PRO Rugby Weekend Review: Week 10

This week’s matches include two results that are upsets if you’re going by the standings but aren’t completely out of left field to anyone paying close attention to the form of these teams. On Saturday, San Francisco, whose improvement finally bore fruit with their win against Ohio in week 7, faced a San Diego team that has slipped over the past few weeks. On Sunday, a white hot Ohio squad went head to head with a Denver team that has come very close to losing their unblemished record in their past few matches.

San Francisco Rush 24-19 San Diego Breakers

Saturday’s match in Torero Stadium was a quietly superb match between two mid-table teams. San Diego came into their final home match looking to rebound from a shaky performance against Ohio, while San Francisco looked to recapture the momentum gained from their first victory a few weeks ago, also against the Aviators.

The first try of the match came in the 9th minute from the Rush’s newest player Jeremy Lenaerts, who joins San Francisco from Central Washington University. The try was directly assisted by Orene Ai’i, who broke through San Diego’s line before passing the ball to Lenaerts. San Diego’s first score came during the fifteenth minute as Kurt Morath hit a penalty kick to become the first PRO Rugby player to 100 points. Michael Haley would pick up the Rush’s next try and Volney Rouse hit a difficult conversion to make the score 14-3.

Shortly before that score, Breakers scrumhalf Charlie Purdon went off with an eye injury and San Diego’s attack suffered as a result. The Breakers were able to get two more penalties from Morath and trailed 17-9 at halftime.

The second half was centered around the Breakers’ attempts to unlock the San Francisco defense. The Breakers spent a fair amount of time inside of the Rush’s 22 to begin the half and the Rush didn’t do enough to completely alleviate the pressure, leading to Ben Leatigaga’s score in the corner that cut the Breakers deficit to three points.

After this score, the match became a bit more even with both defenses refusing to break. The Rush finally found the goal line with a little over ten minutes remaining on David Tameilau’s try under the posts, with the conversion making the score 24-14 in favor of the visitors. San Diego’s Pono Haitsuka would add one more try near the end of the match but it was too little, too late and the Rush will return to San Francisco with a 24-19 victory.

Just about every match remaining is critical for San Francisco, but you can make the argument that next week’s match at Ohio will be the most important. A big win is necessary if the Rush intend to break into the top two, and a big loss will leave the Rush virtually eliminated. San Diego gets a much-needed bye week after their three match slide and before making their own return trip to Obetz.

Ohio Aviators 48-27 Denver Stampede

The top of the table clash on Sunday was a rematch of the league inaugural match, which was won by Denver 16-13 just a day after a snow storm. This weekend’s match took place in very different conditions, as the players were tested by 102°F heat. Both teams came into the game with their most recent result being a win over San Diego – for Denver, it was a close win against a full-strength Breakers side in week 9, while Ohio manhandled a visiting Breakers team that was missing a fair number of players to international duty and injury.

After a slow start to the match, Ohio opened the scoring with a penalty from Shaun Davies in the 11th minute. Filippo Ferrarini forced his way past the line for the first try as the Aviators started to get things rolling. The Stampede nearly scored their first try in the 22nd minute, but Logan Collins stepped into touch just before getting the ball down. A few minutes later, Spike Davis showed that “Stampede” would be a better name for himself as he ran over a few Denver players en route to scoring a try that put Ohio up by 17.

Denver responded with two penalties from Will Magie to slowly chip away at Ohio’s lead. But shortly after the second, the Aviators continuously barged through the Stampede defense in a stunningly physical passage of play that culminated in a try for Jamie Mackintosh. Shaun Davies added the conversion and then a penalty at the end of the half to top of a successful period for the visitors, who led 27-6 at the break.

Needing a big second half, the Stampede started things off right when Martin Knoetze scored the first try of the half. But Ohio hit back with a flurry of tries from Alex Elkins, Dom Waldouck, and Ahmad Harajly, the last of which made the score 48-13. Zach Fenoglio and Pedrie Wannenburg scored tries in the final quarter for Denver to make the score a little more respectable, but the match was essentially over by the sixty minute mark. The 48-27 win for Ohio brings them level with Denver in the standings at 27 points, but Denver holds the tiebreaker (more wins) and a game in hand.

For Denver, it seems like this loss was a long time coming. The first match between the two sides was incredibly close and may have gone to the Aviators if it weren’t for a few ill timed knock-ons, and Ohio is the more obviously improved of the two teams. The margin of the loss, on the other hand, was a bit more surprising and may be a bit of a wake-up call for the Stampede. With a match against Sacramento next week, Denver have a good opportunity to bounce back quickly.

Ohio and San Francisco meet in a rubber match next week at Memorial Park in Obetz. The Aviators look like they are in similar form to their first match against San Francisco, but the Rush have already proven to Ohio that they are a much better side than the one they faced the first time around. This match between the league’s hottest teams could be a good one if San Francisco can avoid falling flat like their first trip to Fortress Obetz.

PRO Players in International Action

Six PRO Rugby players made appearances for the U.S. national team in their narrow 24-20 loss to Italy in San Jose. Chris Baumann and Takudzwa Ngwenya made starts for the Eagles, but Ngwenya’s night was cut short after a nasty collision with Italian winger Leonardo Sarto that saw both players leave the pitch. Mike Te’o came on as Ngwenya’s replacement just five minutes into the match, and Angus MacLellan, Joe Taufete’e, and Ben Tarr all came in as front row replacements later in the match.

There were a few PRO players in action outside of the U.S. as well. Ray Barkwill, Jake Ilnicki, Kyle Baillie, and Nick Blevins started for Canada this week in their 46-21 win over Russia. Pila Iongi scored another try this week for Tonga, who narrowly lost 23-20 against Georgia.

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