadley said. “We couldn’t ask for a better example of what it takes to be a pro for our younger players.”
One of those younger players, Devin Short (flanker), put in a Man of the Match performance against the Warriors, scoring his first professional try and saving another going the wrong way. Psalm Wooching fills the No. 6 jersey this week after Chris Turori left Sunday’s match injured, forming an under-25 back row with local San Diegan Drew Gaffney in the eight-man position.
Five of the Elite’s six tries scored this season have come from the hands of forwards, including a truck-stick 15-meter run from loosie Rikus Zwart on Sunday. The Legion forward corps will be without Kapeli Pifeleti for a few weeks as the hooker is in line for a national team debut during the remaining Americas Rugby Championship rounds.
WHO’S ON FIRST, LEGION’S ON SECOND
Joining K. Pifeleti with the USA Eagles – coincidentally playing in Round Rock Saturday – are Nick Boyer (scrum half) and Mike Te’o (wing/full back). Versatile Nate Augspurger, who has represented his country at scrum half 13 times, moves in from the wing. Captain Joe Pietersen (fly half) is 12-for-13 from the kicking tee so far, adding 11 points to his now-season total of 31 on Sunday. Dylan Audsley (center) earns a successive start in a shifty midfield pairing with JP du Plessis, while Kyle Rogers (full back) spots the position most recently manned by Te’o.
“We are in a much better place this season in terms of squad depth,” Hoadley said. “We obviously lose talent in the back line, but we are excited to bring Jasa Veremalua back into the action, and Kyle Rogers has been a solid presence at the back in his appearances so far this season.”
Opposite Ryan Matyas (wing) along the touch line, Veremalua is welcomed back into the squad with a likely assignment of matching up against the Elite’s Peni Tagive, who rises just an inch short of the Fijian. Austin scrum half Marcelo Torrealba represents the backs’ only try-scoring production this season, darting past a switched-off Toronto Arrows defense for a 40-meter Week 3 try.
On 13 points in the MLR standings, the Legion could top NOLA Gold (17 points) with a win (of at least a five-point margin) or a bonus-point victory Friday as the League leader is on a bye. Catch all the action on Facebook Watch at 5 p.m. PT and follow along with highlights and updates with @SDLegion Twitter.