That noise you heard on Saturday evening around 5 PM in the Greater Glendale area was a big sigh of relief.
It took all of nine weeks, but the American Raptors seven-match losing streak was officially over.
On a cold, snowy Saturday at Infinity Park, the Raptors assembled the complete performance that has escaped them through the first two months of the season to secure their first Super Rugby Americas victory with a 26-22 victory over Selknam.
Selknam was the team that started the Raptors seven-match slide. They handed the Raptors their first defeat in Super Rugby Americas back in Round 1.
“It means everything to the boys,” Shawn Clark said of the victory. “It’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked these past few months.”
Until Saturday afternoon, the Raptors had been working hard but the results weren’t there yet. Their first two home matches were indications of a team that was inching closer to putting the pieces together. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the Raptors were handed a whopping 63-0 defeat at the hands of Pampas in Round 8.
“We’ve had a couple of tough goes the last few weeks, and just to bounce back from last, come out here and prove that we belong in this league and that we can win games, it means everything. I am super proud of these boys,” Clark said.
The Raptors first try of the match came from a fresh face in Daytwon Sheridan. Sheridan, who has been a member of the team since the initial RugbyTown Crossover Academy camp in November 2022, made his 2023 debut in Saturday’s win. Not only did he punch in the first try of the match in, but he was involved in the other two tries that the Raptors scored on Saturday as well.
“It was a great day,” Sheridan said after the match. “It was my debut so it was fantastic for me to come out and have a good time with the boys. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
The set-piece plays were well-oiled for the Raptors on Saturday afternoon. Early in the match, they brilliantly executed a play off a scrum in Selknam territory that produced Sheridan’s try to give the Raptors a 5-0 lead 12 minutes into the match. Selknam knotted things up with a try of their own in the 23rd minute, but the Raptors took over from there.
A well-designed play off another Raptors scrum sent the ball out wide into the hands of Sheridan who drew a defender and passed to Clark with nothing but 40-meters of Infinity Park’s green grass in front of him. Lucas Gonzalez drilled the conversion to give the Raptors a 12-5 lead heading into the half, and they never looked back.
The second half started the same way that the first half ended as the Raptors wasted little time getting back on the scoreboard. This time, Ronan Murphy sliced through the defense before finding Sheridan and ultimately scrum-half Ethan McVeigh for the Raptors third try of the match. A few minutes later, Gonzalez drilled a penalty goal to give the Raptors a 20-5 lead in the 55th minute.
Selknam stopped the bleeding with a try and a conversion of their own in the 58th minute, but Gonzalez added two more penalty goals to give the Raptors a 26-12 lead in the 72nd minute. Gonzalez finished the day leading all scorers with 11 points.
With the match officially out of reach, Selknam added two more tries before the buzzer to secure two bonus points in the table. While two late tries left a little to be desired, the Raptors were thrilled to finally get the first win – the hardest one to secure – off their back. Now, their attention turns to stringing wins together.
“We just need to keep believing in ourselves,” Clark said. “I’ve said it from day one, it’s all about belief. We just have to understand and be confident that we can compete and that we are a great team with a bunch of great athletes. It’s just about continuing to be confident and to keep moving forward.”
Clark was awarded Player of the Match honors for his efforts in Saturday’s win. Three Raptors – Daytwon Sheridan, Ronan Murphy, and Line Latu – were all named to Super Rugby Americas First XV for Round 9. Of the 15 players that the Raptors trotted out to start the match, 12 were American and the average age of those players was 24 years old.
It’s reassuring to see hard work pay off.
They’ve proven that they can hang in the competition, but the time to celebrate is over as they’ll turn their attention to Peñarol, last year’s defending champions and the team atop the Super Rugby Americas table.
The Raptors will welcome Peñarol to Infinity Park for their Round 10 matchup on Sunday, April 30. Kickoff is set for 3 PM MT. Tickets can be purchased by visiting AmericanRaptors.com/Schedule-and-Tickets, and the match will be broadcast on ESPN+
Daytwon Sheridan, Shawn Clark, Ronan Murphy
Lucas Gonzalez (1/3)
Lucas Gonzalez (3/3)
Diego Escobar, Joaquin Milesi, Nicolas Herreros, Ignacio Silva
Matias Garafulic (1/4)