It may not be a snowstorm, but the weather gods look set to play their part once again at Zions Bank Stadium on Friday evening. A last-gasp try for NOLA denied the Utah Warriors an upset win in their home opener. This week it’s Rugby United New York who will try their luck at Salt Lake.
Nate Brakeley makes a timely return from international duty with New York slightly shorthanded up front this week. John Quill remains with the Eagles while Kyle Sumsion is preoccupied with his West Point coaching role. Paddy Ryan meanwhile is rotated to the bench with Chris Sullivan handed his first Major League Rugby start.
In the backs the cards are shuffled as Will Leonard is rested. Mark O’Keeffe moves in one spot further to inside center and Chris Mattina takes the No13 shirt. Derek Lipscomb gets his first start on the wing and Mike St. Claire is set to make his debut from the bench. Luke Hume remains sidelined with injury.
Utah are a picture of consistency selection wise. Their nominated forward pack has remained unchanged for all five matches, while their backline is also unchanged from the game against the Gold.
New York had little trouble with Houston last week but despite winning by a wide margin were more calculated than explosive. Their approach in the bad weather is likely to be similar, a forwards-heavy ground game aided by the tactical boot of Cathal Marsh. The Irish flyhalf took a bang on the shoulder against the SaberCats and with Mattina the prescribed cover at No10, New York are crossing their fingers Marsh is still in one piece in the final quarter.
For the Warriors this is close to a must-win situation. They have succeeded only once in four games and can’t afford to lose home games against weakened sides if they intend to challenge for the Semi Finals. They are absent two starters in Josh Reeves and Gannon Moore, both playing in the final round of the Americas Rugby Championship, but have enough quality to fill in and showed against the Gold they are not intimidated by adverse conditions.
The battle up front will be worth watching. Ryan’s absence from the scrum is an opportunity for the Warriors front row and they are not short on physicality up front. If Jensen can disrupt Dylan Fawsitt’s connection with Brakeley at the throw-in, Utah’s strong kicking options in James Semple and Tim O’Malley can control field position. On paper New York enter as favorites but the Warriors are very much a threat to scupper their ambitions.
Kickoff is set for 7pm local, 6pm Pacific, 9pm Eastern. Regional broadcasts can be found on KMYU, SNY, and NBC Sports in Washington and Philadelphia. ESPN+ will broadcast the game nation-wide and those located outside of the USA can access a live stream on the official MLR Facebook page.
1 Franco van den Berg, 2 Logan Daniels, 3 Angus MacLellan, 4 Saia Uhila, 5 Matt Jensen, 6 Lance Williams, 7 Ara Elkington, 8 John Cullen, 9 Sione Ika, 10 James Semple, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 12 Tim O’Malley (capt.), 13 Jeremy Misailegalu, 14 Tonata Lauti, 15 Josh Whippy
Replacements: 16 Jeremy Leber, 17 Huluholo Mo’ungaloa, 18 Jackson Kaka, 19 Kenny Scott, 20 Alex Tucci, 21 Nolan Tuamoheloa, 22 Josh Anderson, 23 Ian Luciano
RUGBY UNITED NEW YORK
1 James Rochford, 2 Dylan Fawsitt, 3 Chris Sullivan, 4 Trevor Cassidy, 5 Nate Brakeley, 6 Matt Hughston, 7 James Denise, 8 Ross Deacon, 9 Mike Petri (capt.), 10 Cathal Marsh, 11 Connor Wallace-Sims, 12 Mark O’Keeffe, 13 Chris Mattina, 14 Derek Lipscomb, 15 Ben Foden
Replacements: 16 Mike Brown, 17 Anthony Parry, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Matt Wirken, 20 Alex MacDonald, 21 Marcus Walsh, 22 Mike St. Claire, 23 Gavan D’Amore-Morrison
Date: Friday, March 8
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman
Kickoff: 19:00 local (18:00 Pacific, 21:00 Eastern)
Referee: Luke Rogan (USAR)
Assistants: Ben Crouse (SARU) & Kahlil Harrison (USAR)
Broadcasts: ESPN+, Facebook, KMYU, SNY, NBC Sports Washington/Philadelphia