The Colorado Raptors ran into the buzzsaw that was the San Diego Legion on Sunday afternoon in Sin City.
After their season-opening victory over the reigning champion Seattle Seawolves, the Legion (2-0, 2-0) affirmed opinions of being the top team in the competition with a 49-22 victory over the Raptors (0-2,0-2) at Sam Boyd Stadium in what was the finale of Major League Rugby’s Las Vegas Weekend.
For the second week in a row, the Raptors were undone by issues in the scrum and untimely penalties and the Legion made them pay for their mistakes from the beginning of the match all the way to the very end.
The first points came early in the match when Legion fly-half Luke Burton hit a penalty goal to put San Diego up 3-0.
In a match that they couldn’t afford to play from behind, the Raptors responded with a try in the eighth minute when fullback Mason Emerson received an offload from wing Mika Kruse out wide and raced down the touchline before dotting the ball down in the corner of the in-goal. Fly-half Tomas Quinlan wasn’t able to hit the conversion, but the Raptors took a 5-3 lead to round out an action-packed opening 10 minutes.
Despite flipping the momentum and playing with a lead, it wasn’t long after that the scrum issues reared its ugly head for the Raptors.
After the scrum collapsed several times, loosehead prop Kelepi Fifita was presented a yellow card and the Raptors played a man down for 10 minutes. Fifita’s absence didn’t improve the Raptors’ scrum, and the Legion were awarded a penalty try in the 15th minute after the issues persisted.
Even with just 14 men on the pitch, the Raptors used the ensuing five minutes to work their way down the pitch and were rewarded with a Quinlan penalty goal that put them down 10-8 heading into the 20-minute hydration break.
Every time the Raptors would gain a little ground, the Legion slammed the door in their face. That’s what happened on the other side of the first water break when fullback Dylan Audsley found a gap in the middle of the pitch and raced in for a Legion try that opened up the floodgates. Burton’s conversion gave San Diego a 17-8 lead and they never looked back.
Just eight minutes later, inside center Ma’a Nonu caught the ball on a set-piece off a scrum, stepped his defender and dotted down his first MLR try to give the Legion a 24-8 lead after the conversion.
With their window of opportunity still open, the Legion struck one more time in the first half. This time hooker Dean Muir was on the scoring end of a driving maul that gave the Legion a 31-8 lead.
The Raptors were finally able to stop the bleeding just before halftime when scrum-half Nick Boyer punched in the Raptors second try of the match. Quinlan nailed the conversion, but the Legion took a 31-15 lead into the sheds.
The first 10 minutes of the second half looked had the makings of a Raptors comeback all over it. Colorado seemed to have found a way to slow down the Legion offense and was rewarded for some quality defensive work when Kruse picked off a Legion pass and took it the other way for the Raptors third try of the match. Quinlan’s conversion cut San Diego’s lead to just nine points with 30 minutes to play, and the Raptors seemed to be turning the tides.
Then the penalties happened.
The Legion slowed the match down and Burton made the Raptors pay for the mistakes that would ensue. He hit two penalty goals to put the Legion up 37-22 with just over 15 minutes to play.
Then the tries happened.
With their backs against the wall, the Raptors couldn’t stop a hard-charging Legion team that was looking to put the match on ice. They did that with tries from scrum-half Nate Augspurger and inside center J.P. du Plessis in the match’s final 10-minute frame.
The Raptors fought for their four-try bonus point but weren’t able to punch one in as the match wound down and ultimately ended up falling 49-22 to the Legion.
With the win, the Legion now have 10 table points on the season and now sit comfortably atop the Western Conference after Round 2 while the Raptors are still trying to find their footing.
After a month on the road, the Raptors will look to get back on track on Saturday, February 22 when the NOLA Gold come into Infinity Park for Colorado’s home opener.
San Diego Legion
Tries: Penalty Try, Dylan Audsley, Ma’a Nonu, Dean Muir, Nate Augspurger, J.P. du Plessis
Conversions: Luke Burton (4/5)
Penalty Goals: Luke Burton (3/3)
Tries: Mason Emerson, Nick Boyer, Mika Kruse
Conversions: Tomas Quinlan (2/3)
Penalty Goals: Tomas Quinlan (1/1)