Well, wow. I ate my words when I made this pick. I thought Sacramento was going to steamroll the San Diego defense with their punishing maul the same way they did San Francisco a week before.
That evidently wasn’t the case. The first half saw San Diego stuff Sacramento’s attacking wings time and time again with every attempt to go out wide.
San Diego took every opportunity they could to put points on the board, kicking a total of 4 conversions in the first half alone to take their team into half time up 24-3.
Sacramento came out in the second half clearly looking to close the gap quickly, which they almost did as they began giving the ball to their forwards directly out of the ruck. The men in green got the opening points of the half with their second penalty try of the season when their maul rolled over the try line to force a San Diego off-sides.
Any chance of gaining momentum, however, for a comeback was shattered. San Diego answered the valiant effort with another try of their own, to but the lead back where it was at 29-10.
Sacramento would go on to score two more tries in the contest (one in garbage time), but it was not enough to quell the suffocating defense and speedy wings of the Southern California squad.
This game saw pros and cons on both sides. Both teams clearly have the brute strength of their forwards as an advantage. But all afternoon, we saw the wings on both sides taking unnecessary risks with some frankly very sloppy behind the back passes and switch attempts.
Both these sides have proven they possess the talent to succeed in this league. But, a return to work on fundamentals could do wonders for both sides.
San Diego- 38
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Ever since the news broke that L.A had traded up for the number one overall pick in this year’s Draft, not a single person in the world of football doubted that taking a potential franchise signal caller was their intention. Now the only question is, will it be Cal’s Jared Goff, or North Dakota’s Carson Wentz?
Many experts seem to agree that Wentz definitely has the most upside between the two, but he needs some time to develop. However, what you have to look at when you’re in the Ram’s position is which of the two can step in and play for you right away and actually win games.
The Rams are in a lot different of a position than the Cleveland Browns, who are currently in possession of the number two overall pick. Cleveland is in a state of total rebuild, despite quotes from Head Coach Marvin Lewis saying otherwise. Therefore, it would make more sense for Wentz to head to the shores of Lake Erie, where he will have at least two years (the length of RG3’s contract) to hone his craft and maximize his potential.
Goff on the other hand, has a whole 3 years as a starting collegiate quarterback under his belt compared to Wentz’s 1 ¾ (he broke his wrist near the end of his final year). Despite coming from a very college style spread-offense, Goff has the experience in big games as well as the ability and accuracy to make every throw in the book.
Any rookie quarterback can’t be expected to be perfect coming into the NFL in year one and starting. However, the Rams have all the perfect pieces in play to compensate for Goff’s transitional period. As mentioned before, the team is anchored by one of the most fearsome defenses in the league. Then there is 2015’s #10 overall pick RB Todd Gurley, who is heading into this next offseason healthy and hungry.
In the end, Goff should be the choice of the Rams here. Keep the kid from Cal in California and build him as the face of a revamped franchise. Wentz will be great eventually, but if L.A wants to see a post-season in 2016, go Goff.
Denver- 16, Ohio-13
In what turned out to be a sudden death over-time thriller (that’s right, we do over-time in the States), Denver came away with the victory after a converted penalty kick from Will Magie ended the game. The momentum through the first half was all Ohio, with the team using a series of well-placed kicks into the pocket to advance the ball up the field.
Roland Suniula scored the first try in PRO history to put Ohio up 7-0, which was followed by two more successful penalty kicks to help Ohio go into the half up 13-3.
However, the second half began to tell a different story. The first Try for Denver came when the former Oklahoma Sooner Michael Al-Jiboori (Wing) came barreling through Ohio’s defenders to put the ball down for 5-points, along with a successful kick after.
After that, it was all Denver, with the men and purple controlling the pace of the game via a good win percentage in the rucks as well as the ability to move the ball out to the wings gaining favorable numbers match ups.
Denver was able to tie the game up with a penalty conversion with only minutes remaining, and the rest will forever be remembered as PRO Rugby history.
