Sunday’s top of the table clash between Denver and San Diego may have been the most highly touted match since the league’s debut and it certainly didn’t fail to live up to expectations. San Diego was within reach of first place going into the match while Denver fought to keep their spot on top of the standings as well as keeping their record unblemished. The result was a spectacle of pure aggression with a few key plays ultimately shifting the outcome.
San Diego held the edge in possession, as they were a little more willing to run, but they had a tough time breaking down the Denver defense. The number of penalty attempts in the match are indicative of that struggle, as San Diego settled for points eight times (converting six). Kurt Morath scored the first points of the match in the sixth minute, and wouldn’t add to that until the 36th minute when his second penalty made the score 6-0. San Diego’s best shot at a try came from Mike Te’o, who caught a kick at his own 22 then slashed through the defense for what appeared to be a wonderful individual try before it was called back for obstruction. Denver would end up crossing the goal-line first just after San Diego’s second penalty with a score from Max de Achaval that followed a big run from Hanco Germishuys to put the Coloradoans within spitting distance. Denver had the momentary lead at 7-6, but Morath put San Diego up again right at the end of the first half with his third penalty. The opportunity came from a yellow card given to Ata Malifa for a dangerous tackle that knocked Denver down to 14 men for nearly ten minutes to begin the second half.
Act two seemed like it would play out similarly to the first, as San Diego couldn’t break the Denver defense even with the man advantage. Will Magie slotted in a penalty to give Denver the lead, but Morath struck back with two more before Malifa came back on for Denver. San Diego’s three-and-D strategy gave them a 15-10 lead at this juncture, but Denver pounced on their next opportunity only a minute later. Christian Wiessing intercepted a pass from Mike Te’o and took it to the house to knot things up, with Magie’s conversion pushing Denver ahead once again. San Diego would take the lead back with another Morath penalty just as the match entered the final quarter. Not ready to rest on that lead, San Diego was finally able to break through Denver’s defense on another big return from Te’o that set up the try for Kalei Konrad. Morath missed a critical conversion that would have stretched San Diego’s six point lead. San Diego held on to this lead for a while but it only took a small crack in their defense to give Denver the opportunity to strike. Will Magie’s well-placed chip kick looked like it would bounce out but a friendly bounce gave Martin Knoetze the opportunity to scoop it up and score what would turn out to be the game-winning score. San Diego’s attempts to come back fell short, in part because Charlie Purdon, the hero from San Diego’s previous last-minute victory, finally succumbed to a knock that had been bothering him in the second half. Denver finished off both a big victory and very successful first half to the season.
San Diego’s Seb Sharpe Shines at CRC
Seb Sharpe, listed on San Diego’s roster but yet to appear on their matchday 23, played with the UCLA Bruins at the Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia this past weekend and was one of the star players for the runners-up. Sharpe scored six tries across six matches, including a brace in the quarter-final against Penn State and the team’s lone try in their 31-7 loss to Cal in the final, and directly assisted on a few others. The performance landed him on Rugby Today’s CRC Dream Team, which also lauded his defensive efforts in the tournament.
Sharpe’s status with San Diego isn’t crystal clear, but I’m guessing that he put his PRO Rugby career on hold until he finished out the season with UCLA. The CRC was the final event on the Bruins schedule, which should free up Sharpe just in time for the international break. San Diego will be hit the hardest at the break and their losses include Te’o and Takudzwa Ngwenya, so opportunities will open up in the back three for Sharpe and other players on the fringe of the squad.
Team Names Announced
The results of PRO Rugby’s team-naming contest were announced today shortly after the contest ended. The teams will now be known as the Denver Stampede, Ohio Aviators, Sacramento Express, San Diego Breakers, and San Francisco Rush as the leaders from the past week ultimately did not change. My opinions on the names are detailed in my previous article on this subject, but one note that I didn’t make previously: these names don’t seem like ones that will seem dated years from now (of course, only time will tell for sure). The use of local history as inspiration for Ohio, Sacramento, and San Francisco will ensure that those names remain relevant, while Denver’s is in line with the naming conventions of other teams in Colorado. San Diego’s oceanic theme isn’t reflected by the city’s major league teams but was clearly popular in the naming process.