Glendale, CO - The USA Rugby Men’s playoffs are officially underway, and with convincing wins over the Kansas City Blues and Provo Steelers the Raptors have solidified their post as West #2 heading into the Round of 32.
The Raptors took to the pitch on Saturday against the Kansas City Blues, a team they had defeated just a few weeks earlier in the season. Glendale knew they needed to set the pace of the game early and Justin Pauga did just that by breaking the line, disrupting the Blues’ full back, and finding the try zone just 30 seconds into the match.
The Raptors were back on the Blues’ side of the pitch within minutes and found themselves packing down for a five meter scrum. Number eight, Nic Johnson, was next to find the try zone, off the five meter scrum, moments later.
Fullback James Patterson and winger Preston Bryant took a quick penalty after the Blues failed to roll away from a tackle – Patterson found the try zone next. Kansas City’s prop was sin binned for not rolling away, and the first half would close out second later with Pauga’s second try of the match.
Half time score was Glendale 33, KC 0.
The second half saw a continuation of Glendale’s fluid team dynamics. Winger Brett Willis traded a couple of tries with the Blues’ number seven and number 20 respectively.
The action continued to move up and back on the pitch, but for every Kansas City break there was a quickly adapting Raptors’ defense to disrupt their patterns of play.
Final Score was Glendale 62, KC 24.
Sunday ‘s match brought the Raptors up against the Provo Steelers, who had come into the weekend ranked number one, but who had also lost to the Denver Barbarians the evening before. The Steelers were a much larger team than Kansas City, and the Glendale men knew they needed to make slight adjustments to their playing patterns and on-field strategy.
The match – which ultimately would turn out to be one of the best of the season at Infinity Park – started off a little more slowly than Saturday’s had as the teams tested each other’s strength. Scrum half Shaun Davies opened scoring in the eighth minute with a penalty kick after the Steelers were penalized for side-entry on a ruck.
The Raptors took the lead with tries by Preston Bryant, Mike Graham, Austin Welch and Stan Moaalii. It was just moments before the half when Provo’s number six powered his way through the Glendale defense into the try zone.
The Raptors immediately matched the ball back into Steeler territory and after a few thwarted attempts, lock Doug Graves was in the right place, at the right time, he came up with the ball off a chaotic set of rucks and dove into the try zone.
Half time score was Glendale 36, Provo 7.
The second half opened with all of the physicality and intensity of the first. The teams were testing each other, and the substitute players on the field, once again. Chad London charged up the pitch and off-loaded to Bryant, who continued the 50 meters up the pitch to the try zone, with a couple of the Provo players in hot pursuit.
Amazingly enough, London would chip kick the ball to Bryant just a moment later, and he would score again (Bryant would have four tries total on the day).
Winger Mark Stzyndera, who had been running excellent support patterns, took a dish from full back DeWon Reed and found his second try of the match. Reed would score his own try several minutes later off an assist from Justin Pauga.
The Steelers were not about to give in; they continued to deliver big hits, lots of disruption at the rucks and good contests in the scrums. They were simply being physically worn down of a lighter, quicker Raptor side.
Final Score on the day was Glendale 79, Provo 12.
“After two great matches, we’ve earned the result we wanted this weekend,” said Head Coach Andre Snyman. “We’re looking forward to getting back on the pitch this coming week at training and to hosting Dallas in the Round of 32.”
The top four teams from this weekend – Barbos, Raptors, Steelers and Blues – will advance to the Round of 32. Glendale will host the number three team from Texas, the Dallas Reds, at Infinity Park on Saturday, May 4 – kick off time TBA.
The Raptors’ DII men’s team will begin their playoff quest this coming weekend in Omaha. They are matched up against the St. Louis Bombers, with kick off slated for 12:30 on Saturday. Based on the results of Saturday’s tournament play, the Raptors will then face the GOATS (Omaha men) or Tulsa, on Sunday.