Sacramento- 37, San Francisco- 25
In what was easily the most exciting game of the day, Sacramento came away with the victory over the previously favored San Fran squad. San Francisco, who is a fast, hard-hitting team in their own right, were not able to quell the continued advancements up the field of the Sacramento boys, who used the power of their maul to full advantage.
Sacramento got on the board first, choosing to kick for points to give themselves the early lead. San Francisco then parried the blow by putting the ball into the try zone when Alec Gletzer (flanker) plowed through the arm tackles of Sacramento’s defenders like an All-Black through a U-14 team.
The game continued as a back and forth contest, with four lead changes throughout. San Francisco used their wings and quick passes to get the ball down the field, which when not resulting in a Try, often resulted in a poor pass getting dropped on intercepted by Sacramento’s quick thinking defenders.
Sacramento’s size in the scrum and physicality in the rucks was ultimately too much for San Francisco to try and shut down. With the seconds in the game dwindling and San Fran down by only 5 points, the team from the Bay Area committed a costly turnover which resulted in a Sacramento try to put the final nail in the coffin.
Things We Learned:
Ohio is a team to take seriously. The forwards have size and the wings know how to move the ball, but the squad has to learn how to finish and get the ball in the try-zone.
Denver’s wings are going to be one of their best and most dangerous assets in scoring points (despite some sloppy second-half play)
Watching Ray Barkwill play is like watching a honey badger on the hunt. When he wasn’t putting hits on in the rucks, the bearded man from Canada was following tight behind Sacramento’s mauls, which San Francisco found nearly impossible to stop before they reached the 22.
San Francisco caught a tough break against what is looking like one of the best squads in PRO Rugby. They showed they have the ability to put points on the board and to move the ball fluidly. Don’t be surprised to see them bring the frustration from Sunday’s loss into the Denver game next week as extra motivation.
(Pictured-U14 All-Stars with PRO Rugby San Diego players)
Today in professional sports, it has become an expectation that any club in a given area should strive to make their surrounding community a better place. That expectation is no different with the new PRO Rugby North America league.
Teams have already made it a priority to work with their communities, mainly with young people, to try and make a positive difference. In order to help build the excitement as well as grow the sport of rugby as a whole, all five teams have gone out to work with the next generation of rugby players in America, from the high school to the college level.
“We’ve had lots and lots inquiries, along with people telling us how excited they are.” Says Kieran Browner, when asked about the Colorado community’s reaction to the new Denver team. According to Browner, Denver so far has worked with various youth and high school teams, allowing them to observe and even participate in drills with PRO Denver ruggers.
In Sacramento, there is a similar situation to Denver in terms of how they approach their work with youth players. “We have a deep local connection to local high school rugby teams with players that grew up here.” Says Heather Atherton, head of PR for the Sacramento club.
Players for the San Diego team wasted little to no time making their presence in the rugby community felt. Before the season even began, former American Eagles 7’s player Pono Haitsuka (Mystic River), along with fellow teammates Mikey Te'o (Belmont Shore), Joe Taufete'e (Belmont Shore) and Kalei Konrad (OMBAC), attended a youth tournament in Carlsbad, CA, where they were able to meet some of the players.
Haitsuka’s continued presence wherever the team is out doing the most good is one of his earliest impressions left on the league thus far. Along with the youth tournament in Carlsbad, the former Eagle/club standout has also attended events such as the So Cal Youth Rugby All-Star Tournament in Poway, California, as well as an end of the year banquet in Del Mar for the Cathedral Catholic High School rugby team, which he attended with Head Coach Ryan Egan, as well as San Diego teammates Ryan Matyas (Old Blue) and Tom Bliss (Wasps).
“We'll be doing a few more outreach events throughout the year as well.” Says Haitsuka.
Another team that has spread their umbrella of influence to the youth in their area is Ohio. The Ohio players have worked with the local high school and youth squads, to which the team says they have received “nothing but glowing reviews from the coaches thanking us for their time.”
