What we improved on was our attitude. This week has been a lot better prep leading into this game, the boys getting as a team even more. The brotherhood is tightening up even more so. —Utah Warriors' Paki Afu
SANDY — It wasn’t just that Utah trailed Ontario 17-3 at halftime that bothered Warriors co-captain Paul Lasike as he stood before his teammates in the locker room.
It was the way they were playing.
“We took it to the drawing board at halftime, pretty much told them how it was,” said Lasike after Ontario withstood Utah’s second-half comeback to win 24-20 at Rio Tinto Stadium Friday night. “It was a pretty embarrassing first half, and I told them to take it personally. They (Ontario) were keeping it in the forwards, and quite frankly, it was a real let down. I talked to them and told them how it was, and the boys responded really well in the second half.”
Utah came out and scored 17 straight points before Ontario responded with a try and conversion to regain the lead with just eight minutes to play.
While Ontario dominated aspects of the game like scrums, mauls and lineouts in the first half, Utah mounted a comeback with hustle, toughness, grit, and superior backline speed.
“We recognized fairly quickly that their game plan was to keep it in the forwards,” Lasike said. “They had a lot of success in it. We had to take it personal. If they’re running straight at you, then take that as a challenge and try and fix it. You guys got to hold your line. We all know we have a lot of weapons at the back with these guys. So that’s pretty much what it was. All we need is a few scrums and lineouts to go our way so we can create some opportunities.”
Utah did just that in the second half, reeling off 17 straight points before Ontario responded with a try and conversion.
“That second half was tough,” said Arrows captain Mike Sheppard. “Utah threw everything at us. Their centers were absolutely incredible today, wonderful hands, good speed breaking the line and then really made it difficult for our backline to make those positive tackles.”
The Warriors said they take a lot of positives from the way they responded in the second half.
“It was trying to get the ball to this guy,” Lasike said pointing at Paki Afu, who scored Utah’s second of three tries in the second half. “We saw our strength in the back three, and with this big fella here, and so that was basically the bottom line. ‘OK, if you guys aren’t going to do well in the scrums and stuff, we’re going to tap ang go.’ We did it a few times and had a little bit of success out of that. After all of that chatter, we have the speed in the back line, so try to get the ball out to these guys.”
Afu scored the first try of the second half just five minutes in. Then Joshua Whippy's kick earned two points on the conversion a minute later. Fetu’u Vainikolo scored a try 12 minutes later, followed by a try scored by Wippy.
“What we improved on was our attitude,” Afu said. “This week has been a lot better prep leading into this game, the boys getting as a team even more. The brotherhood is tightening up even more so. It just came down to the attitude leading up to the game.”
It looked like Utah would score before time expired but they lost the ball in a ruck. Ontario kicked the ball out as time expired, preserving their win.
“We made a mistake going wide,” Fetu‘u Vanikolo said. “We should have used the forward more, just to suck the D in before we go wide. The good thing about our jobs, we get to go back to drawing board and learn. Come the 20th of April, we gotta fix it and move on.”
Both teams praised the crowd, which was smaller than last week at just under 5,000 because of the rainy weather.
"It's outstanding," said Arrows coach Chris Silverthorn. "First Houston and now Utah, the game presentation, the fan energy and just the way they engage it is just completely different (than Canada). It was full of energy and it was fantastic, and we have trouble communicating with the mics because it was so loud in the stadium. I don't know how many people were here in the stadium, but fantastic energy, and the way the U.S. present and the passion for the game, it’s going to explode here if that’s just the start of it."