An incredible game, an incredible finish to the game and an incredible player in Joe Pietersen to land a kick by the touchline to win the game for San Diego and send them into the final a week from now.
The conditions at Torero Stadium were ideal for a flowing game of rugby however neither RUNY or San Diego Legion were in the mood for a carefree kick around. This game certainly had an edge to it and San Diego laid down their marker in the opening minute with prop Paddy Ryan driving back RUNY’s Trevor Cassidy with a huge dominant tackle letting RUNY know they were in for a tough afternoon.
San Diego’s strong start meant it took RUNY ten minutes to just get out of their own half. San Diego’s defence has all season been arguably the most aggressive in the league and today it was even more so. Italian international and newcomer Josh Furno led the charge, playing on the edge which led to San Diego racking up 4 penalties in the opening 12 minutes. The fifth penalty proved to be crucial as RUNY kicked to the line to give them a favourable attacking position. RUNY won the attacking lineout and RUNY prop Paddy Ryan drove over from the resulting maul to make the score 7-0 to RUNY after 14 minutes.
After the hydration break San Diego started to string some more passes together and on the 26th minute were unlucky not to score a break away try through flanker Psalm Wooching. The flanker broke through the RUNY defence and only had Foden to beat to score, however the ex England international was up to the task and put in a solid hit on the big man with Mark O’Keefe doing good work to steal the ball at the ruck and subsequently clear the RUNY lines.
Mounting San Diego pressure
The pressure on the RUNY defence was however mounting and on the 28th minute the Legion eventually wore the RUNY defence down as prop Faka’osi Pifeleti showed great strength to drive over and score underneath the posts to tie the game.
The game was on a knife edge for the remainder of the half and on the 36th minute San Diego showed impeccable game management in taking the sensible option of kicking for goal from a resulting RUNY penalty. Pietersen kicked over to give San Diego a 3 point lead.
San Diego must have thought they would be going into the dressing room at half time with a three point lead however their discipline once again proved to be their achilles heel. Another penalty right before half time allowed RUNY a lineout in a terrific position in San Diego territory. RUNY won the subsequent lineout and it was that man again Dylan Fawsitt at the base of the maul to touch down to give RUNY a two point lead going into half time.
Injured Legion flyer Mike Te’o was interviewed at half time and referenced the previous team talk that was given by Paddy Ryan when they were trailing to RUNY the last time they played them. This team talk obviously did the trick as San Diego burst out of the blocks at the beginning of the second half.
Within the opening minute, new man Josh Furno made up for earlier infringements in the first half by driving over the line to score. Pietersen slotted the conversion to give the Legion the lead 17-12 after 41 minutes.
Another Legion penalty on the 45th minute allowed Marsh keep RUNY within touching distance as he slotted over a penalty to make it a 2 point game.
The Legion upped it a gear in the intervening period and the RUNY defence looked to holding on by their finger tips until RUNY caught a break on the 58th minute as they managed to win a penalty from the Legion scrum. Marsh once again opted to kick for goal, this time missing however. From the resulting kick off, Marsh returned the kick which the impressive Nate Augspurger fumbled allowing Ben Foden to pounce and gather. Foden offloaded to the on coming James Denise who showed great guile and strength to finish off the move.
RUNY once again took the lead 22-17 with just over 20 minutes to play.
Shortly after the try, the RUNY management team made some shrewd tactical substitutions soon after, most notably bringing on Harry Bennett who’s out of the hand kicking kept the Legion pinned back in their own half during a crucial period of the game.
No show like a Joe show
The Legion made some efficient tactical substitutions of their own with Will Holder making a significant impact in the final stages of the game. A great break from Holder set the Legion up in a great attacking position with just 3 minutes to go. Then on the 78th minute, man of the match JP du Plessis stood up to show why he has played for so many top sides and scored in the corner after a couple of pick and drives to level the score with just a minute to play.
Then the moment of the match. Joe Pietersen stepped up to slot over a kick from practically on the touchline to win the game. It showed incredible technique and poise from a man who has seen it all.
The Legion march into the final next week as top seeds and with much to work on in terms of discipline but also with a serious spring in their step.