Utah Warriors fall to Rugby ATL after second-half rally in season opener

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SALT LAKE CITY — Even with a new coach and revamped roster, poor finishing continued to plague the Utah Warriors pro rugby franchise as it opened its third season on the road Sunday.

Rugby ATL scored three unanswered tries and a penalty kick to rally past Utah, 28-19, in a Major League Rugby season opener at Life University in Marietta, Georgia.

Former BYU fullback Josh Whippy scored a try for the Warriors (0-1), and flyhalf Hagen Schulte converted three penalties for Utah, which jumped out to a 16-3 lead midway through the first half.

Whippy scored off a pass from team captain Dwayne Polataivao in the 23rd minute, which extended the Warriors’ early advantage with the first try of the game, dotting the try for a 16-3 advantage.

"I thought we showed very good signs throughout the game," first-year Warriors coach Chris Latham said in a statement. "We showed we can be a team that can really build pressure. We created a lot of opportunities and because of that, were able to control the game.

"Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hold that for the full 80 minutes so we need to go through the game, look at reasons why that fell apart and then move forward. But ultimately as individuals, we need to look at ourselves and make sure that we can fix those problems very quickly."

Conor Keys scored Atlanta’s first try off a maul with about eight minutes remaining in the first half. But the Warriors held off the hosts, primarily with the strength of their scrum, en route to the 16-8 halftime advantage.

Atlanta scored the first points of the second half, powering in a lengthy goal-line attempt on a shorthanded Warriors side just seconds after Saia ‘Uhila was sent to the sin bin with a yellow card. That pulled the expansion club within seven, 19-13, in the 57th minute.

Marno Redelinghuys picked up a loose ball, broke a tackle about 15 meters out, and scurried in for a try in the 64th minute that gave Rugby ATL its first lead of the match, 20-19, on the conversion.

Duncan Van Schalkwyk extended the lead just four minutes later, diving over the try line in the corner en route to take a 25-19 lead. Kurt Coleman topped off the scoring with a penalty as time expired to give Atlanta its first-ever win as a full member of Major League Rugby.

"Gutted with the loss," Polataivao said. "I am proud of the boys’ efforts today. We had that game and we were our own worst enemies in the end. Credit to Atlanta, they took their chances in the 2nd half and came away with the result. Thank you to our supporters who watched online and came out to Atlanta. Apologies for the result, but we will come back stronger next week."

Utah will play as the designated host team next Saturday, Feb. 15 against the New England Free Jacks during the MLR Vegas Series. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. MST from Sam Boyd Stadium, and will be streamed live on KSL.com.

Rugby ATL 28, Utah Warriors 19

Scoring summary

3’ UTA: Hagen Schulte penalty kick

12’ UTA: Hagen Schulte penalty kick

13’ ATL: Kurt Coleman penalty kick

20’ UTA: Hagen Schulte penalty kick

23’ UTA: Josh Whippy try (Dwayne Polataivao)

32’ ATL: Conor Keys try via maul

46’ UTA: Hagen Schulte penalty kick

57’ ATL: Ross Deacon try

63’ ATL: Marno Redelinghuys try

67’ ATL: Duncan Van Schalkwyk try

80’ UTA: Kurt Coleman penalty kick

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