SFGG earned an important 23-21 win over rivals Glendale at Infinity Park on Saturday to put themselves in a position to potentially top the table at the end of the season. It was the fifth time the two teams have met in just two years and it was the fifth time they have played to a thriller. With the win SFGG are now just two points behind the Raptors in the standings and have done enough to hold off Belmont Shore and the Denver Barbarians for the second spot in the finals.
Both teams took their turns slugging it out to start the match. As expected the intensity was high as both teams played with a lot of energy and put extra zip into their tackles. Both teams also showed great awareness tactically with a series of kicks and smart decisions. The first opportunity for points came ten minutes in when SFGG was penalized at the breakdown. Armandt Peens stepped up to hit the kick to give Glendale a 3-0 lead.
SFGG had the bulk of the possession after the penalty and five minutes later turned it into points. Phil Huihui made the initial break and then played a give and go with Mile Pulu before finding scrumhalf Jack Rowntree in support for the try. Rowntree played well having come on for the injured Don Pati. Rouse’s conversion was good and SFGG led 7-3.
The Raptors pushed hard for a try afterward and came five meters out from scoring after a strong run from Zac Pauga but flanker Bruce Thomas, who had a strong day overall, was able to draw the penalty. However, SFGG wasn’t able to relieve the pressure and when Glendale earned another penalty they took the quick points to cut the lead to 7-6.
It didn’t take long for SFGG to almost respond with a penalty of their own but Rouse wasn’t able to convert the kick. Still, SFGG were a little more clinical on the day in making breaks and finding the small gaps in the defense than the Raptors. That said, the Raptors had opportunities of their own and when Peens hit his third penalty of the match the Raptors led 9-7 with 30 minutes played.
Things then took a turn further in Glendale’s favor when SFGG’s Thomas Rooke was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle. After trading errors in the line out Glendale scored a try through Zach Fenoglio. Referee Kurt Weaver went to the TMO after it looked like Mose Timoteo had knocked the ball on at the back of the ruck but Weaver judged that Timoteo’s slip sent the ball backward. Peens would hit the conversion to give Glendale a 16-7 lead.
Rouse would add a penalty for SFGG to put the score 16-10 at the break and then would put SFGG within three just two minutes into the second half with his second penalty for the match. SFGG kept on the pressure after the points and wore the Raptors down. Pila Huihui put SFGG in good position just five meters out and from the subsequent scrum SFGG was able to run a nice set play to find Mile Pulu for the try. Credit for the try goes to Huihui who put in a terrific offload to spring Pulu. SFGG led 20-16 with 30 minutes to go.
After SFGG made a mess of the restart Glendale finally began to put together phases forcing SFGG to make 20 straight tackles. Unfortunately for Glendale they knocked it on, exemplifying the type of small mistake that plagued them throughout the match.
Despite the few small errors the Raptors spent a large chunk of time in the Glendale end and eventually earned their try as Chad London slipped through a Rouse tackle on a set play from a scrum. London was locked in a head to head battle with Seamus Kelly throughout the day in an effort to show who is ready to start for the Eagles this summer. Peens would crucially miss the relatively easy conversion to give Glendale a 21-20 lead.
For the next 15 minutes each team slugged it out with opportunities to score only to come up empty. That changed with roughly a little more than five minutes to go as Tai Enosa would kick his first penalty of the match to give SFGG a 23-21 lead. Glendale the opportunity to re-take the lead just a minute later but Peens wasn’t able to connect and SFGG would go on to preserve the win.
Overall, the difference was SFGG was just a little quicker to respond to the bounce of the ball than Glendale. If Glendale and SFGG are once again in the final at the end of the season it should be another epic match-up.
Tries: Rowntree, Pulu
Conversions: Rouse (2)
Penalties: Rouse (2), Enosa
Penalties: Peens (3)