MATCH PREVIEW: 4-2 LEGION TO FACE 3-2-1 RAPTORS AT 6PM PST
DENVER – Winter has not subsided in Colorado, where the San Diego Legion (4-2) look to get back to winning ways against a strengthened Glendale Raptors (3-2-1) outfit Saturday, March 16, at Infinity Park.
Just one point separates the two teams in the Major League Rugby standings, where the Legion are right behind the Week 8 hosts in fourth place. For those not expecting to brave the below-freezing temperatures in Colorado, Saturday’s match will be streamed live online at 9News.com. Live match updates will also be provided by the @SDLegion Twitter account.
The Toronto Arrows snapped the four-match win streak San Diego held going into Sunday’s encounter at Torero Stadium. The newest team to MLR – playing the first eight games of the season on the road – had just left a snow-covered pitch in Glendale with nothing to show for its Week 6 efforts.
San Diego leads the League in turnovers forced in the tackle thanks to breakdown hounds like lock combination Keni Nasoqeqe and Lou Stanfill, as well as young back rowers Devin Short and Psalm Wooching. But Head Coach Rob Hoadley recognized eyes growing larger than stomachs in the second half against the Arrows, in which Legion players overcommitting to rucks made way for backs to exploit space for two momentum-busting tries.
“We just need to get back to basics after a very sloppy 30 minutes cost us the opportunity to be top of the table,” Hoadley said. “The group is excited by the challenge in front of us and desperate to get back to winning ways on the road.”
The Toronto forwards have had their way with opposition this season but were largely held in check until late in the second half. Prop Paddy Ryan led a stable scrum for the Legion, earning yet another MLR First XV selection alongside scrum half Nate Augspurger.
Jordan Manihera’s smile could be seen from Colorado on Sunday as the newest member of the Legion crossed the try line in the first minute of the match in his first appearance for the team. His debut lasted just 30 minutes, however, coming off in a precautionary move after forcing a turnover that nearly led to a counter-attack try. The New Zealand native is Saturday’s starting No. 8.
Glendale’s weapons are numerous and range from front to back. The highest try-scoring team in MLR has not even had influential players like scrum half Shaun Davies and fly half Will Magie – fourth-best in scoring in 2018 – suit up since Week 1 due to international duty. Same goes for utility forward Hanco Germishuys, a tough tackle for opponents that joined the Raptors after leading all MLR forwards in scoring in 2018 for Austin Elite Rugby.
“That gives them more control at half back and Hanco’s carrying threat in attack,” Hoadley said of the “new-look” Raptors squad. “They will build on their great form and continue to play with great width.”
“Glendale have been one of the most threatening teams in attack all season, leading the line-breaks-created by distance. We will have to be at our best defensively and look forward to putting pressure on their dangerous carriers. In attack we need to finish the chances we are creating.”
For all of their tries, the Raptors have not been clinical from the kicking tee, missing around 40% of their attempts. Only five penalty goals have been attempted to San Diego’s 12 (of which nine were successful in addition to Joe Pietersen’s sneaky drop goal in Week 7). The Legion captain, on top of providing several try assists with slick hands, is third on the League’s overall scoring chart with 56 points.
It can be assumed, without the threat from the tee, that the Raptors will be punishing penalty errors with set pieces in attacking territory. Disciplinary issues have crept into San Diego’s game in recent weeks, which Hoadley stressed would need to be “eradicated” to build off of the platform the defense has been able to provide with its high turnover rate and League-low points- and tries-conceded record.
Conor Kearns was a game-time replacement as Ryan Matyas was unable to partake on Sunday, filling in on the wing opposite Jasa Veramalua, pushing Dylan Audsley into the centers with Man of the Match JP du Plessis. That center combination broke the gain line on more than one occasion and offloaded the ball to create even more opportunities for go-forward momentum. Veramalua was bitten by the touch line for the second match in a row, but did find success cutting into the middle against Toronto.
The second bye week of the season is on the horizon for the Legion, but not until after Saturday’s Week 8 matchup in Colorado between teams ranked third and fourth in the MLR standings. The match will be streamed live online on 9News.com. Check the San Diego Legion’s social media accounts for more match-day information.