SEATTLE, Washington – Perfect weather accompanied the Elite Cup’s debut on the Pacific coast, as San Francisco Golden Gate (SFGG) powered past Seattle Old Puget Sound Beach 36-27 while temperatures hovered in the 50s at beautiful Magnuson Park.
A sloppy start by both sides was cast aside shortly after a penalty kick by Seattle OPSB flyhalf Russell Armstrong, which placed the men in gold up 3-0. San Francisco Golden Gate then came roaring back with a try in the 15th minute by inside center Milemoti Pulu. Moments later, youngster Mike Stack, starting at lock for SFGG, powered over the line at the 23rd minute. A Jone Naqica conversion followed, and the visitors found themselves ahead by a score of 12-3.
Not to be outdone, Seattle OPSB responded with some magnificent open-field maneuvering by scrumhalf Emosi Vucago and a splashing try from prop Oliver Kilifi at the 30-minute mark. After a Russell Armstrong conversion, the score was narrowed to 12-10 in favor of SFGG.
Brilliance of foot was not limited to the men of the Pacific Northwest, however. SFGG outside center Samisoni Pone was able to leave the OPSB defense behind in a race up the sideline, resulting in another San Francisco try with 6 minutes remaining in the half. The points were all the more that would be scored before halftime, and a 17-10 score loomed over both sides as they prepared for the final 40 minutes.
After a couple shuffles in the San Francisco forwards, both sides started the second half on fire. An early try by SFGG’s Milemoti Pulu (42’; converted by Jone Naqica) was quickly replied to by Seattle OPSB speedster Filimoni Botitu (45’), who was set up by his brother, Isimeli Daveta. Not long after, Golden Gate’s Anthony Sunia, starting at wing, ran in a try for the Californians at the 53rd minute and a lead of 29-15.
With a 14-point gap now separating the sides, Seattle OPSB tried to regain control of the match. Unfortunately, they were foiled by another try from SFGG – this time from powerful Number 8 Tevita Koloamatangi (64’). Another Jone Naqica conversion put further distance between the sides, and SFGG now had a commanding 36-15 lead with only 15 minutes remaining.
A valiant final effort by the home side saw a try by Fijian international Emosi Vucago in the 71st minute, followed by a clock-stretching second try from Filimoni Botitu, also a Fijiian international. Notably, Botitu’s try gave Seattle OPSB a critical bonus point in the Elite Cup standings. Russell Armstrong’s successful conversion was followed by the final whistle, and San Francisco Golden Gate walked off the pitch as victors, 36-27.
The match, which counted both as an Elite Cup pool match and in the Northern California Division I league standings, places SFGG in strong position for the playoffs in both competitions. The club has now secured the right to host the fourth-placed Southern California team in the Men’s Division I Round of 32. Additionally, a win over the Denver Barbarians (4/6) or Glendale Raptors (4/13) or should be enough to solidify a place in the Elite Cup semi-finals.
Seattle OPSB, meanwhile, will likely need wins over both Glendale (4/6) and Denver (4/14) to advance to the Elite Cup semi-finals. The club is assured, however, of a place in the Division I Round of 32, where they will greet the third-placed Southern California team.
Up next for San Francisco Golden Gate is a clash with cross-town rivals Olympic Club. The match will take place at Ray Sheeran Field on Treasure Island at 3:00 PM Pacific Time.
Seattle OPSB will take a week off as they prepare for their April 6 clash with the Glendale Raptors in Colorado. The match, scheduled for 6:00 PM Mountain Time at Glendale’s Infinity Park, will have huge ramifications on both teams’ Elite Cup playoff hopes.
In this week’s Elite Cup action, fans will see the debuts of Boston RFC and the Life University Running Eagles. Those clubs will battle at the Life University Rugby Complex on Saturday in Marietta, GA.