TREASURE ISLAND, Calif. -- On a sunny, windy day in front of several hundred hometown fans at Ray Sheeran Field, San Francisco Golden Gate defeated Seattle-Old Puget Sound Beach 22–17 to advance to the Elite Cup Final in Glendale, Colo., May 25.
This third meeting of the season between the West Coast rivals was not in the bag until the final whistle, as these evenly matched teams were within a converted try of each other throughout the match.
OPSB kicked off and SFGG moved the ball up the field into the 15 – 20 knot winds until OPSB were caught offside at the two-minute mark, giving SFGG fly-half Volney Rouse a 30-meter penalty kick from the left side. It missed. On the ensuing drop out, SFGG continued the attack. Loose head prop Jacob Nelson fed a quick ball from a sideline tackle to Number 7 Bruce Thomas, who took it to the goal line where two defenders seemed to have held him, but could not keep the explosive flanker from touching down to open the scoring at the three-minute mark. Rouse’s kick missed.
SFGG mishandled the kickoff, and after a series of give-and-gos and several mishandled balls by both sides, SFGG were penalized and OPSB Captain and Number 8 Matt Trouville put three points on the board for the visitors.
SFGG kept moving into OPSB territory, seeing several scoring opportunities squandered by errant passes and a strong, cohesive OPSB defense. At 34 minutes, Rouse converted a penalty kick to give the home team an 8-3 lead. The resulting kick off was lost forward following a mishandled ball and moved quickly up field by Mike Palefau and winger Miles Craigwell, who scored under the posts. Trouville drilled the easy conversion as OPSB took a two-point lead.
SFGG regained possession and continued to attack into the wind. This was aided by several stolen balls in the line outs – with SFGG lock Mike Stack working the line out well.
Again, several movements were thwarted deep in the OPSB half by strong defense and handling errors. Clearing kicks followed by SFGG attacks provided no scores and the half looked to end with OPSB holding a two-point lead.
A scrum 30 meters out at the 40-minute mark saw the OPSB scrum push over the ball, with scrum half Emosi Viacago breaking to his left and upfield, ending in another try, this one by center Nickolas Hawking scoring under the posts. The half ended following Trouville’s second conversion with OPSB holding a 17-8 lead.
Despite playing in the OPSB end for the majority of the half, the home team was frustrated by the lost opportunities. Also, SFGG (and U.S.) hooker, Chris Biller, left the game near the end of the half with an injury, replaced by former Cal and All-American hooker, Neil Barrett, whose rugby career began with the Youth section of the Club.
Playing with the wind at their backs in the second half, SFGG again kept the ball and the pressure on as they continued the ball control and possession game, which paid off at the 58-minute mark with the first of Paula Fukefuka’s tries – both from within OPSB’s five-meter line, and both under the posts. Several OPSB infractions helped the SFGG cause during this period. Rouse converted and brought SFGG to within two points at 15–17.
Strong defense kept OPSB out of scoring range, and they continued to stop promising SFGG moves. In the pivotal series to seal the victory, SFGG’s scrum half Mose Timoteo took charge of a forward march down the left side of the field with 12 minutes to play, directing traffic as the second half substitutions made their impact, relentlessly moving the ball down to the OPSB goal with pick-and-gos. Despite valiant efforts, OPSB could not stop a determined Paula Fukefuka taking a feed and touching the ball down at 71 minutes under a pile of players at the left post. Rouse made the easy conversion, putting SFGG ahead 22-17.
The last eight minutes saw a furious effort by OPSB to get on the board, and an equally-determined and coordinated effort by SFGG to keep the ever-dangerous OPSB, field long threats from scoring.
There was joy at Sheeran Field as Aruna Ranaweera’s final whistle blew, and SFGG had punched their ticket for the Elite Cup final against Life, who had earned their spot at Glendale by taking it to NYAC in their back yard, 41-17. Read the match report from Life’s Semifinal victory here.