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After the loss to Belmont Shore on March 26th, the San Francisco-Golden Gate Rhinos knew their season would come down to their match against the Glendale Raptors. Needing to win out to make the Pacific Rugby Premiership Grand Final, SFGG have gone on a torrid five game winning streak since its last loss. On the other hand, Glendale still has work to do to play in the title game after its first loss of the season last week to Belmont. In a hard fought battle where each side held the lead on Tuesday at Infinity Park, SFGG clinched its spot in its third consecutive PRP Championship with a 32-20 victory over Glendale.
Tuesday’s match against Glendale was a makeup game for the test that was postponed on April 16th due to snow. Based on this past weekend’s results, both teams agreed to play the game only a few days after their regularly scheduled match on Saturday. Each team had to dig deep into their player pool as injuries, fatigue, limited preparation time, and PRO commitments hampered the squads.
“Today was just a matter of winning any way could,” SFGG head coach Neil Foote said. “We’re taking it as an ugly win, but it wouldn’t of mattered if we had won by one point... Any day you can make the final is a good day.”
The Raptors were first on the board almost immediately when Armandt Peens nailed a penalty for the 3-0 lead. The Rhinos responded with an intercept try by Pila Huihui. Tai Enosa converted the subsequent kick and then scored a try of his own ten minutes later. Enosa attempted to build on the lead with PK, but the ball bounced off the crossbar.
Peens nailed another penalty after a not releasing infraction to cut the lead to 12-6. Three minutes later, Glendale was called for offsides and SFGG’s Adrian Curry took advantage banking a penalty off the post. The Raptors came right back as Peens found John Ryberg on a crash ball line where he broke two tackles on the way to the tryzone. Peens made the conversion, but the Rhinos led 15-13 at the half.
With the momentum on its side, Glendale came storming out of the gate as the Raptors worked the ball through hands to Dewon Reed for his ninth try of the season. With Peens’ conversion, Glendale took its first lead of the day at 20-15.
SFGG didn’t waste any time getting back into the fight as big Mo Atiola rumbled 20 meters in for a try. Enosa connected on the conversion for the 22-20 advantage. Less than five minutes later, Tevita Okusi extended the score to 27-20 with a try that was upheld after review.
Glendale battled its way inside the Rhinos’ 22 multiple times, but were turned away at each measure. With about 20 minutes remaining, SFGG’s Mile Pulu dotted down for an insurance try to lead 32-20. In the final minutes, each team had their opportunities to impact the tally, but the defenses stood firm. As the final whistle blew, SFGG’s victory secured the Rhinos a place at the Grand Final table.
Coach Foote was extremely proud of how his team persevered through adversity and showed the true character of the team. “We knew after that Belmont loss we had to win everything from then onwards to make the final. To beat the #2 ranked team (OMBAC) then beat the #1 ranked team (Glendale) in the space of four days and get five points out of both games is a testament to the character of the boys.”
“We rallied together and knew what was to be done,” Foote added. “The boys put in a lot of work and it has given the club the opportunity to be in the championship game.”
As for the Raptors, head coach Andre Snyman reacted to the game by saying, “The first couple of minutes the boys played really well. We held up with them with some sore bodies out there after playing on the weekend. We made just too many silly mistakes and errors. I think our one-on-one tackles could have been better.”
“The thing that killed us was the fact that our team was a bit disjointed,” Snyman remarked. “There were quite a few new guys on the team from DII and we didn’t have that cohesion and chemistry that we normally have. I thought the boys showed a lot of character. I was happy with the way they played, unfortunately score of the game was against us. I’m still positive that we’ll move forward with good momentum and we’ll qualify for the final.”
Tuesday’s result sets up an interesting last decisive weekend in the PRP. As of right now, Glendale has 45 standing points and OMBAC trails with 40 standing points. If Glendale loses against Denver and OMBAC beats Belmont Shore with a bonus try, the teams will tie in points. Glendale should have the tiebreaker with total wins and point differential. The issue will be moot if the Raptors can defeat Denver or at least pick up a bonus point in the loss.