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HERRIMAN — It wasn’t always pretty. With injuries, it was, at times, ugly.
But at the end of the night, it was historic for the Utah Warriors pro rugby squad.
Maika Hafoka and Ben Nicholls scored back-to-back tries in the final 10 minutes to help the Warriors pull away from Austin and earn their first win in Major League Rugby play, 41-22 in front of an announced crowd of 4,078 fans Friday night at Zions Bank Stadium.
"Honestly, it was awesome. It was a relieving feeling, to see some of our work pay off," said Warriors team captain Paul Lasike, the former BYU fullback who ached after Utah’s narrow loss to league-leading Glendale a week ago. "I feel like the boys have put in a lot of effort and sacrifice, and it’s good to finally get a result in our favor."
Kurt Morath, the decorated Tongan international who accounted for 11 points on the night, put the Warriors (1-2) on the score sheet first via penalty kick in the 15th minute, and Utah took a 10-0 lead on Jared Whippy’s first try of the game just over three minutes later.
Lasike set up the second try of the match, barreling through four Austin tackles before finishing off the score through a scrum in the 24th minute after Austin was called for a high tackle on the north sideline.
By the time fellow BYU rugby grad Joshua Anderson rumbled in for a try just before halftime, the Warriors had compiled a 22-7 advantage.
Hanco Germishuys pulled Austin within 10, 22-12, with a try just two minutes into the second half. Lote Tu’ipulotu countered for Utah, but Marcus Walsh's try kept Austin (1-3) within striking distance, 27-22, with just under 10 minutes remaining.
But there was no panic on the Warriors bench.
"We knew they were going to come out hot," Nicholls said. "We knew we had to survive that initial onslaught. I think Kurt played a big role in that, keeping us cool, maintaining possession and putting them back in their half. He really put us on the front foot to calm us down."
Hafoka and Nicholls did just enough to lead the Warriors to their first win of the regular season. Nicholls connected with Morath on an angled kick-on to give the Warriors the final 19-point margin of victory.
"I was just a little lucky, I guess," Nicholls said. "I was planning to kick, and their guy hit it back with his hand.
"I couldn’t ask for anything better. A good kick and a good handle into the end zone."
Whippy was injured on a breakaway in the 60th minute, leaving the stadium in traction as the Warriors had a try negated for an obstruction penalty.
Whippy's brother Josh was injured in the Warriors’ final preseason game, an 80-12 win over Canada’s Alberta Wolfpack when Josh Whippy scored three tries before a season-ending broken leg.
"It's a little bittersweet. We’re really excited to have a win tonight, and the boys played well and deserved it. But my gut is wrenched losing Jared Whippy,” said Daniels, who knew Whippy had a "very serious leg injury."
“Two brothers, gone. It’s hard to celebrate when one of your boys have gone through that. But it’s good to have a win,” Daniels said.
15’ UT: Kurt Morath penalty kick
18’ UT: Jared Whippy try (Morath kick)
24’ UT: Paul Lasike try (kick failed)
30’ ATX: Kyle Breytenbach try (Guillimin kick)
40’ UT: Josh Anderson try (Morath kick)
42’ ATX: Hanco Germishuys try (kick failed)
48’ UT: Lote Tu'ipulotu try (kick failed)
60’ ATX: Timothee Guillimin penalty kick
71’ ATX: Marcus Walsh try (Guillimin kick)
73’ UT: Maika Hafoka try (Morath kick)
77’ UT: Joseph Nicholls try (Morath kick)