Legion Outlast Gold, Retake First Place
Saturday afternoon’s match between the San Diego Legion and NOLA Gold was everything a match between the top two teams in Major League Rugby should’ve been.
After a back-and-forth match that saw both teams dig deep into their reserves in the New Orleans heat, it was the Legion (10-3-1) that held on for the 26-19 victory and jumped over the Gold (9-4) to retake first place.
After suffering a tough 23-19 loss to the Toronto Arrows on the last play of the match a week earlier, Legion head coach Rob Hoadley was happy to see his side respond to a tough opponent and tough conditions on Saturday afternoon.
“Critical to see a reaction this week,” Hoadley said after the match. “Our performance, more than the result, was disappointing last week. We lost with the last play of the game against a tough Toronto side, but didn’t play to our standards.”
The work began in the sixth minute when fly-half Joe Pietersen skipped a ball out wide to wing Savenaca Totovosau who dove in for the first try of the match. Pietersen was unable to hit the conversion, but the Legion took an early 5-0 lead.
Despite giving up an early try, the Gold didn’t play discouraged. The effort was evident in the strong tackles that they made throughout the match. They were rewarded for their efforts in the 16th minute when eight-man Cam Dolan caught the Legion defense napping and picked the ball out of the base of the ruck and snuck in for the Gold’s first try of the match.
Fullback J.P. Eloff’s conversion attempt rattled off the right upright, so the Gold and the Legion went into the 20-minute hydration break tried 5-5.
San Diego found their way back onto the scoreboard first out of the hydration break. After some battle for positioning, Legion fullback Mike Te’o took the ball with pace down near the touchline when he found wing Nick Boyer outside. Boyer hit the brakes and froze the Gold defense before scampering into for the Legion’s second try. Pietersen hit the conversion to give San Diego a 12-5 lead in the 28th minute.
The 30th minute is when the fatigue set in.
The Gold went to two of their top performers to respond. Eloff took a Legion kick and ripped off a long run down the touchline. After trucking a San Diego defender, the Gold worked the ball out to outside center Tristan Blewitt who finished off the sequence with a try right between the pipes. Scott Gale nailed the conversion to tie the match at 12 heading into the half.
Both NOLA and San Diego settled in to play some defense and wear each other out a bit more on the other side of the half. It was the Legion whose efforts paid off first.
The Legion’s third try of the match came in the 43rd minute when scrum-half Nate Augspurger drew the defense to his left before throwing a beautiful no-look pass back inside and into the waiting arms of outside center J.P. du Plessis who snuck through the defense. Pietersen kicked the conversion to give the Legion a 19-12 lead.
NOLA answered back with a try that stemmed out of pure effort 10 minutes later. Wing Nick Feakes attempted to kick the ball into touch, but instead of bouncing out of bounds, the ball took a bounce back into the pitch and into the hands of a hard-charging Blewitt who rumbled in for his second try of the match. Gale hit the conversion to tie the match at 19 heading into the 60-minute hydration break.
The first 60 minutes of the match saw both teams lose a handful of key players to injuries. Two of those included Eloff and Pietersen, both of the team’s top scorers.
With the pressure mounting, it was San Diego’s bench that rose to the occasion.
The Legion worked their way down the pitch late in the second half and found themselves just inside NOLA’s 22-meter line. Replacement fly-half Tai Enosa received the ball out of the back of a ruck and stepped hard off his left foot to squirt through the Gold defense for San Diego’s fourth try of the match. Will Holder stepped in for an injured Pietersen and nailed the conversion to give the Legion a 26-19 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of the match.
“The attrition rate goes to show how tough the game was, as both teams lost key players and had to adapt,” Hoadley said after the match. “Tai Enosa was outstanding stepping in for Joe Pietersen, and he was joined by an outstanding effort by the full squad as every player contributed. Playing into the wind in humid conditions in the second half, their impact was instrumental in securing five points. At this time of year, squad depth is key to all teams across the league.”
With time working against them, NOLA never quit. They battled their way all the way down inside San Diego’s five-meter line, but the Legion stood strong and eventually forced the Gold into a knock-on in stoppage time. The Legion walked away with a 26-19 victory.
The Legion picked up five points in the victory to jump over the Gold and back into first place with 52 total points in the table while the Gold picked up a valuable bonus point to reach 51 points on the season and help them inch towards locking up a playoff spot.
On top of the points, Hoadley also believes his team gained some valuable experience in the match as well.
“We take a lot from our close victories this season,” Hoadley said of the match. “Comebacks to beat Houston, draw with Glendale, defend against Seattle with two yellow cards and a red card have been an illustration of how this squad loves to compete for each other.”
The Legion will look to keep the momentum rolling against the Utah Warriors back at home on Saturday, May 18 while the Gold will welcome the Houston SaberCats to town for an important match.
San Diego Legion
Tries: Savenaca Totovosau, Nick Boyer, J.P. du Plessis, Tai Enosa
Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2/3), Will Holder (1/1)
Penalty Goals: N/A
Tries: Cam Dolan, Tristan Blewitt (2)
Conversions: J.P. Eloff (0/1), Scott Gale (2/2)
Penalty Goals: N/A
Colton can be reached at [email protected]
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