DENVER, Colo. -- The USA Rugby Elite Cup was kicked-off on Saturday at Littleton's Shea Stadium as the Denver Barbarians and Glendale Raptors began the tournament's inaugural session with a lively display of sport. Neither side was able to gain the complete upper hand as three lead changes and single-digit leads separated the sides throughout the contest, making for a thrilling spectacle.
Glendale began strong with the speed of their forwards enabling first show at breakdowns and putting Denver on its rear leg. A failure to release at tackle by the Barbarians resulted in a penalty awarded to the Raptors within range of scrumhalf Shaun Davies' boot and the visitors went up 3-0 in the second minute.
The Barbos were dealt another early setback as Chris Moreno was shown a yellow card by referee Time Luscombe in the sixth minute.
But the hosts did not allow Glendale to capitalize on the advantage thanks to Raptors handling errors and a good defensive line.
With the sides at full strength and Denver attacking inside the Raptors’ 22, flyhalf Taylor Howden found a crease in the defense and slipped through for the try and took the conversion himself to extend Denver’s lead to 7-3 after 18 minutes.
The Barbarians increased their lead with a 60-meter sideline run by outside center Kyle Hitt. Hitt alternated his shifty step with speed bursts to make his own space for the grounding that put the score at 12-3 after 26 minutes.
With Denver back on attack inside the Raptors’ 22, Howden received swift service from Tom Staabb, calmly stepped behind his scrum and successfully kicked a drop goal for a 15-3 lead.
In the 36th minute, Dewon Reed found space along the touch line and sidestepped a few Barbos for a 45-meter run to goal for the try. Davies' splendid sideline conversion brought Glendale within five at 15-10.
Howden stretched the lead to 18-10 with a penalty strike in the 38th minute, but the Raptors were quick to reply as Davies stroked a sticksplitter of his own as halftime arrived and the lads went to the lockers at 18-13.
The first half was well matched, with the Barbos’ slight advantage in territory and possession reflected in the scoreline.
Glendale opened up the second stanza in the 44th minute with a blast as Reed fended his way into space at his own 10-meter line and outpaced the Denver defenders for the try. Davies’ conversion gave the Raptors a 20-18 lead.
The Barbos reclaimed the lead after frantic work by captain and openside flanker Logan Collins, who reached across the paint for a try. Howden nailed the conversion and Denver was once again on top, 25-20.
Howden struck a penalty through the sticks from 35 meters out in the 56th minute to extend the lead to 28-20.
A second Barbarians yellow card, this time to hooker Rob Moreno in the 60th minute meant a second man-advantage for Glendale. The Raptors took just two minutes to capitalize, as wing Dustin Croy struggled across goal, assisted by the powerful Raptors’ maul for the touch down that drew the Raptors within three at 28-25.
The stage was set for an extraordinary finish and the sides did not disappoint. A Raptors lengthy territorial boot was collected by wing Phil White inside his own 10-meter line near touch. A dizzying screamer down the sideline and more than 60 meters later, White's try extended the Barbarians’ lead to 33-25 in the 73rd minute.
Glendale returned upfield and managed another try by Davies to make it 33-28, but ran out of time. The whistle marked the end of the first ever USA Rugby Elite Cup match.
If you missed the action on this day, there will be another opportunity to see these two sides battle again this spring. See them in action at the provincial tournament on April 20 at Infinity Park.
Next up for the Barbarians is a trip to Kansas City Blues, 3.23, 1pm at Swope Park in KC.
Next for Glendale is the Denver Highlanders, 3.23, 6pm at Infinity Park.
Denver – Try: Howden, Hitt, Collins, White; Con: Howden (2); Pen: Howden (2); Dropped Goal: Howden
Glendale - Try: Reed (2), Croy; Con: Davies (2); Pen: Davies (3)
Match Officials: Tim Luscombe, Mark Huff, Greg Wolf