WARRIORS DEFEAT DALLAS IN RECORD-SETTING FASHION
HERRIMAN — The Utah Warriors broke out their early season funk in a big way on Saturday, demolishing the visiting Dallas Jackals 69-22 in what was the team’s home opener of the 2022 season.Records were broken, the execution crisp and the defense stout as everything seemed to click for the Warriors in securing their first win of the season in resounding fashion.
“That was awesome,” said Warriors assistant coach Shaun Davies. “We needed a win. We needed a game at home, and we came out firing.”
Indeed the home crowd who braved frigid and rainey conditions were treated to an historic show, with the 69 points scored setting a Major League Rugby record for the high mark for any team for one game. The scoring came fast and furious with the Warriors resembling a team far better than their record in the early season would indicate.
“It was a great feeling, because starting 0-3 is really tough,” said Warriors fullback Mikey Te’o. “Putting up (69) points felt really good.”
Te’o himself accounted for another record broken, scoring two tries Saturday afternoon to give him 12 in his Utah Warrior career, which is a team record. Te’o’s first try came just five minutes into the second half, with the second coming just seven minutes after with Utah extending its lead to 41-3, as a result. As usual, Te’o was in the mix throughout, playing a key role in just about every facet of the Warrior win.
“Mikey is a special human being,” Davies said. “He works (really) hard in training and sets the standard…he holds himself to higher standards than he drives, so the more he touches the ball, the better we are as a team.”
But Saturday’s blowout win wasn’t just about Te’o. Not even close, which Te’o, who won the MLR 2021 MVP last season, more than welcomes.Perhaps most notable was the performance of second-year Warrior Wing Mika Kruse, who had a hat trick of three tries scored, with the first coming at the 33:00 mark of the first half, giving the Warriors a 22-3 lead. He then scored again at the end of the half, with the Warriors extending their lead to 29-3 at the break. A big key in helping provide Kruse’s two tries was the play of Scrum Half Niall Saunders, who directly assisted on both of the scores.
The first came with Saunders placing a kick to the outside, which Kruse was able to sprint toward, gather, and then score, beating an otherwise unsuspecting defense. The second came with Saunders opting to by-pass the two closest teammates on a possession to flip yet another perfect pass clear to the outside which Kruse gathered in for his second try of the afternoon. “It’s just about building connections. We’re starting to click and get our timing together,” Davies said. “Mika is a special talent. He does things in training that I just shake my head at, at times…It’s good for Mika to get the ball in his hand more. The more he touches the ball, the better we are as a team.”
As for Saunders, Davies said, “Niall came into the season after being away from rugby for some time, so the more rugby he plays, the better he’s going to get in building connections…It’s just going to take a little time.” Saunders scored a try himself at the 58:17 mark, benefitting from a great counter by Cliven Loubser, who intercepted a Jackals’ pass, advancing the ball about 30 meters before lateralling it to Saunders to finish off the scoring run. Other tries were scored by Saia ‘Uhila, who accounted for the first score of the game, Tomasi Tonga, ‘Oli Kilifi and finally Coleson Warner in his first match as a Utah Warrior after joining the team just days before Saturday’s match. “It was electrifying,” said Warner of his first match played with the Warriors. “I’m a rookie this year, and I haven’t experienced anything like it. I just felt it the entire time I was on the field, and it felt amazing.”
In between the massive amount of scoring game came stout defensive moments, particularly toward the end of the first half with Utah holding the Jackals just short of the try end with some solid tackling and great anticipation. “It’s really good to see the Warriors’ defense getting confidence,” Davies said. “We love to attack, and defense has always been something we need to work on. But now with that defense we can approach these games with a lot of confidence. We know we can defend for long periods of time.” With the win Utah improves to 1-3 on the season and will next travel to take on defending MLR champion Los Angeles Giltinis in what Davies believes will prove a great measuring stick for where the Warriors are at as a team, currently. “We still have a long way to go, but we have something to build off now,” Davies said.
The Warriors will take on the Giltinis a week from Sunday, March 13 at Los Angeles. The Jackals, who fell to 0-5 on the season with Saturday’s loss, will look to win their first game when taking on the Nola Gold at home.
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