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Easter weekend marks the halfway point of the American Raptors’ first season competing in Super Rugby Americas. The Raptors are still looking for their first win with six matches in the books, but there have been more than enough flashes of promise over the course of the last two matches to be excited about the second half of the season.
If you haven’t been keeping up with the Raptors, here is how the first half of the season went for them:
- 45-10 loss at Selknam
- 28-19 loss at Peñarol
- 27-16 loss at Pampas
- 25-3 loss at Yacare XV
- 37-24 loss vs Dogos XV
- 43-40 loss vs Cobras Brasil XV
Opening up with six-straight losses is not how the Raptors envisioned their inaugural Super Rugby Americas campaign, and a large reason why they have yet to win a match boils down to untimely penalties. Through seven weeks, the Raptors lead the league in penalties committed with 68 and rank second in cards earned with 12 yellows. Sunday’s Round 7 narrow loss to Cobras Brasil XV marked the first time in a match this season that the Raptors weren’t administered a yellow card. It’s tough enough to win rugby matches as is, but it’s even tougher when you’re playing a man down for extended periods of time. The players themselves know that if they clean up some simple penalties, the wins will come.
“It came down to discipline,” wing Ryan James said after the Raptors’ loss to Dogos XV. “A couple of mistakes, a couple of penalties. It just put us on the back foot and you can’t win games like that.”
“I think the attitude of the team was always there, but we made too many mistakes and against these teams in this competition, if you make mistakes you’re going to pay for it,” Raptors Round 7 captain Diego Fortuny said after the team’s 43-40 loss to Cobras Brasil XV. “There were 83 points scored in this game. There were a lot of mistakes. We have to learn from that.”
Fortunately, penalties are something that can be corrected, and the fact that the Raptors played their first cardless match in Round 7 could be a sign that they’ve started to get the hang of how the referees call rugby in this competition.
A bright spot lately has been the Raptors’ offensive production. The Raptors have scored the least amount of points in the competition, and they have conceded the most. They sit in last place with a -93 point differential, but their offense has opened up over the course of the last two weeks. To put things into perspective, the Raptors scored just four tries on their four-match road trip to open up the season. In the two matches they’ve played since returning home, the Raptors have logged 10 tries, and the scoring is coming from all over the roster. Three players – Watson Filikitonga, Tommy Clark, and Diego Fortuny – lead the team in scoring with two tries apiece. If the Raptors can keep up the offensive momentum and shore up a few things on the defensive end, the second half of the season can look a lot different.
Another way the Raptors could turn things around after the Easter break is by starting matches faster. The Raptors have yet to possess a lead at the halftime break of each match they’ve played thus far. The closest they’ve been was a 13-13 draw with Pampas at the half. They’ve shown the ability to turn it on at the end of matches over the last two weeks, and a little better start can go a long way.
Perhaps the biggest thing going for the Raptors as they head into the midway point of the season is their attitude. The team hasn’t wavered despite their tough start. They’re playing hard, and positive momentum is building.
“The boys are pumped up each week,” James said. “We’re looking forward to the next match.”
“Just the attitude,” Fortuny said of some of the positives he’s seen around the team heading into the Easter break. “I think the attitude of the team has been great.”
The Raptors might be off, but Fortuny doesn’t foresee much of a break as the Raptors get ready for the second half of the season.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a rest,” Forutny said. “We have to prepare to play against Pampas. They beat the first team in the lot, Peñarol, so we have a lot of work to do.”
The Raptors fell 27-16 to Pampas when the two sides met in Round 3 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. When they meet in Round 8 at Infinity Park, it will be the first opponent the Raptors will see for a second time in the 2023 Super Rugby Americas season.
“Obviously, we already know how they play but things can change,” Fortuny said of facing Pampas for a second time. “They are playing better. It’s going to be a different game.”
When the Raptors return from the league-wide Easter break, they will close the season with four matches at Infinity Park – beginning on April 16 against Pampas – before playing their final two away matches against Dogos XV in Cordoba, Argentina and Cobras Brasil XV in Sao Paola, Brazil.