Rugby ATL Reach MLR Championship Final with 10-9 Victory over Rugby United New York
Rugby ATL, Atlanta's professional rugby union side, have reached the Major League Rugby Championship Final for the first time in their history after beating Rugby United New York to become Eastern Conference champions.
In just their second season, the first of which cut short by COVID-19, Scott Lawrence's team left it late to secure their place in the Championship final, with Kurt Coleman's conversion of Alex Maughan's try allowing for a narrow victory over a team that had beaten them twice in the regular season on Saturday night.
The Eastern Conference Final was played in front of several thousand supporters at Lupo Family Field, Rugby ATL took an early lead thanks to a Bautista Ezcurra penalty (three points), the opportunity coming thanks to the early dominance of ATL's scrum.
Despite their early promise, ATL were unable to extend their lead any further, a combination of New York's defense, the humidity making the ball slip out of players' hands causing the game to slow down and possession to change sides.
At the conclusion of the first half, it was the visiting side that had the lead, New York's Harry Bennett kicking two penalties, the first as a result of an infringement at the ruck and a late hit on an opposition player, those kicks from the Australian giving New York a 6-3 lead at the break.
Similar to the first half, ATL piled pressure onto their opposition early, camping themselves deep in New York's half and winning consistent penalties.That pressure eventually told after several strong drives towards the New York try line were illegally stopped, James Rochford receiving a yellow card from referee Federico Anselmi, meaning he had to spend 10 minutes off the field. Both teams would have a man off the field minutes later, ATL's Chance Wenglewski yellow carded for a stamp on fellow USA Eagle, Nick Civetta.
There was bated breath amongst the home crowd as the game entered its final quarter, New York captain Dylan Fawsitt held up over the try line by ATL, his team growing in confidence as the game went on.
To make the most of this confidence, the next time points were on offer Bennett got his kicking tee out again to extend the away teams lead to six points. With 67 minutes on the clock, New York were reduced by a man again, this time Canadian international Quinn Ngawati shown a yellow card for a high tackle.
Again, the pressure from ATL mounted, New York consistently infringing in order to prevent their opponents from scoring a try, the five-point effort's conversion being enough to win the game.
Eventually the try came, replacement prop Alex Maughan carrying hard and low over to register the try and Kurt Coleman's conversion giving ATL a one-point lead with less than five minutes left to play.
Defending with all their worth, when the ball went out of play with the clock in the red there were wild celebrations from those watching on from the sidelines and from the men who had taken their team to the Championship Final on August 1st.
"That was as exciting as it gets in terms of a playoff game," Rugby ATL's General Manager, Scott Lawrence said after the game. "It was wonderful to see the excitement in the crowd, along with the laughter and the tears.
"I thought the team played with tremendous heart tonight and there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from this game. On how to play Championship rugby, how to convert key opportunities.
"When we get back together, we will learn those lessons and hopefully we take that knowledge into next week."
Rugby ATL will play either the LA Giltinis or Utah Warriors, who play in the Western Conference Final tomorrow, July 25. The MLR Championship Final is next Sunday, August 1, at 4PM ET and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports.
Written by Joe Harvey
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Major League Rugby Stories from July 25, 2021
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