On Saturday afternoon, the Gold relied on their bench – or what coach Nate Osborne calls their finishers – to steal away the win from Austin in the final moments of their 35-31 win.
After Austin went up 31-28 in the 68th minute from a score by Soheyl Jaoudat – his second of the game, the Elite retained possession grinding the clock to under five minutes.
Inside their own 30 meters, Austin elected to kick the ball out of their territory, giving NOLA the ball back and one final chance to score.
That’s when three substitutes who came on in the final 15 minutes of the game made an impact.
After working through multiple phases, Tesimoni Tonguaiha took a quick ball and found a hole and made a line break through Austin’s defense.
Tonguaiha then offloaded to Kevin O’Connor who found Michael Baska in support for the game-winning score that took the game to full time.
“Speaking with coach before the game when he wanted me to come on – it was just pick up the tempo and pick up the pace,” Baska said. “I think we did that and we stuck to our pattern at the end of the game. We needed a good score and we needed to hold onto the ball, so just executing the looks we were given and doing what coach told me at the beginning of the game. All I can do is do my role and the outcome will take care of itself.”
Osborne said that although the team was down in the final minutes, he had full confidence in their bench execute the game plan and close out the game.
“I think it’s just human nature that if you get up by 20 points you just want to throw it around – same as any sport, if you lead big, you start to drop off,” Osborne said.
“We don’t call them our bench; we call them our finishers. Everyone wants to be a starter, but if you can be a finisher and you can come on and do the things that Moni (Tonguaiha), Kevin O’Connor and Baska can do, then that’s great for a coach that has faith to be able to put those guys in at those moments.”
The Gold earned five points in the win, including a bonus point for scoring four or more tries.
NOLA (6-1) sits in first place in the Major League Rugby standings and is followed by Rugby United New York (6-1, 28 points), Seattle Seawolves (5-2, 25 points) and Glendale Raptors (3-3-2, 23 points).
“To pull out a win on the last play of the game is massive for us. It drives our season forward. It keeps us on the top of the table. Those five points we get, the extra bonus point that we get from that win is going to be massive come the end of the season. Right now we’re sitting at 6-1 and teams have to try and catch us.”
The Gold head on the road to face Glendale next Saturday, March 30 at 8:00 p.m.
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