GLENDALE, Colo. – In a tense, back-and-forth championship match, San Francisco Golden Gate emerged victors of the inaugural Elite Cup with a 31-26 win against Life University Saturday at Infinity Park.
San Francisco dominated play early with strong runs and broken tackles, and took the lead in the 11th minute with a try from the match’s most valuable player, Milemoti Pulu. Volnet Rouse converted the try for the 7-0 lead.
Despite the run of play favoring San Francisco, Life did not give up and was rewarded in the 16th minute. With a big maul just meters out of the try zone, AJ MacGinty passed the ball out to Tui Osborne before Benji Goff found space to dive over for the try. MacGinty’s conversion leveled the match at 7-7.
San Francisco were better in the rucks in the first half and a massive counter ruck in the 23rd minute set up another scoring play. After a set of quick-paced phases, a pass out to the wing gave Heine McFarland just enough time to find space between the Life defense for the try. Rouse’s conversion was wide to keep Life within five at 12-7.
With less than five minutes remaining in the half, Life utilized another maul to get back on the board. A lineout five meters from the try line was caught by Life and the maul inched closer and closer before MacGinty outmaneuvered the San Francisco defense for the score. His own conversion missed to keep the score 12-12 at the half.
Life used the halftime break to rest and came out in the second half with the fresher legs, but San Francisco capitalized on a Life mistake for a big break downfield. Bruce Thomas outran two Life defenders from 35 meters out into the try zone to put San Francisco back on top 17-12.
San Francisco extended the lead again in the 54th minute with a great team play. Pulu caught the Life defense cheating with a nice move to the inside to break through before the ball eventually found its way into the hands of Opet Okusi, who scored the try. Rouse converted another to bring the score to 24-12.
Life responded five minutes later thanks to another maul and another Goff try in the corner. MacGinty attempted his conversion from the furthest possible point and nailed it to cut Life’s deficit to 24-19.
In the 67th minute, Life was knocking on San Francisco’s doorstep and finally broke through with a try from Tui Osborne, who juked a defender at the line and ran towards the sticks to give MacGinty a better angle for the conversion. The conversion was good and Life took its first lead of the match at 26-24.
With five minutes remaining and Life keeping San Francisco at bay, Pulu dashed down the left sideline to get San Francisco in scoring territory. Quick, efficient phases from the West Finalists resulted in Danny LaProvette finishing the attack with the match-winning try between the sticks. Rouse’s conversion made it 31-26.
Life used the final few minutes of the match to apply more pressure in San Francisco’s half, but could not find a way into the try zone and ultimately drew the referee’s whistle.
“All of the players ground it out today and showed a tremendous amount of heart,” San Francisco Golden Gate Head Coach Grant Wells said. “All the hard work they put in this season came through tonight.”
San Francisco Golden Gate withdrew from the Division I Club Playoffs to host Tonga next weekend in a warm-up to Tonga’s match against the USA Rugby Men’s Eagles in June. Life University will be back in Glendale next weekend at the Division I Club Playoffs.