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For the second-straight year, it’s Glendale against San Francisco Golden Gate in the Pacific Rugby Premiership final. These teams have met five times in the last year, splitting regular season matches. SFGG won the shootout in last year’s final, 39-38.
Other than the one outlier, the 2014 regular season finale rendered meaningless by Gate and the Raptors having already clinched their spots in the final, every recent match between Saturday’s foes has been decided by a try or less. SFGG won by five last February and by one in the final. Glendale won by four this February, and Gate won by two in March. Saturday shouldn’t be much different.
“Whenever we play against each other it can go either way,” said Glendale coach Andre Snyman. “It’s a pretty close game. I think both teams bring everything to the party. Whether it’s physicality, defense, attack, the boys just bring out the best in each other.”
Both teams are loaded for bear, though each is missing a significant player. Glendale tighthead Ben Tarr is out with a torn ACL, and SFGG’s Jack Halalilo is also down with an injury. So the teams are even in terms of missing studs, too.
Where the teams differ is in style. SFGG controls the middle third of the pitch, while Glendale hopes to live on the periphery.
“They run big, good lines. Strong ball carriers, but they do have the ability to skip and take the ball wide and try and beat you with speed. Ourselves, we try and play a really fast-paced tempo game,” said Snyman. “We don’t want to get caught up in the physicality up front, the bash, bash, pick-and-goes and stuff like that, so we try and stay away from that. We try and move the ball side to side.”
“We know Glendale likes to play a wide game on us, so from that perspective we’ve just been focusing on guys following the system and trusting each other,” SFGG club director and flanker Bruce Thomas added.
For Glendale, the hope is to reach the apex of American club rugby for the first time in program history. The Raptors claimed the DI title in 2011, but the Super League was considered the country’s top competition.
On the other hand, SFGG is striving for a third-straight title at the top level, a feat that’s been accomplished only one other time. The Berkeley All Blues won five-straight national titles from 1979-1983. Aspen claimed four straight DI championships from 1997-2000, but that was during the Super League era. SFGG won the Elite Cup its only year of existence, 2013, and the inaugural PRP title.
“This is a big game. This is just as big as all the other ones for us,” said Thomas. “And that continued rivalry between two, dare I say powerhouse clubs, you like those rivalries. That’s what you play the game for.”
New for SFGG this time around is the absence of Mose Timeoteo, who led Gate to multiple titles and is suiting up for Glendale on the weekend.
“The benefit for us is we know what Mose brings to the table,” said Thomas. “We know the tricks, and we know how to defend those tricks. The thing with Mose is you can’t switch off. You have to have as much concentration in the fifth minute as the 65th minute, otherwise if Mose sees a gape he’s going to take it.”
“We’ve been really fortunate to have him in our team, and he’s been a great leader in our team as a senior player and an experienced player,” said Snyman.
“The fact that he’s going to play his old team, he’s emotional about it because he takes pride in his new team and his new teammates, but he does love his old club. It would be great for us to hopefully walk away with a victory and he can stand proud and say eh actually played for two championship teams.”
With not much between the sides, both of which boast big-time players and proven winners, the decision will boil down to, “a battle of the two Ps – possession and penalties,” said Thomas. “The team that gives away less penalties keeps the most possession and will come away with the win.”