Along with working with kids on the pitch, the Ohio team has plans for doing some more good off of it as well. According to the team’s media department, they plan to be doing work later this season with visiting Nationwide Children's hospital, heading into the local schools to teach rookie rugby in gym class, as well as meeting with other charitable organizations to help further the club’s outreach.
The continued work with youth rugby teams is exactly how PRO looks to build a new fan base in a country seemingly dominated by the NFL. Engaging young people and showing them an alternative to what’s out there will give them incentive to form their own ‘niche’ communities. In other words, plant the seed to the kids that rugby is cool, and it’s here (US).
Building a fan base to further the league is as important as it is exciting. However, what’s more important still is that PRO teams are focused already on making a difference. And as the sport and the league grow, the ability to make greater and greater differences will come, further exemplifying the camaraderie and community of rugby.
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In response to last week...
Last week, I wrote an article detailing how the PRO Rugby San Francisco squad has all the right pieces to be an early leader in the league’s inaugural year. Almost immediately, I got a few emails from readers who seemed to believe it would be Denver emerging victorious by the end of this summer.
So, I decided to delve into whatever information I could, and make a few observations as to what it could be that sends Denver over the top in 2016.
Denver’s ultimate success this season will be built upon the foundation laid by their Head Coach, Sean O’Leary.
Denver chose to reach into the collegiate pool of coaches to find their team’s first leader. O’Leary, who most recently served as Head Coach for the Notre Dame Rugby team, has also had coaching stints with the USA Eagle’s U-19 and U-17 squads, as well as other coaching positions with Northeastern and Boston College Rugby.
“He’s been working for Notre Dame with a lot of success.” Says Kieran Browner, member of the Denver team media department when asked about whether O’Leary’s success could carry over into the professional level. “College in the United States is the closest to a full time rugby environment you can get.”
That experience in a full time rugby environment is exactly what will be needed, especially when it comes to guiding young players who are new to the professional side of the industry. But in the end, O’Leary is going to have to prove that his system on the pitch can succeed against the likes of other squads.
They’ve got southern hemisphere players who are too good to ignore.
Early on in the international signing process, Denver made a splash when it inked former Springbok Pedrie Wannenburg to a tier-1 contract. Most recently making his pitch appearances with the French Rugby Union team Oyonnax, Wannenburg made a name for himself by being a fierce back row player for South Africa’s Rugby Union team The Bulls, as well as getting a National Team cap over 20 times in his career.
Not too much longer after securing Wannenburg, Denver furthered its international talent arsenal with the signing of Newcastle Knights standout Timana Tahu. Tahu is an absolute beast of a human being, as well as a try machine, scoring over 121 times in his Australian club career, as well as getting capped several times for the international team.
What wins matches is ultimately getting points on the board. Both of these players have the ability to smash through defenses as well as to bring fierce opposition in the rucks. Look for many of the games this season to come down to the big plays made by the internationals.
Denver’s area clubs bring in a high quality pool of talent.
Much like what the San Fran squad did with its collection of Life West Gladiators, Denver pulled much of its domestic talent from the clubs of the surrounding areas. Most notably the Denver Barbarians and the Glendale Raptors.
“The league wanted players for teams who were already established in an area. It’s a good thing (with the Raptors and The Barbarians) because they are the very best. Their level of play is such a high standard.” Says Browner in regards to some of the reasoning behind the high number of players from each club (7 Raptors, 5 Barbarians).
That high standard Browner mentioned will go hand in hand with the biggest advantage that these players bring to the table. And that is the knowledge they have of one another, and the subsequent chemistry that it brings with it.
Many of these players have not only played as teammates, but as opponents as well. When you play as teammates, you focus on one another’s strengths. But with an opponent, you are studying their weaknesses. The perspectives being brought together by both sides should enable the club to be a much more cohesive unit, both on and off the pitch.
If Denver can capitalize on all the pieces they have, then San Francisco better be worried, as should all others.
Well, here we are. The final part of our month long series “Gotta Do Better”. So far, we have looked at quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. So, for our fourth and final installment, we are going to take a look at coaches who have no choice but to step it up in 2016.
Chip Kelly: San Francisco
Honestly, I’m left kind of wondering how Kelly got another NFL job in the first place. He may have left Philadelphia with an overall winning record (26-21), but in the process, he destabilized the roster when he shipped off big named playmakers such as LeSean McCoy (Bills) and DeSean Jackson (Redskins), as well as creating a whole heap of locker room discourse.
Kelly has now entered himself into a bleak situation with the 49ers. Their defense is still feeling the hurt from the rash of players who last off-season either retired or left for greener pastures in free agency. Then, there’s their offense, which is about as certain at quarterback as the weatherman is forecasting next month (Seriously, what is going on with Colin Kap?). That, along with being completely devoid of playmakers makes for a team with a ton of problems.
If Kelly wants to stick around in the NFL past this season, he is going to have to find a way to bring stability under center, and bleed as much production from a young, yet mostly under achieving supporting cast.
Jeff Fisher: Los Angeles
First off, it felt kind of weird to write ‘Los Angeles’ in the line above, but let’s not get hung up on that.
The Ram’s brass has been very kind to Jeff Fisher with the support they have shown him over the last 4 years, despite not having once delivered them a winning season. This is a very rare show of faith in what is typically a win-now-or-else type of atmosphere throughout the league.
Fisher has built himself one of the most fearsome defenses in the league, made all the better with 2014 first round draft pick Aaron Donald simply dominating opposing offensive lines. Yet Fisher has yet to fashion together an offense that can consistently put points on the board, which puts all the more pressure on his defense.
Fisher and the Rams have made it clear (for now at least) that Case Keenum is going to be starting under center in week 1. That could change depending on how the draft works out. L.A is expected to take a quarterback, but nobody is quite sure when.
The Rams currently hold the 15th overall pick. Most mocks have them either taking Lynch in the first or Cook/Prescott in the second-fourth rounds. However, if Jared Goff or Carson Wentz face an Aaron Rodgers style draft day slide, don’t be surprised if they decide to pull the trigger on one of them and force Keenum down the depth chart.
If Fisher wants to be the Head Coach in L.A next year, he has to get into that 9 or 10 win column, or else the patience the Rams have shown him thus far could run out.
Rex Ryan: Buffalo
You almost feel bad for Ryan. The guy has so much charisma and is rarely seen without a smile on his face. Luckily, I’m a Patriots fan, and I would drink Rex’s tears like the blood of Christ.
Ryan went into Buffalo knowing that the quarterback situation was a little murky, but still with the expectation that his defensive scheme was going to dominate as it was being carried out by one of the league’s top units in 2014. Unfortunately, many players found Ryan’s system to be much too complicated, and often limited a player’s ability to ‘just play the game’.
Now, the situation in Buffalo is even bleaker than before. Mario Williams, Chris Hogan, and Nigel Bradham among others have all flown the coop, and Ryan has to fill those holes with acquisitions that are unlikely to deliver the same kind of production.
Ryan isn’t going to have a whole lot to work with, but even with all that considered, nothing short of a playoff berth is going to keep Ryan is Buffalo past 2016.
Gus Bradley: Jacksonville
It feels like I have to put Bradley on this list, but I don’t think it will matter come the end of this next season. Thanks to a few well-made draft selections, Bradley now has himself a franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles, three field stretching and end-zone targets in Julias Thomas, Allen Robinson and Dennard Robison, and a young running back with huge upside in T.J Yeldon.
Even though their offense took a huge leap forward last year, the absolutely dreadful play of the defense is what ultimately lost them games. However, since then the Jaguars have acquired defensive tackle Malik Jackson from Denver as well as former New York Giants corner Prince Amukamara. 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. is also set for a return.
Bradley has proven he can get this offense going. Now, he has to prove that the defense can flourish under his leadership. I believe it will, and that this team is going to be dangerous next year. But, only time will tell.
