MARIETTA — It took the entire first half for Rugby ATL to get going Sunday in its inaugural game against the Utah Warriors at Life University.
Once the Major League Rugby expansion team’s players settled, they showed their new fanbase how well they could play from behind.
Facing an 11-point deficit early in the second half, Atlanta scored the game’s final 20 points to secure a 28-19 victory over Utah at Lupo Family Field.
“We put in a lot of work in the offseason,” forward Matthew Heaton said. “It shows true grit that we came from behind to pull it out for the fans in Atlanta.”
Once Atlanta (1-0) started controlling its possessions in the second half, it started scoring points.
Its comeback started when Ross Deacon pushed his way through a pack of Warriors for a try to cut the Utah lead to 19-14.
With 16:25 left to play, Marno Redelinghuys broke loose and ran 10 yards before diving into the try zone before a conversion kick gave Rugby ATL its first lead of the game at 20-19.
Less than 3 minutes later, Atlanta struck again when Duncan Van Schalkwyk scored a try, but a missed conversion only extended the lead to six points.
Utah had one last shot to regain the lead minutes later when it threatened to score, but Rugby ATL ended up getting the ball back a few feet from the try zone.
Utah never threatened to score again and Atlanta scored again at the buzzer when Kurt Coleman made a three-point kick.
Rugby ATL played much better in the end than in the beginning. It looked out of sync at times early in the first half, with Utah getting on the board early on a three-point kick after Atlanta committed a penalty.
Another three-pointer extended Utah’s advantage to six before Van Schalkwyk cut the lead in half with a kick of his own. Atlanta answered with a try but was nullified due to a penalty.
Utah took a six-point lead with another kick before tacking on seven more points on a try and a conversion kick.
Now trailing 16-3, Atlanta got itself back into the game when Heaton barreled in for a try.
“I think we really struggled in the first half to settle into it,” Atlanta coach Scott Lawrence said. “Maybe it was first-game nerves, but once we settled into the game and played the way that we could, I thought we got on top pretty quickly.”
The second half started with another Utah three-point kick to put Atlanta behind by 11.
Atlanta will travel to New Orleans to face NOLA Gold next week before returning home to host Rugby United New York on Feb. 23.