For the second week in a row, halftime has been the American Raptors’ arch nemesis.
The parallels between Round 10 and Sunday afternoon’s match were stark. The Raptors (1-9) jumped out to early leads in both matches and possessed narrow halftime leads heading into the half. Unfortunately for the Raptors, the waning minutes of the first half and the first fifteen minutes of the second half have been backbreakers.
Yacare took a page out of Peñarol’s playbook from a week earlier and punched in a late first half try to get the match to within a score before heading into the locker room. Like Peñarol, Yacare (5-4) parlayed that late first half try into an offensive explosion in opening minutes of the second half, and that proved to be the difference in the 44-37 contest.
“I think our intensity from the start was good, we just have to come out with that same intensity in the second half,” inside center Aki Pulu said after the match. “We have to keep pushing on the gas pedal that we had in the first half. I think that was the difference.”
Pulu was right about the start. The Raptors jumped all over Yacare from the opening kick. Wing Ramiro Moyano helped spring Shawn Clark and Watson Filikitonga for two early tries before taking one in himself to give the Raptors a 19-3 lead at the 15-minute mark in the match.
It wasn’t long after that that Yacare settled in and let their dominant forward pack start to wear the Raptors down. The Yacare scrum bullied the Raptors into a penalty try in the 24th minute to stop the bleeding.
The yellow cards that have been a problem all season for the Raptors once again made an appearance on Sunday afternoon when captain Diego Fortuny was sent off in the 25th minute. His penalty was the 19th yellow that the Raptors have received in 2023.
Yacare took advantage of Fortuny’s absence with a try from wing Juan González in the 30th minute to cut the Raptors’ lead to four points, but the Raptors responded with a try of their own when fullback Line Latu took a Pulu pass in for their fourth try of the match, pushing their lead to 26-15 with eight minutes to play in the first half.
That’s when the wheels began to fall off for the Raptors.
“We kind of started to shut down in the second half,” Pulu said. “That’s something we have to work on.”
Yacare cut the lead to six points with a Felipe Villagrán try just before the half, and then took control of the match with three tries in the first in the first 13 minutes of the second half. Before the Raptors knew it, Yacare had scored 17 points unanswered, and they were down two scores.
Wing Ryan James steadied the ship with a try in the corner that cut Yacare’s lead to just three points after fly-half Lucas Gonzalez snuck through the defense, but the Raptors had some work to do with just 10 minutes remaining in the match.
They knotted the match at 37 points with a Gonzalez penalty goal, but Yacare made it clear they weren’t heading back to Paraguay with a draw. They methodically worked their way down the pitch and into Raptors territory before capitalizing on a Raptors penalty for not releasing the tackled player.
That set them up to win the match in the same fashion that they crawled their way back into it in the first half. They kicked to touch, nabbed the lineout, and let their forwards push the maul into the in-goal for the game-winning try to spoil the Raptors’ home finale.
The Raptors finished their six-match homestand with a 1-5 record and will head back to South America for two more fixtures to close out their 2023 Super Rugby Americas campaign after a week off in Round 12. According to Pulu, the basics are what is going to help the Raptors finish their season with two wins against Dogos and Cobras Brasil.
“Small, basic things,” Pulu said of the winning formula. “The easy catches and passes, recovery. We just have to stay on top of all of that.”
The Raptors will enjoy a week off before taking on Dogos XV in Córdoba, Argentina at 2 PM MT on May 21. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+.
Shawn Clark, Watson Filikitonga, Ramiro Moyano, Line Latu, Ryan James
Lucas Gonzalez (2/2)
Lucas Gonzalez (3/5)
Penalty Try, Juan González, Felipe Villagrán, Lucas Noguera Paz, Sebastián Uribeta, Fredrico Guana, Julián Martín
Frederico Cacciabue (1/1)
Frederico Cacciabue (2/4), Ignacio Inchauspe (0/2)