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American Raptors Looking for First Victory in SRA Against Pampas in Round 3

Colton Strickler Avatar
March 2, 2023

The results have been the same for the American Raptors through the first two weeks of their inaugural Super Rugby Americas campaign, but the differences between their 35-point Round 1 loss to Selknam and their 28-19 loss to Peñarol have been major.

Slowly but surely they are moving in the right direction, and they are hoping that the progress translates to their first win of the competition in Round 3.

That progress was on display in the Raptors’ Round 2 loss last Friday. The Raptors stuck last year’s SLAR champions early with a beautiful try that saw inside center Aki Pulu take a pass from fly-half Lucas González Amorosino and put a kick over the top and right into the waiting hands of wing Seimou Smith.

Smith’s try gave the Raptors their first lead in a match since joining Super Rugby Americas and put the defending champions on their heels just six minutes into the match.

Peñarol began to get to work. Fly-half Felipe Etcheverry missed his first penalty goal of the match, but drilled his second to get Peñarol on the board. The first lead came in the 20th minute when Ignacio Dotti rumbled in for a try. Etcheverry’s conversion gave Peñarol a five-point cushion, and they never looked back.

The Raptors had their chances to regain control of the match but missed out on seven potential points in the first half due to misfires in the kicking game. Line Latu missed a tough conversion on Smith’s try early in the match but followed that up with a successful penalty goal in the 29th minute to cut Peñarol’s lead to just two points. As Peñarol added one more penalty goal before the half, Latu and González Amorosino both missed penalty goals and the Raptors trailed 13-8 at the half.

Peñarol prop Matías Benítez scored a try in the 48th minute to give the defending champions an 18-8 lead, and although González Amorosino added back-to-back penalty goals over the course of the next 20 minutes, the offensive pressure that Peñarol generated proved to be too much for the Raptors.

Raptors No. 8 Diego Magno received a yellow card in the 68th minute, and Peñarol took control afterward.

Etcheverry added another penalty goal to bring the score to 21-14 in the 69th minute, and Peñarol put the match on ice with a try from No. 8 Manuel Diana 10 minutes later to push the lead to an insurmountable 28-14 after the conversion. Despite the match being out of reach, the Raptors kept pushing.

Peñarol received a yellow card in the 80th minute, and Raptors reserve center Watson Filikitonga dotted down a try on the match’s final play to bring the score to 28-19 after González Amorosino wasn’t able to hit the tough conversion.

While the match still resulted in a loss for the Raptors, there were plenty of bright spots to build upon. One of the brightest was inside center Aki Pulu, who was named to Super Rugby Americas’ First XV along with Raptors scrum-half Martín Landajo and González Amorosino. Along with his slick kick-pass that helped produced the Raptors’ first try, Pulu also played stellar defensively. Perhaps the most shocking part of Pulu’s performance is the fact that he’s only 19 years old. He graduated high school in 2022 and is already making plays on the Super Rugby Americas stage.

Another bright spot in the match was wing Ryan James. James is a familiar face around the Raptors organization, having been a part of the Raptors academy and MLR team from 2017-2020. James was tenacious on defense, forcing Peñarol into two turnovers on the day while also making several big tackles throughout the match.

One thing that the Raptors will have to clean up moving forward is the penalties. The Raptors received two more yellow cards on Friday, bringing their total to five through just two weeks. Cobras Brasil XV leads the league with seven total cards.

The Raptors have the chance to get into the win column for the first time in Round 3 when they take on Pampas. Pampas currently sits in third place with a 1-1 record after defeating Cobras Brasil XV 41-21 in Round 1 but falling to Selknam 34-20 in Round 2. Friday’s match will take place at 4 PM MT, and will be broadcast on ESPN+.

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