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The inaugural season of PRO Rugby has yet to begin, but it’s never too early to speculate about what this season might hold. A few weeks ago, PRO released its rosters for the five teams who will be competing this season, and those rosters have only become larger and more star-studded since.
San Francisco, one of the first five inaugural teams, seems to have already laid the foundation of a power house roster. This team has everything, from big name internationals to club teammates, all coming in with loads of chemistry and experience.
Big International Signings Give them an Early Advantage
Let’s start with the two biggest signings of this first off-season, former IRB World Sevens Player of the Year, Orene Ai’I, and the 100+ capped All Black standout, Mils Muliaina.
If you watch highlights of Ai’I, the way he is able to finesse his way through hordes of defenders is mesmerizing. Coupled with his expert ball control, his ability to make people miss in order to get into open space is going to be deadly, and not easily defended when possibly going against a much less experienced U.S born player.
Then there is Muliaina, who is a very capable fullback both defensively and offensively. Not only does he have the speed and power to bring down runners in space, but he can in turn use that speed and power to his advantage in a very straight forward running style with the ball.
San Fran’s newest signing, Nick Blevins, is a Canadian National Team inside/outside center with 31 caps to his name, who brings a degree of size and viciousness to the pitch.
The Huge Presence of Life West Rugby Players and the Chemistry they Bring Can’t be Ignored.
Though Orene’s and Mil’s presence is going to be a large X-factor in of themselves, what will carry this team to victory will ultimately be the chemistry many of these players have built together. The San Fran squad includes three capped Eagles players, as well as 8 Life West Gladiators teammates, which includes Ai’i and Muliaina.
The Life West Gladiators are no middling American rugby club either. “The expectations the players are under with the Life West model is to be a professional team.” Says Dr. Brian Kelly, President of Life West Rugby, “This makes the transition into the new PRO League well within their ability.”
The Gladiators have been regarded as one of the most dominant clubs in American Rugby for a few years now. Their men’s senior team currently sits at 9-0 atop the ultra-competitive Northern California Division I standings.
We know the expectations of the players are set very high, but how exactly does Dr. Kelly help his players achieve such a level? By giving them one of the best coaches available.
Adriaan Ferris, Head Coach of the Gladiators and assistant coach of the San Francisco squad, was referred to by Dr. Kelly as “a top professional coach”, who was recruited by Life West to drive the rugby program. He has a resume of international coaching experience with Tonga, and attended the 2011 Rugby World Cup with Fiji. His other credits include the three years he spent as Head Coach of the Northland ITM Cup Team in New Zealand, and has taken Life West to the National D2 title in his first season at the helm and remains unbeaten in D1 play to date.
It’s no wonder why Life West has remained a constant forced to be reckoned with. Thanks to the dedication of Dr. Kelly and Coach Ferris, these new PRO players are going in already having already gotten a taste of what the international standard of professional rugby is.
American Born Coach With a History of Success.
San Francisco decided to keep it close to home when choosing a leader for their team. Head Coach Paul Keeler has a long career history as both a player and coach in American club and college rugby.
Most recently, Keeler has worked as the Head Coach for the Santa Clara University rugby team. In his first season, he led the team to a league championship as well as a subsequent D1-AA play-off berth, the first in the history of the program.
At the club level, Keeler is also no stranger to championships either. As Head Coach, he guided the San Francisco Golden Gate RFC to two RSL National Championships in 2009 and 2011.
Now as coach in PRO Rugby, Keeler will look to replicate his past success with some of the best weapons he’s ever had available to him.
With the experience of their international additions along with the high level of skill and training of the domestic players, San Francisco has all the ability in the world to immediately put their stamp on the new league, and put all other competition on notice.
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Penguin Tundra Sports Blog was created in 2016 by a very bored college student who was obsessed with Rugby and Football. That same college student knew how to write pseudo-intelligently, so what better way to show off than to create a blog. Along your journey though the Tundra's domain, you may come across outlandish opinions, horrible spelling errors, and some shit that is just outright wrong. Well then, you should comment, give my blog more attention, and we will have our day in internet court. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy talking about sports as much as I do.
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