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HERRIMAN — Utah’s professional rugby side could’ve packed it up.
Maybe they should have.
Already eliminated from the second Major League Rugby playoffs, Saturday’s match was a runoff, an exhibition, a “meaningless” friendly, in some respects.
It was for pride, for families, for the fans.
But it still mattered to the Warriors.
Utah rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit but ultimately fell to the Sabercats, 31-27 in the season finale Saturday night at Zions Bank Stadium.
“These guys have shown when we’ve been up against it that they can be right there,” Warriors coach Alf Daniels said. “They wanted to finish well today, and we really didn’t have to say a lot at halftime. They knew what needed to happen, and they came out in the second half and made it happen.
“Unfortunately, our discipline in a crucial moment of the game turned the game for us.”
Trailing 24-10 at halftime, the Warriors opened the second half with a flurry. Tim O’Malley capped a 17-0 run with a penalty try in the 60th minute, and Utah held the lead for five minutes.
That was when Houston's Osea Kolinisau dotted the corner with a try, and the Sabercats held on for a 31-27 victory — just their sixth of the season.
“At halftime, I had a chat with the team and said, ‘We’re trying to do too much for our fans and our families.’ I get it; it’s the last game. But we’ve got to work together as a team,” said fullback Johnny Ika, who scored the game-tying try. “I think as we brought that mentality into the second half, we scored two more tries, and that’s what we talked about at halftime.”
A year after qualifying for Major League Rugby’s four-team playoff, the Warriors finish a disappointing sophomore campaign at just 2-12-2. The team with two of the league’s three all-time ties took a step back in 2019 — or at least, didn’t take as many steps forward as their counterparts in the expanded nine-team MLR.
Not as big of a step as they wanted to show the season-high crowd of 3,380 fans Saturday night, at least.
“I think this was the first time I played in front of a big crowd in my entire life,” Ika said. “It’s good to see a lot of support from the outside. As we are trying to build our foundation, we hope the fans will bring it. We hope the youth will have a desire to be Utah Warriors in the future — and do better than us.”