Legion Beat Gold, Jump Into Final MLR Playoff Spot
Legion Beat Gold, Jump Into Final MLR Playoff Spot
By: Colton Strickler, MLR Correspondent
Photos: Craig Boudreaux
Major League Rugby’s eighth week of competition wrapped up on Saturday afternoon with two teams, the NOLA Gold and the San Diego Legion, looking to end their losing streaks and set themselves up for a run at the final two spots in the MLR Playoffs.
The winner would put themselves in prime position to do exactly that, and the loser would all but definitely seal their fate in the other direction. In arguably the most important match of the season for either side, it was the Legion (3-3) who defeated the Gold (2-5) by a score of 39-22.
From the opening kick, it was clear that the Legion was going to use the positioning battle to win the match, and the box score resembled that. The Legion spent almost 70 percent of the match in the Gold’s territory.
They did that by placing the ball in fly-half Tadgh Leader’s hands and letting him kick.
If NOLA was going to score, they were going to have to take it a long way, and that’s exactly what they did to open the scoring. Gold scrum-half Holden Yungert received the ball off a lineout deep in his own territory and sliced through the Legion defense before offloading to wing Tim Maupin who took it in the rest of the way for the first try of the match. Fly-half J.P. Eloff converted the kick to give the Gold an early 7-0 lead.
It didn’t take long for the Legion to answer back, and they did so with a try of their own when hooker Pat Blair, the man on the tail end of a driving maul, dotted the ball down. Leader was unable to convert the kick and the Gold held on to a 7-5 lead in the ninth minute.
Leader made up for his missed conversion by nailing a penalty kick a few minutes later, giving the Legion the lead for the first time of the match just before the first water break. They never looked back.
San Diego struck again just two minutes later when fullback Conor Kearns caught a Taylor Howden kick on the full. He slipped through the Gold defense before offloading to outside centre Ryan Matyas who finished the counter-attack with a try. Leader’s conversion gave the Legion a 15-7 lead.
NOLA responded with an Eloff kick to close the gap to just five points, but San Diego extended their lead with another try when Leader distributed the ball to inside centre Anthony Salaber. Leader converted to give the Legion a 22-10 lead heading into the half.
San Diego’s focus on positioning began to pay dividends in the second half. With NOLA’s backs against the wall, the Legion charged down an attempt to clear the ball. The deflection eventually wound up in wing Nick Evans’ hands, and the Legion jumped out to a 27-10 lead just two minutes into the second half.
The Gold did their best to keep the match under control. They scored a try of their own just eight minutes later on a set piece off the break down that was eventually finished off by fullback Cameron Troxler. Eloff’s conversion cut the deficit to 17 with 30 minutes to play, giving the Gold a chance to work their way back into the match.
San Diego made sure to slam that door shut as quickly as it opened, and they did so on the foot of Leader. He spotted a Gold defender out of place and exploited that space with a grubber that was scooped up in the corner by wing Taku Ngwenya. Leader’s conversion extended the Legion’s lead back to 17 and essentially eliminated the possibility of a Gold comeback.
Still, NOLA kept fighting for the ever-valuable four-try bonus point. They notched their third try of the match when Eloff punched the ball in off a quick tap by Tevita Makasini. The Legion put the finishing touches on the game just a few minutes later the same way they started it. They used a driving maul to lead Nathan Sylvia into the in goal, bringing the score to 39-22.
The Legion used their five-point day to jump from sixth to fourth in the standings and into the final spot in the MLR Playoffs with two matches to play. With their final two matches of the season at home, they have the opportunity to move up to third place before the playoffs begin on June 30.
Even with the loss, the Gold still has a chance to squeeze into the playoffs themselves. If they can pick up five points next Saturday against the Utah Warriors, and the Warriors and Legion both pick up no points in their next two matches, they will take the final playoff spot.
While the Gold fight for their playoff lives in Utah on Saturday, June 16, the fourth-place Legion will welcome the third-place Austin Elite Rugby to San Diego for a match that will carry massive standing implications.
San Diego Legion
Tries: Pat Blair, Ryan Matyas, Anthony Salaber, Nick Evans, Taku Ngwenya, Nathan Sylvia
Penalties: Tadgh Leader (1/1)
Conversions: Tadgh Leader (3/6)
Tries: Tim Maupin, Cameron Troxler, J.P. Eloff
Penalties: J.P. Eloff (1/1)
Conversions: J.P. Eloff (2/3)
Colton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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