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A team comprised of players from the Eagles training squad took on the Glendale Raptors Friday at Infinity Park, with the Eagles team winning 24-14.
The first half was full of exciting rugby and all of the game’s scores, while the second half was slogged down by injuries, substitutions and endless set pieces.
Providing a lot of excitement in the opening half were the Malifa brothers. Nese had been hurt the vast majority of the fall, but played flyhalf for the Raptors. Ata lined up at inside center. Both former Eagles played like they were trying to prove a point to the Eagles coaching staff. They were aggressive and effective defensively, and Nese was superbly creative on offense.
The Eagles drew first blood when the Raptors were too slow to recognize an overload on the weak side. The Eagle forwards took it up and got the ball to Luke Hume, who darted under the sticks for a try. Fullback Adam Siddall converted.
On the kickoff, the Eagles secured possession and passed back to flyhalf Will Holder for a clearance kick. The ball wobbled and didn’t gain much ground, much like on Holder's first kick from hand off the opening restart.
Glendale won the lineout and went through a couple of phases before the Eagles were pinged for a penalty at the breakdown. Shaun Davies quick-tapped and put the Eagles on their back foot. Two recycled balls later, Davies went out to the backs, and Nese dished off his inside shoulder to Preston Bryant for the try. Davies converted, knotting the game at 7-7.
The Eagles then went back on the offensive, and a nice gashing run from lock John Cullen got them deep in Glendale territory, but the ball was turned over shortly after Glendale wing Brett Willis delivered a big tackle on Blaine Scully. Glendale failed to clear its lines, though, and Eagles scrumhalf Chris Saint quickly toed through a Glendale penalty five meters in front of the posts and passed to Siddall for a try. The fullback converted, putting the Eagles out 14-7.
Glendale went aggressively back on the attack, but saw two prime scoring opportunities slip away. The first was a cleverly laid grubber kick from Nese into the try zone. Bryant was tracking the ball, but mistimed the bounce and flew over the ball. Had he judged it right, it would have been an impressive try. The next opportunity was created from a big line break by Glendale outside center Mike Graham, but Ata muffed a catch resulting in a knock-on. Later in the game, Nese cross kicked to Willis, the former DI wide receiver, and Willis caught the ball, but the Raptors turned it over shortly thereafter.
Glendale finally got the leveling try off of a scrum. The Raptors went straight to Nese, who sent a beautiful grubber into pay dirt for his brother. Ata snatched the ball and dotted down, and Davies converted, knotting the game at 14-14.
The Eagles reverted to more of a territorial game, and pressured Glendale deep in their own end. Eventually, the Eagle defense forced the ball to pop loose on the ground, and Cullen made an athletic play for a lock, scooping up the loose pill and scoring it. Siddall converted – Eagles 21-14.
By now, the Eagles, many of whom had been competing hard for a roster spot the last couple of weeks in camp, were fatigued. Tom Coolican and Luke Hume had already subbed off, and Glendale reserves took their spots. So when the Eagles got a penalty deep in Glendale’s end, they took the three points, slotted by Siddall, making it 24-14 going into intermission.
At halftime, Davies swapped jerseys, Glendale made several subs, as did the Eagles, and the excitement of the game disappeared. Two promising Eagle attacks ended in forward passes, and the tempo of the game implied both teams wanted to simply get off the pitch without major injury, which is how the game ended.
In all, Davies was very impressive in the first half, and Siddall was probably the most outstanding player for the Eagles. Nese Malifa played really well for the opening 30 minutes, but he left the game with what looked like a head injury and didn’t return.
James Paterson played outside center most of the contest for the Eagles, as Mike Tolkin wanted to see how he went in the position, with an eye toward selections for the Ireland test. Paterson was underwhelming there, but he wasn’t given great ball to work with, either.
This game concludes the Eagles' work in Colorado, their home for the last few weeks, as they leave for Houston tomorrow.
Tries: Siddall, Cullen, Hume
Cons: Siddall (3)
Tries: Ata Malifa, Bryant
Cons: Davies (2)
Eagles Starting Lineup:
Eagles on site but not suited out: