HERRIMAN — A lot of challenges have come the Utah Warriors’ way this season, which made Saturday’s 44-26 win over Rugby ATL (9-4) extremely satisfying for all involved.
All of it was perhaps exemplified by Joe Mano leaping across the try line for what proved the final play of the game. No defender was around Mano after Mikey Te’o completed a long run-out after intercepting a pass deep in Utah territory, putting an exclamation point on what proved a remarkable effort from start to finish.
“I think what led up to that was a lot of pain,” said Utah Warriors coach Robbie Abel. “We had a lot of hard conversations and hard training sessions, and figure out what we do well…It’s just time for us to finish the job, and the boys did that tonight.”
Indeed the Warriors provided their best play of perhaps the entire season throughout the second half, and particularly after the final water break. It was the type of play expected from a team high in the team standings which the Warriors are not after suffering six straight losses and compiling a 2-9 record prior to Saturday’s game.
But players strongly believed they were better than they’ve shown throughout the year and proved as much on Saturday. Central to the effort was forward Lance Williams, who scored two tries and impacted almost every facet of the game from his central No. 8 position.
“It was all for the boys, the program and for our fans,” Williams said. “It was for absolutely everyone behind the scenes…We finally got the monkey off our back…our record doesn’t show it, but we know we’re a great team and we showed that tonight.”
Williams’ two tries came via successful mauls with the first coming in the game’s 22nd minute off a line-out deep in ATL territory, giving Utah a 15-12 lead. The second came in the 60th minute in what proved an eventual 25 meter romp over the ATL defenders where Utah’s drive proved superior.
All week we practiced our mauls and man, even though it was me who scored, it was all about the work of our forwards,” Williams said. “So hats off to them and all the hard work they did preparing. It was a great team effort.”
But as mentioned, the two tries from Williams were just part of the story, with the fifth-year player making big impacts in tackling, assisting his teammates and in everything else.
“Lance has been incredible,” Abel said. “We’ve had some hard conversations the last few week on how he can be better and he’s been searching for that, and he’s been one of our best players throughout the season…For me, it’s been awesome to see someone like that grow and put a performance out there that he did tonight. It was a hell of a performance.”
But as Williams was quick to point out, it was hardly just him putting in the work.
A host of young players and newcomers, led by forward Emerson Prior and scrum half Zion Going provided a lot of energy and drive throughout.
“Energy was massive tonight,” Abel said. “We went with a few young guys who have been waiting for their opportunity, and it finally came tonight. They were able to take advantage and that’s what we needed and what we expected from them.”
That energy showed almost immediately with Mano scoring his first try of the evening off an assist from Cliven Loubser in the 10th minute, giving Utah an early 10-5 lead.
The teams battled back and forth from there until a penalty kick from Calvin Whiting gave the Warriors a 23-19 at halftime. After the break, Utah provided even more effort, dominating the course of play, showing particularly stout on the defensive end.
Setting thes second half tone was again Williams, providing a long run deep into ATL territory which was capped off by a quick hitter from Thomas Tu’avao across the try line for a 30-19 lead in the 41st minute.
From there Utah seemingly got stronger until the match’s conclusion, which was punctuated by Te’o’s interception, leading up to Mano’s final leap across the try line.
“This win was definitely important for our confidence,” Williams said. “We just have to put down our head and grind. We’ve been to dark places and bright places, but it’s all about putting forth a platform for good rugby throughout the season…I know our record doesn’t show it…and doing it for each other.”
With the win Utah improves to 3-9 on the season and will next travel to take on the Houston Sabercats next Saturday