Well that was unpleasant, and we knew it probably would be. It was the end of a brutal three week road stretch against perennial contender San Diego, rival Seattle, and a resurgent Austin team who reached 100 points scored for the year in week 2. On top of that, there were no preseason scrimmages for Utah, for whatever, probably good, reason. All of that context needs to be kept in mind when examining what has happened so far. We're three weeks into the season. It's still too early to be drawing conclusions about who this team is and where they will be at the end of the season.
The Good: Did you see that tryline defense? It was spectacular seeing the team work when its back was against the wall. Even when someone managed to spill their way over the line there were Warriors there to get under it and hold the ball up. Just fantastic work. Sure broken play allowed Austin to score from farther out, but Austin were still held to about half the points they had put up each of the preceding two weeks and scoreless for 32 minutes. I don't think that many teams are going to manage that kind of defensive work.
The newcomers were making their presence felt. Saunders was looking more comfortable in his role at 9 recycling the ball and making decisions faster. Makene kept flashing at 10, making tackles and showing off some speed. Tonga deserves some love after showing that the Warriors can, in fact, score from short distances. Adding these young players with a ton of upside to a very dangerous core gives us glimpses of a team that could wreak havoc on the opposition.
The Bad: After downright embarrassing Seattle in the scrum last week, the Utah setpieces became setbacks. It's very hard to win a game losing a third of your scrums and a quarter of your lineouts. Even the scrums that weren't lost early were close misses. It wasn't until late in the second half that things evened up a bit. Clearly the loss of Kilifi to injury hurt. There should be enough depth though that he can heal up completely. No one wants to see him rush back and re-aggravate the problem.
Combining the poor showing in the setpiece with the number of handling errors is pretty much what spelled doom for the Warriors chances. Too many times the ball popped out on what could have been a scoring passage of play. Overall the turnover differential sat at -8. That's a heck of a hole to dig for yourself. It's even worse when they happen near the tryline. It feels like a symptom of not quite having gelled together as a team. But it also reminds you of the random games last year filled with handling errors, and that's concerning.
Nothing quite expresses the combination of these problems like the Akina try for Austin early in the second half. An errant pass in the lineout with no one at the receiving end of it. A mishandled recovery popping the ball straight into the hands of the opposition. And now, all the momentum that Utah had been building is lost. The frustration was palpable through the screen.
The Ugly: Three losses in a row to Western Conference teams. No matter how you stack it, that's a problem. Coming away with no bonus points in this last one could hurt at the end of the season where last year it was losing bonus points that kept the Warriors ahead in the playoff race. They are still averaging 1 point a loss but that could fall quickly.
Takeaways: Last minute heroics took this team deep into the playoffs last year. You can't count on heroics happening though. The rarity and overwhelming probability of failure is what makes unexpected comebacks so exciting. Last year they all came up in Utah's favor and that probably won't happen two years running. This is a team that needs to come together and find their identity fast, before they find themselves even farther down the standings.
It's been a difficult journey so far, and if the Warriors want to turn it around they are going to need an infusion of energy and hope. Luckily, the next game is at home against the newly formed Dallas Jackals. This is the team's chance to right the ship. This is the fan's opportunity to provide some of that excitement we've had bottled up at home over the last three weeks. It's time to yell, and scream, and cheer, to destroy the kicker's concentration, and show Dallas what home field advantage is all about.
Get loud fans. It's time to welcome your Warriors home.