HERRIMAN — Technically, Rugby United New York was one of two expansion teams to Major League Rugby for the 2019 season.
But RUNY, as they have been known to be called, isn’t a typical expansion team.
The franchise, led by former U.S. men’s national rugby coach Mike Tolkin, got off to a blazing start in its first five matches, all on the road.
The latest victims were the Utah Warriors.
Connor Wallace-Simms and Mark O’Keefee each scored two tries, and first-year Rugby United New York ran away with a 47-21 rout Friday night over the host Utah Warriors in front of 1,145 fans at the snow-covered Zions Bank Stadium.
John Cullen scored two tries for Utah (1-3-1, 7 points) and Josh Anderson added a score for the Warriors, who lost back-to-back matches for the first time in the new season.
“They’re probably one of the best attacking teams in the competition,” Utah coach Alf Daniels said. “We knew that, we expected that, and we prepared for it. But we didn’t show up for it.
“By halftime, the game was done. We just didn’t play.”
O’Keefee broke away for a 70-yard sprint that put United up 14-0 early amid the bracing snowstorm in Herriman.
Jimmy Denise gave New York (4-1-0, 18 points) a 21-0 lead, and Wallace-Sims dotted the corner with his second try of the night with eight minutes left in the half to give the expansion club a fast start as it sought to cruise to a 26-0 lead at the break.
The Warriors answered right before halftime, though.
Angus McClellan sprinted inside the five-meter line, and Cullen punched it over the line with a diving try in the 40th minute to prevent the first-half shutout.
“I don’t think there was a single guy who didn’t think we could be right back in it,” Cullen said. “That’s what we spoke about in the locker room.
But the highlights were few for Utah, which fell to 1-3-1 in Major League Rugby’s second season, without a win since the season opener at Austin Elite. New York held against a quick breakaway from Utah out of the break, then held a scrum inside the five-minute line to kill off momentum in the first 10 minutes of the match.
“We had a handling error and then sat on that scrum for about 7-8 minutes, and that took the juice away,” Cullen admitted. “We had a restart and we clearly didn’t do a very good job of that.”
Anderson, who played collegiately at Utah and BYU, pulled one back for the Warriors in the 67th minute, weaving through traffic on an ankle-breaking run for a full-field try. That pulled the hosts within 40-14 with just over 10 minutes to go.
“I’m just grateful for the minutes I get,” Anderson said. “When I get space, I do what I’m supposed to do: turn people around and score tries. That’s why they bring me in.”
By the time O’Keffee slid through the snow underneath the visiting team’s uprights with three minutes remaining, United was sliding out of the frozen tundra with a big road win that propelled New York into playoff position midway through its first season.
New York has taken four wins from five games to open the 2019 season — all away from home. United’s home opener is next Friday, March 15 against fellow expansion side Toronto Arrows. Kickoff at MCU Park on Coney Island is scheduled for 5 p.m. MST on ESPN+.
The Warriors hit the road to face the Houston Sabercats (1-3-0, 6 points) at 6:30 p.m. MST March 2. The match will be carried live on ESPN+.
The Warriors return home March 30 at 2 p.m. MST against Toronto.
8’ NY: Connor Wallace-Simmons try (conversion kick)
10’ NY: Mark O’Keefee try (conversion kick)
26’ NY: Jimmy Denise try (conversion kick)
33’ NY: Connor Wallace-Sims try (kick failed)
40’ UT: John Cullen try (O’Malley kick)
Halftime: New York 26-7
59’ NY: Matt Hughston penalty try
64’ NY: Trevor Cassidy try
67’ UT: Joshua Anderson try (O’Malley kick)
78’ NY: Mark O’Keffee try (conversion kick)
80’+ UT: John Cullen try (O’Malley kick)