The culmination of the 2009 USA Rugby Super League season comes this weekend as San Francisco Golden Gate (8-1) takes on the undefeated Life Running Eagles (9-0) with the winner taking home the title of Super League Champion.
Life already has one title under their belts (2000) while SFGG is in search of their first title. Set to broadcast Saturday night on ESPN Classic, the game has all of the ingredients to be something very special. Both teams are well-drilled, fit, and play excellent rugby.
SFGG reaches the title game after a dramatic last-minute victory over the Denver Barbarians in the semifinals. Life, on the other hand, got to the final with a smothering defensive effort against Belmont Shore.
“We said all season we wanted to be the team you had to beat to win the Super League,” SFGG Director of Rugby Paul Keeler said in the lead up to the final. “We need a full-team effort to get the job done, just like we have had all season.”
Scott Lawrence’s Life side looks for another big defensive effort tomorrow in order to bottle up the explosive SFGG attack.
Life took the No. 1 defense in the Super League into the playoffs and have done little to change that mantle. Life has given up only 17 points in their two playoff victories to reach the final.
SFGG boasts the top offensive team in the Super League, but it is their defense that often goes overlooked. SFGG went into the postseason with the second-ranked defense in the RSL and have only surrendered 29 points in their two playoff wins.
“Some falsely assume because of the amounts of points we score that we play this overly expansive game and that our back line is our only strength, but that is not the case,” Keeler adds. “Our forwards do tremendous work and we need that to continue if we are to play well.”
The SFGG pack is anchored by unanimous All-Conference lock, and Eagle pool player, Sam Manoa, as well as up-and-coming loose forwards Danny LaProvette and Daryl Lamborn.
Life has plenty of punch in their pack as well, with prop Seth Strauss and loose forwards Mark Aylor and Joe Perez. All were All-Conference selections.
Keeler added, “We know they have a strong pack and team. They are the closest thing to a professional team in the USA with all the time they dedicate to rugby, but our forwards are the best in the country in my opinion and we will be looking to take it to them come Saturday.”
The battle wages on in the backs as well. SFGG is blessed with a wealth of talented backs with All-Conference selections in scrumhalf Mose Timoteo, flyhalf Volney Rouse, Center Mile Pulu, and fullback Jone Naqica.
SFGG will certainly miss center Thretton Palamo, as he is playing with the USA 7’s team in Scotland this weekend.
Rouse, the leading scorer in the RSL this season, gives SFGG a sound kicking game that could help keep the points rolling onto the scoreboard should Life run into penalty trouble.
Life counters with backs who have the pace to score, but more importantly the ability to shut down their opposing backs. Players to watch will be scrumhalf Brendan Thompson, centers Nate Rogers and Tui Osbourne, and wing Steve Petzel.
Life also has one of the better kickers in the RSL in fullback Nolte Coetzee, who had one of the best kicking percentages in the RSL this season.
The two teams match up very well against each other and the scoreboard should reflect that tomorrow. Both teams play excellent defense and have the ability to strike fast.
Offensively, SFGG has the edge, but Life has the ability to take a team out of their gameplan and disrupt even the best offense.
Both teams have solid kicking games which should come into play. The RSL Final could easily turn into a magnificent chess match.
One thing is for certain. The winner will have to earn it, because neither team is going to just give the title away.
Rugby America Prediction: San Francisco Golden Gate