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The defending DI champs, the defending Super League champs, and the team now leading the Super League West, all having lost to each other at home.
It kind of begs the question, which team is the best in the country (wait now as the shouts of NYAC! and BYU! die down …)?
Maybe none of these, maybe all three.
SFGG beat Glendale because Golden Gate simply played better. Specifically, they had a more powerful forward pack. Glendale is a well-drilled and effective team, but their pack is not big. Only Nic Johnson really put the SFGG forwards on their heels, and he certainly did that. But Golden Gate’s combination of physical strength, unity, and sheer size overwhelmed Glendale.
Glendale does not have overwhelming pace out wide, but they have talent, and they can pass, and they can hit the gaps. That’s an effective combination, and when they are all working together, it can be deadly.
Nese Malifa, Ata Malifa, James Paterson, Dewon Reed, Daryl Furlong … all smart, exciting rugby players who can make you pay.
Glendale could point to a few small things as to why they lost – Paterson left at halftime and his replacement made a couple of errors of youth that didn’t do SFGG any harm. Glendale got caught up in tackling the big SFGG guys too high (Head Coach Mark Bullock apparently said to the players at halftime, “how’s that high tackling going for us?”), allowing the visitors to just offload into space.
Those are little, correctable things that, if fixed, will make Glendale better.
Still, SFGG arrived without the services of Jone Naqica (under suspension for a red card on a tip tackle), and might point to at least one Glendale try scored on a seeming forward pass. They might also have pointed to a series of mistakes they made, especially in the lineout – mistakes that can be fixed.
Golden Gate does have an imposing pack, and perhaps is still working on what glues together in the backs. But they have a really reliable and smart halfback combination in Mose Timoteo and Volney Rouse. They can kick, tackle, offload, and crush you in the scrum.
That’s a pretty good combination.
So how is it that OPSB beat them so soundly, and Glendale was able to beat Puget Sound?
Second thing first, Glendale played OPSB in February, winning 35-21. It was not OPSB’s top side, and they have added a few players since. Beach in April is a very different group of players than Beach in February.
As for the SFGG game, it can’t be discounted. Even if you factor in the red card to Naqica (and to their credit, OPSB said they took advantage of being a man up and didn’t apologize for it), OPSB was better than Golden Gate.
Gate did some dumb things (if Mike Palefau is carving you up, stop kicking to Mike Palefau … just saying), and they made some mistakes. But it’s also clear that every rugby team makes mistakes, and you have to figure out how to mitigate those errors. Against Beach it’s hard, because they have so many players who can grab that ball and be 40 meters downfield in a blink.
Most teams, say observers, have one or two or three players who can kill you on a turnover. OPSB has eight.
Still they are beatable. They are beatable if you don’t kick much, and if you make absolutely sure you win your rucks. They are beatable if you are sure of your handling, and you don’t let their steppers get inside your head, and you make those tackles.
When SFGG travels to Seattle May 19 we might find out if all those lessons work for the Bay Area club. Will they get another red card? It seems unlikely.
Will they have learned not to kick aimlessly? Certainly.
Will the 7s internationals be on the OPSB team? Most likely, given that the final stop on the IRB World Series circuit will have been a week before.
Will SFGG be able to stop Botitu, Tuilevuka, Palefau, Vucago, Gordon, Craigwell et al? No, certainly not completely. They can keep Beach under 50 points, and score on them as well, but it’s hard to think Golden Gate can corral this team completely.
Who can? NYAC. All those things we talk about – set piece power, defense, smart play, accurate kicking from hand, accurate kicking for goal, and continuity. NYAC is winning because of all that. Maybe they’re the ones we should be writing about.