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South Valley Journal

Warriors rugby win their first league contest

May 30, 2018 12:38PM ● By Greg James

The Warriors Kurt Morath is the Tongan all-time highest points scorer. (Davey Wilson/Utah Warriors)

By Greg James |  gregj@mycityjournals.com

The Utah Warriors captured their first league victory on a cold, rainy night at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman.

“Honestly, it was a relieving feeling to see some of our work pay off,” Warriors inside center and co-captain Paul Lasike said after the win. “The boys have put in a lot of effort, and it is good to finally get a result in our favor.” 

They defeated Austin Elite Rugby 41-22, May 11 for their first Major League Rugby victory.

The wet weather played an important part in the match. The ball was difficult to handle and became a factor in the game. Austin maintained control long enough but missed an early try and the Warriors were able to grab a 15-0 lead early in the contest.

As Austin settled into its game the contest see-sawed, and eventually the Warriors took a 22-7 lead into the halftime break. 

“We knew they were going to come out hard (in the second half),” Warriors scrum half Joseph Nicholls said. “We needed to survive that initial onslaught.”

Austin had chipped away at the Warriors’ lead and had gotten to within five points. Then the Warriors Maika Hafoka  converted a try, and fly-half Kurt Morath put a kick over the top to Nicholls to extend the lead to 41-22. 

In the contest, Jared Whippy fractured his lower leg and was taken to the hospital. His twin brother Josh suffered the same fracture in the last home match. Both are expected to be out for the season and for their international club, Fijian National Team. 

“It (the injury) will test the resilience of our team and show everyone what our team is made of,” head coach Alf Daniels said. “We are not out of this competition by any means, and we will keep fighting. It is always hard when you lose quality players like both of those boys. We are also losing a couple to international play in a couple of weeks too, so it puts us in a mess of a place for sure.”

The Warriors are competing in the inaugural season of Major League Rugby. The start-up league has signed an agreement with CBS Sports Network to televise 13 games throughout the 10-week season. The league has teams in Austin, Texas; Houston, Texas; Glendale, Colorado; New Orleans, Louisana; San Diego, California; and Seattle, Washington. The Warriors are in fourth place (at press time).

“We did not expect to start with nothing and come up with something over night,” Warriors General Manager Kimball Kjar said. “The guys have improved every week, and we are moving in the correct direction for sure.” 

The Warriors play their home games in Herriman at the new Zions Bank Stadium. Their first home game had over 9,000 fans.

“The community is still tentative,” Kjar said. “The non-rugby fans are still unaware because it is not the run-of-the mill sport. I always say that once you come to a game you will not go away disappointed. People always walk away having been entertained. The first game set an attendance record for a domestic rugby game. There is a rich rugby history in this area.”

The Warriors are scheduled to host New Orleans June 16 and Houston June 23. Tickets can be purchased at warriorsrugby.com