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Las Vegas rugby team advances to national finals

Updated Saturday, May 30, 2009 | 9:41 p.m.

The Las Vegas Blackjacks have advanced to the finals of the USA Rugby Men's Club Championships after a 42-33 comeback victory over Pearl City, Iowa.

“That was probably the best 60 minutes of rugby we’ve played all year,” said Blackjacks coach Jason Kelly. “You’re not going to see better football than that in the country.”

The opening 20 minutes of the 80-minute game were another story.

The Pearl City Black Bears built a seemingly insurmountable 28-0 lead after they ran through Las Vegas’ defensive lines for four consecutive scores.

“We really didn’t show up,” said Blackjacks team captain Tom Carter. “We just kind of stood back and watched them. They got a few line breaks and our tackles just weren’t going in.”

However this wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for Las Vegas. In their quarterfinal match up against finals host Glendale, Colo., the Blackjacks came back from a 22-0 deficit to win 27-22.

“Being in that position before and being able to deliver we didn’t panic,” Carter said. “We knew what the problems were. We just needed to take that ball from them and we wanted to dictate the game. And that’s exactly what we did.”

The Blackjacks got on the scoreboard 28 minutes into the game when Amoni Sinau wrestled the ball away from the Pearl City pack as they were attempting a risky move on their own goal line.

Las Vegas would strike again before the half through center Seta Tuilevuka to go into the locker room with the score 28-15. The try was Tuilevuka’s fifth score in three straight play-off games.

“We scored a couple of tries before halftime and that changed the game completely,” said Kelly. “We didn’t have to play catch-up as much and we just kept slugging away and let things happen as they do.”

In the second half the Blackjacks' stamina made the difference.

“We could see those boys tiring,” Carter said. “They do play a fast game but it kind of worked against them.”

Led by midfielders Zabard Greening and Tuilevuka, the Blackjacks scored twice in 17 minutes to open the half. Carter gave Las Vegas its first lead of the game when he crossed the goal line to put the Blackjacks ahead 29-28.

That scoring streak would continue until the Blackjacks had tallied up 42 unanswered points.

It wasn’t until the game’s final minute that Pearl City managed to respond, but by then it was too late.

“Las Vegas is a working man’s team,” Carter said. “Our biggest thing is that we have a lot of heart. We’ve been down 20-odd points in two games and we’ve brought it back.”

The Blackjacks now go on to face the Aspen Gentlemen in Sunday’s championship game.

“Back to back rugby games is actually insane,” said Carter. “Nowhere else in the world does this. This is crazy. It’s really a bad system to be honest with you.”

Aspen blew out the Atlanta Renegades 62-10 in the day’s other final four match up.

The final will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, on FSN Rocky Mountain.

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