What has been assumed for a while is now mathematically true: neither the Sacramento Express nor the San Francisco Rush will win PRO Rugby’s maiden championship. The title race is down to the Denver Stampede, Ohio Aviators, and possibly the San Diego Breakers after the Northern California squads officially knocked themselves out with this weekend’s results.
Before getting into the matches themselves, here’s the math. The best case scenario for the Express would garner them a total of 30 points in the standings, fewer than the number of points that Ohio (32) and Denver (31) have earned to date. The Rush’s best case scenario is a slightly higher 32 points, but the final match-up between the Aviators and Stampede guarantees that at least one of those teams will surpass 32 by the end of the season. Of course, this is simply proof for what has already been figured by the eyeball test for some time and the matches on Sunday provided further evidence.
In the afternoon’s first game, the Rush were crushed in all facets by the Aviators in a 71-20 defeat, the league’s most lopsided match to date. The Rush have improved considerably since the beginning of the season, with a more confident attack and less porous defense that led to two wins including one against the Aviators. But all of that progress seemed to unravel against an Ohio team that has transformed into a juggernaut since that last loss. Nine different Aviators scored tries in the match, with Spike Davis and Sebastian Kalm both adding a brace to their league-leading try totals.
The Rush were missing a few players, including Mils Muliaina, but a defeat this comprehensive comes down to much more than the faults of the losing side. The Aviators were clinical in attack, unyielding defensively, and unrelenting in the set pieces. This team may have already had the best athletes in the competition, but now they also look like the most cohesive unit.
Sacramento’s result, a 29-13 loss in Denver, was considerably less severe but still disappointing after a first half where the Express matched the Stampede blow for blow. The match was nearly a dead heat in the first forty minutes, both teams focused on gaining the territorial advantage and finding focus when they did attempt to launch an attack. The Express held a 10-8 halftime lead, but the spring in their step from the first half vanished in the second as the Stampede controlled the game and slowly built up their lead while locking down the Express attack. Pedrie Wannenburg’s two tries and the boot of Will Magie added up to 21 second half points for Denver while Sacramento managed to add only a single penalty.
While the ultimate goal is now unobtainable for the Rush and the Express, there is still plenty to work towards this season. The teams face off in two upcoming matches with local bragging rights on the line and both teams can still compete with the Breakers for the title of the best team in California. Results aside, there is always more work to be done in transitioning to the professional game. Both sides are stocked with young, talented athletes who could be playing for their teams for years to come. With enough work, both teams will be in the thick of the title race in the coming seasons.