LOS ANGELES — The Utah Warriors yet again proved resilient in saving their best for last in securing a thrilling 28-19 comeback win over defending Major League Rugby Champion Los Angeles Giltinis on Sunday.
The city Los Angeles is generally known for its sunny skies and the bright lights of Hollywood, but according to Warriors flanker Lance Williams, securing Utah’s first road win of the season was all about staying in a dark place.
“We just needed to keep our heads down and go to a dark place because LA (is) a great team,” Williams said while explaining his team’s dark place simply with, “We had to grind.”
It was fitting that Williams put the finishing touches on Utah’s win, intercepting an errant pass from LA to take it back solo across the try line with just two minutes remaining. It was the second try of the match for Williams, with first critically swinging the momentum the Warriors’ way at the end of a first half that saw the home team dominate possession.
Indeed almost all of the possession during the first half came deep inside Utah’s territory, with the Giltinis finally crossing the try line after 20 minutes of play for a 7-0 lead. The Warriors countered with a penalty kick from Cliven Loubser, cutting the lead to 7-3 although Los Angeles still managed to dominate possession.
But if Utah has proven anything in the early season, it’s not so much how you start, but how you end things.
Ending the first half was a thrilling possession that the visiting team maintained for considerable distance before Williams crossed the try line, giving Utah an improbable 10-7 lead into the half. Key on the scoring possession was a physical run up the middle by Tyler Fisher, setting up Williams nicely on the edge.
“It was a big momentum shift,” Williams said. “Coach (Shawn Pittman) did a phenomenal job this week and we just had to grind. The boys defended so well for 30 minutes, so when we had the opportunity, we gave it to them.”
“Defensively we did a phenomenal job withstanding so much pressure,” Pittman said. “The boys fought for each other, and that was a brilliant thing to see. We worked hard for each other. You can start to see after the first three games Utah start to play like we’re known for.”
The Warriors are known for their resiliency, high octane offense and for their ability to come back late, much like they did again on Sunday.
The second half saw the Giltinis come out strong again, snatching back momentum with a try scored just over two minutes played in the second half, retaking the lead at 12-10 after a failed conversion kick. Consecutive penalty kicks by Loubser gave Utah back the lead at 16-12 before Los Angeles scored another try in the 67th minute to regain the lead at 19-16.
It didn’t take Utah long to respond, however, with scrum half Niall Saunders taking advantage of a fatigued and unsuspecting Los Angeles defense in executing a quick tap to perfection, crossing the try line to give the Warriors a 21-19 lead in the 70th minute.
Shortly thereafter came Williams’ second score of the afternoon, taking advantage of errant Los Angeles passing, much like Utah did throughout the match.
“A focus this week was to increase our defensive pressure, and that’s when you see those (passing) errors,” Pittman said. “That’s what happens when you apply pressure over and over again. And then on offense (assistant coach) Shaun Davies has been working so hard with our catch-and-pass all year, and it’s finally starting to click, and it’s starting to look really good.”
All of it is starting to look good for the Warriors after securing two straight wins to follow up three straight losses on the year with 11 matches still to play in the 2022 season.
“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Williams said. “The first three games were a learning curve, and it’s just a phenomenal job by this coaching staff…We just have to grind, put our heads down and go to a dark place.”
With the win Utah improves to 2-3 on the season while Los Angeles falls to 2-3. On deck for the Warriors will be three straight home games which begins next Saturday with a match versus the Toronto Arrows.
Brandon Gurney is the Utah Warriors Team Reporter. With nearly two decades of experience covering BYU Football in print and on radio, Gurney brings a wealth of experience to the Utah Warriors beat. You can read all of Gurney’s stories on the Utah Warriors throughout the 2022 Season at WarriorsRugby.com