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Utah Warriors lose inaugural match against powerhouse Glendale Raptors

SANDY — Ben Nicholls isn’t the kind of guy to get sentimental about sports.

But after he scored the first try for the Utah Warriors rugby franchise just shy of three minutes into the team’s inaugural match, he was overcome with gratitude.

“That was a highlight for me for sure,” said the native of Zimbabwe who now lives in Huntsville after the Glendale (Colorado) Raptors defeated the Warriors 43-15 Friday night in front 9,176 fans. “I’m not really an emotional guy. … I was just overwhelmed at that. We came out here, a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, and for us that crowd was just phenomenal. Utah, in general, does a great job of backing our sports teams, and that was overwhelming for us to just see that support coming out tonight. First and foremost, thanks so much to them. Hope they’ll stick with us. We’ll get better, guaranteed, and it will be a fun run.”

Nicholls said scoring so early helped the team feel at ease in the franchise’s first-ever game.

“It was a great start to the game,” he said. “That’s what we needed to get momentum going into the game, settle the nerves, and then, unfortunately didn’t keep it going. But that (score) will be one I look back at and cherish. When I settle down.”

Utah played one or two men short most of the first half, but Glendale didn’t pull away until the second half. The Raptors scored at 16:52 in the first half when Mika Kruse dove in for their first try. Glendale then scored twice more, converting all three of its kicks, to lead Utah 21-5 with three minutes in the first half.

Just seconds before time expired, Lance Williams earned Utah’s second try, allowing the Warriors to head into the locker room trailing 21-10 with a bit of momentum.

Utah didn’t manage to convert any kicks, while Glendale was 6 of 6.

But the stats weren’t the story for either team in Friday’s contest. It was, instead, the massive show of support the teams enjoyed at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“That’s one of the most electric domestic games that’s ever been played in this country,” said Raptors flyhalf Will Marie. “It was amazing. True credit to what Utah has done here to start that. If that’s the platform, then this is going to be an exciting league.”

Former BYU rugby player Shaun Davis, Glendale’s scrumhalf, said he even enjoyed the celebration that ensued after Nicholls’ game-opening score.

“We knew going into the game that Utah was going to come out of the blocks hissing like they did,” he said. “We just have to hold them off for the first 20 and see how it went. But for me, coming from Utah, it was just really exciting to see the atmosphere, see all the excitement and the buzz … hopefully, keep building from here, and when they move to the other stadium, they can just keep that same platform and same atmosphere.”

Zach Fenoglio said the Raptors began finding their momentum in the last 20 minutes of the first half.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Fenoglio said. “We didn’t start very well, defense was a bit poor. But it’s coming together. And in that game, I think you saw we’ve been a team that’s played together for about a year or so now, some guys obviously played together four or five years. So we’re happy with where we are.”

It was the Raptors’ second game, but Utah’s first. Wing Josh Anderson, Salt Lake City, said they know the Raptors' players well.

"We've played against those guys a lot over the years," said Anderson, who scored the last try for Utah with about 23 minutes left in the match. "We know them pretty well. They're a good group of guys. We're, like you said, starting from the ground up. But we're lucky to have great coaching staff, great training staff around us, and a bunch of good players."

With that said, coach Alf Daniels was pleased with what he saw on the pitch and in the stands.

“The crowd was absolutely awesome,” Daniels said, noting that after the game ended he looked out over the field from the coaches box with awe and appreciation. “I was just overwhelmed, very humbled at the massive amount of support the Utah community put out here tonight.

"We’re a little bit disappointed that we didn’t put a winning score line out there for them, but I hope they could see, like we did, these guys have got a big heart. And I tell you what, in a couple of months time, hopefully we’ll play Glendale in the finals and it should be a little bit different.”