For 40 minutes, the American Raptors had the 2023 Super Rugby Americas leaders on the ropes.
It wasn’t pretty. The Raptors (1-8) were handed two yellow cards that overlapped by seven minutes, conceded points three minutes into the match, and missed 17 tackles, but still managed to fight their way to a 25-22 lead over Peñarol at the half. When the dust settled on the 13 try affair, Peñarol (8-1) had cruised to a 50-37 victory at Infinity Park.
“We played against a very strong side,” forward Diego Magno said after the match. “Basically, they are the Uruguayan national team, and we have to respect that.”
Just as they did in Round 2, the Raptors started fast. After conceding a penalty goal in the match’s opening minutes, the Raptors answered back quickly with an Ethan McVeigh try following a Ronan Murphy steal on the ensuing kickoff.
After some exciting back-and-forth rugby, the Raptors went to their lineout to produce their second try of the match when captain Diego Fortuny rode a maul down the south touchline into the in-goal to give the Raptors a 10-3 lead in the 11th minute.
It wasn’t long after Fortuny’s try that the yellow cards that the Raptors have become all too familiar with in 2023 made their way out of the official’s pocket. No. 8 Siaki Vikilani was administered the first of three yellow cards that the Raptors saw in the match right after Peñarol wing Juan Manuel Alonso scored his team’s first try and fly-half Felipe Etcheverry knotted things up at 10 points apiece with his conversion. In total, five slices of cheese were shown to both teams on Sunday afternoon.
Peñarol capitalized on Vikilani’s absence with a Rodrigo Silva try and an Etcheverry conversion to give themselves a 17-10 lead. Not long after, inside center Aki Pulu was sent to the sin bin for a tip tackle, and the Raptors found themselves down two players with 15 minutes to play in the first half.
They responded with a Lucas Gonzalez penalty goal in front of the posts to stop the bleeding following a Peñarol yellow card to bring the Raptors to within four points. The Raptors reclaimed the lead four minutes later when wing Daytwon Sheridan tiptoed down the touchline and bulldozed through a Peñarol defender for his second try in as many weeks and his first of three on a busy afternoon.
Sheridan has been a microwave scorer, providing some needed instant offense for the Raptors so far in 2023. He scored a try and assisted on two others in last week’s victory against Selknam that also doubled as his Super Rugby Americas debut, and poured in three more tries in Sunday’s loss to Peñarol. His four tries leads the Raptors in 2023.
The Raptors kept their foot on the gas for the remainder of the half, and Pulu came straight out of the sin bin to dot a try down between the posts to give the Raptors a 25-17 lead after Gonzalez’s conversion. All of the momentum belonged to the Raptors, but an untimely penalty led to a Peñarol scrum, and Manuel Diana made the Raptors pay with a late first half try to give the visitors some life heading into the half.
Peñarol was methodical in the second half. The 2022 league champions made it clear that they weren’t going to let the newcomers become the second team to hand them a loss this season. They rattled off four tries over the next 20 minutes and jumped out to a 50-25 lead before Sheridan could plug the hole with his second try of the match in the 67th minute.
“I think just the way that they came out in the second half” fullback Line Latu said of the difference in the match. “They got on top of us early and took our gameplan away from us. We wanted to get on top of them first, but they came out hot and didn’t stop.”
Sheridan would go on to add one more try before the final whistle, but it was too little, too late as the Raptors fell 50-37 and picked up their eighth loss of the season.
“We just can’t expect anyone to stay down,” Latu said. “We had them on the ropes, but we have to keep in mind that they aren’t going to quit easy and we have to stay on top.”
Sunday’s loss was the latest tough lesson in a season that has been filled with them, but the team is taking them in stride by keeping things in perspective.
“We played against national team and we scored almost 40 points,” Magno said after the loss. “We have to know that we are playing against national teams. I think we lose that mindset.
“Of course, it’s good to win and we need to win because at the end of the day we want to win, but sometimes losing is a good way to learn,” Magno continued. “I think this season is such great learning.”
The Raptors will now turn their attention to Yacare XV who dealt them a 25-3 loss in a dud of a match back in Round 4. For Latu, the key to getting back in the win column starts on the training pitch.
“It has to start in practice,” Latu said. “We have to practice well and continue that into next week’s game and I think we will handle our business.”
For Magno, the message is simple: keep building.
“We keep building,” Magno said of the mindset going into Round 11. “We have a very strong team, so we will be better next week.”
Ethan McVeigh, Diego Fortuny, Daytwon Sheridan (3), Aki Pulu
Lucas Gonzalez (1/5), Jerome Nale (1/1)
Lucas Gonzalez (1/1)
Juan Manuel Alonso, Rodrigo Silva, Manuel Diana (2), Alfonso Silva, Juan Manuel Rodriguez, Gaston Mieres,
Felipe Etcheverry (5/6), Juan Andres Zuccarino (1/1)
Felipe Etcheverry (1/1)