The Colorado Raptors’ preseason is over.
Now, it all counts.
They wrapped up the last of their preseason matches with a trip to Austin the weekend prior with a 22-21 win over the newly-named Gilgronis.
That victory came on the heels of another preseason victory that took place a week earlier in Las Vegas. The Raptors got their preseason started with a 32-26 victory over Rugby ATL after some quality joint training session work with the Toronto Arrows.
After two weeks of matches and joint training sessions, the Raptors are feeling good about where they stand heading into the season.
Starting with the joint training session with the Arrows, lock Luke White was very pleased with what his team put on the pitch.
“It was a very beneficial session,” White said of the session. “It was the first time we were able to get up against an opposing team and sort of run our plays and structures. We went really well. Obviously there are some work-ons, but that’s for both teams. There wasn’t one team that came out on top. It was very evenly matched. It was intense. It was good to get the blood going a couple of days before a game against one of the best.”
The training session consisted of full scrums, mauls, lineouts for the forwards, and moves and defense for the backs. According to White, the session lasted about an hour in total.
After the training session, which took place on Thursday, the Raptors used Friday and early Saturday to iron out some kinks, rest and prepare for their match against Rugby ATL on Saturday afternoon.
That work and rest translated into a win over Atlanta in Las Vegas. Despite playing on a pitch that was slightly more narrow than they are used to, the Raptors ran their system and came away with a victory.
“It’s scary to think how much further it can progress after just one hit out,” White said of the victory over Atlanta. “Obviously the first hit out of anything can be a bit rusty. We handled it well.”
For White, the victory was a great way to kick off 2020 and a very encouraging start for the team as a whole.
“It was a great starting point,” White said of the Las Vegas trip. “A lot of our team is new this year. New team, new staff new policies and it was fantastic to put six weeks of hard work out on the field for the first time. It came together as well as we could’ve expected. The boys all reacted well and we were prepared well. Our four days of preparation in Vegas leading into the game was fantastic. My opinion would be that we handled it better than all of the other teams in terms of scheduling. The coaches really looked after us with that and we ran into that Atlanta game really fresh, ready to go and very mentally prepared and that’s exactly what we had over Atlanta in that game was mental preparation, energy, and excitement.”
On top of putting forward a winning effort on the pitch, White was particularly pleased with the effort put forward by everyone who made the trip to Las Vegas. That true team effort is something that White knows will pay dividends down the line.
“Overall the effort from the group,” White said of what he was most proud of. “Not just the 23 that suited up. I think that we had 32 travel with us as a group, and the effort from those guys outside the 23 and the coaching staff all combined to show what we put together in the game.”
From there, the Raptors headed South to Austin for their second and final preseason match of 2020. Unlike in Las Vegas, the Raptors didn’t start out the way that they wanted to and found themselves in a 14-7 hole at the half.
“Austin came out hard in the first half,” scrum-half Nick Boyer said of the match. “Their scrum was especially strong. We lost a lot of balls in the set-piece. In the loose, their eight-man was especially good at taking gaps and their nine had a nice little sniping run right before halftime that he offloaded for a try.”
From there, the Raptors buckled down and did what they needed to do to get back in control of the match. When the dust settled, the Raptors walked escaped with a 22-21 victory to close out the preseason on the right foot.
“In the second half, we focused on our system of play,” Boyer said. “We executed that a bit more. We got the ball to the width and were able to get some go forward there and we scored a few tries. We managed the game really well and were able to close it out.”
It is good for the Raptors to face a bit of adversity before the season actually begins, and that’s exactly what they got from Austin. Those are lessons that are only learned through experience.
“Big challenge from Austin,” Boyer said. “It’s great to see that they rebuilt. It was also great to see from our team the adjustments and composure to close that game out.”
After two preseason matches in as many weeks, there seem to be two main takeaways echoed throughout the High Altitude Training Center in Glendale, Colorado. The first is that there are still things plenty of things to work on.
“It’s a week in, week out improvement kind of thing,” Boyer said. “We definitely need to work on our ball retention in contact and just the breakdown area in general. There is a lot of progress to be made there, but once we get those pieces in place it should be fun to watch.”
“Obviously I think in all aspects of the game there are little things that we take away and it’s the same with every team and every game,” White said. “There is always going to be small aspects from every part of the game that you can work on.”
The second take away is that the sky is the limit for these Raptors.
“That’s the big feeling is that there is a lot of potential,” Boyer said. “The current level of talent that we have is really, really exciting and if we just keep gelling and getting those small pieces in place, we’ve got a lot of potential.”
“The amount of progress is going to be scary for the league and anyone interested,” White said of the team. “Everyone should get ready too because it’s going to be something special to watch.”