With 10 unanswered points in the final two minutes of the game, San Francisco Golden Gate has claimed their first ever USA Rugby Super League Championship with a 23-13 win over previously unbeaten Life. The points came at the very end of a hard fought and physical battle between two very good defensive teams.
The battle was on from the very beginning as the two powerful forward packs exerted themselves on the game. SFGG (9-1) ran into early penalty trouble that kept them pinned into their own half and could have potentially put them behind on the scoreboard.
Life (9-1) fullback Nolte Coetzee missed on two early penalty attempts, one of which was taken from Life’s side of midfield.
After sustaining the early pressure that Life put on them, SFGG were able to mount their own attack deep into Life’s territory. After picking from the base of a ruck, SFGG scrumhalf Mose Timoteo put in a no look, inside pass to prop Jason Bowden.
Bowden, the hero from last week’s semifinal win, did the rest of the work powering through from 10 meters out for the first try of the game.
Flyhalf Volney Rouse added the conversion and SFGG took a 7-0 lead ten minutes into the game. Timoteo put in an excellent performance, steering the SFGG attack and keeping the young squad from folding under the pressure.
Life nearly answered back with a nice movement in the backs, but the SFGG defense held strong. After some early jitters, both teams settled into the game.
Both teams were putting in fierce hits and Life took a big hit to their lineup when fullback Nolte Coetzee had to come off with about ten minutes to play in the first half after taking a couple big knocks.
With the defenses playing top notch rugby, the game was shaping up to be everything one would expect out of the top two defenses in the Super League. The play at the set pieces was just as evenly matched with both teams securing good possession on their own their own lineouts and scrums.
With less than 10 minutes left in the half Rouse nailed a penalty goal to extend SFGG’s lead to 10-0.
The loss of Coetzee came back to haunt Life quickly as Nathan Rogers missed a close penalty attempt with just minutes left in the half. Unfazed, Life went back to work after the restart and was able to get on the scoreboard just before halftime when Tui Osbourne crossed over in the corner.
The conversion was missed and SFGG took a narrow 10-5 lead into halftime.
SFGG came out after halftime and extended their lead to 13-5 after Rouse connected on a penalty goal from just inside midfield. The kicking battle was clearly tilting in SFGG’s favor.
As both teams continued to put massive pressure on each other, the defenses responded well to each and every assault. Life wasted little time cutting back into SFGG’s lead.
No. 8 Mark Aylor, who had a big game on both sides of the ball, charged over, after a nice offload from flyhalf Peter Burt, for a try. Another missed conversion left the score at 13-10 in favor of SFGG.
Life’s kicking woes spread to SFGG as Rouse would miss three penalty attempts in the following 15 minutes. The difficult attempts were a sign of the respect that SFGG had for Life’s defense and that they were willing to try low percentage kicks to try to extend their lead.
Life finally tied the game up as Aaron McMaster, on as a replacement, slotted a penalty to even the score at 13-13 with ten minutes to play. Just like that the score was tied and with the two teams not budging defensively thoughts went to last season’s final that went into three overtime’s to declare a winner.
Jone Naqica, who had an excellent game from fullback for SFGG, made a great break to get into Life’s half, but was denied. SFGG was gifted possession deep in Life’s half after Peter Burt’s clearance kicked rolled out of the end zone.
After a couple phases with the forwards SFGG was awarded a penalty. Another attempt with less than three minutes on the clock stood between SFGG and the title. With the three second half misses behind him, Volney Rouse nailed his biggest kick of the year to give SFGG a 16-13 lead late in the contest.
Like any great player, in any sport, Rouse delivered when it mattered most and put the earlier misses behind him. Aside from the kicking Rouse provided, he had just as good of a day in defense putting in some of the biggest hits of the game.
With one last chance as winning the game Life went on the attack, but a mishandled ball fell into SFGG’s hands. An offload to Seta Palamo later and the speedy wing raced 60 meters for a try to send SFGG into celebration. Rouse added the conversion for good measure and left the final score at 23-13.
“We put in a full a team effort out there today. Life was right in the game the whole time but I’m happy for our guys that things came together and we played to our full potential,” SFGG Coach Paul Keeler said following the match.
“Everyone talks about our backs, but they underestimate the strength of our forwards and our full team style of play - just look at Jason Bowden coming up with big tries for us the last two games.”
The game was a passionately played game by two very good rugby teams. With Life’s setup and SFGG’s youth, one could expect to see this matchup again very soon in the Super League finals.
The game had a little bit of everything for fans...lots of hard hitting, big tackles, hard running, kicking drama, and a last minute victory. Congratulations to both teams on an excellent season.
San Francisco Golden Gate 23
Tries - Bowden, Palamo
Conversions - Rouse (2)
Penalty Kicks - Rouse (3)
1 . Jason Bowden 2 . Saimone Lauaupaleau, 3 . Dillon Horne, 4 . Kevin Erskine, 5 . Samuela Manoa, 6 . Daryl Lamborn, 7 . Dan LaPrevotte, 8 . Joshua Merliner, 9 . Mose Timoteo, 10 . Volney Rouse, 11 . Arona Palamo, 12 . Milemoto Pupu, 13 . Tevita Okusi, 14 . Tapui Faimalo, 15 . Jone Naqica | Reserves 17 . Conor Coyne, 18 . Josh Vavao, 19 . Sheeran Eoin, 20 . Daniel Welton, 21 . Adrian Maake, 22 . Toshi Palamo, 23 .
Tries - Osborne, Aylor
Penalty Kicks - McMaster
1 . James Hugh, 2 . Phillip Thiel, 3 . Seth Strauss, 4 . Kris Headlee, 5 . Joe Bruer, 18 . Scott Lawrence, 8 . Mark Aylor, 9 . Brendan Thompson 10 . Peter Burt, 11 . Steve Petzel, 12 . Nathan Rogers, 13 . Andrew Osborne, 14 . Garry Sullivan, 15 . Nolte Coetzee | Reserves: 17 . Steven Davis, 16 . Chris Sullivan, 19 . Nick DiMichele, 23 . Paul Bester, 20 . Benny Mateialona, 22 . Kyle Grossheider, 21 . Aaron McMaster