Week 10 features the return of a whole heap of internationals who left for tournament/test matches overseas. It also features a return to the two match a week format, what is sure to be a relief to everyone.
The first game of the weekend on Saturday, June 18, will be between the skidding San Diego Breakers and the single-win San Francisco Rush. Sunday, meanwhile, is sure to feature a rousing match-up between the undefeated Denver Stampede and the try-crazy Ohio Aviators.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at how each match should measure up this week:
Saturday- San Francisco at San Diego
San Diego has had a rough go of it these last couple of weeks. In week 8, they had to duke it out with Denver with first place on the line, coming within a point of overtaking the Stampede. Then last week, they fielded a unit that was missing a few key elements (Te’o, Mackenzie, and Buydens) on their way to an embarrassing 55-29 point loss to Ohio, sending them tumbling into third place.
Meanwhile, San Francisco is coming off a two week period of rest after getting their first win of the season over Ohio in week 7, a match which also featured the PRO debut of All Blacks legend Mils Muliaina. However, if the Rush want to extend their ‘win streak’ to two, it’s going to take a lot more than an aging kiwi legend to get past this Breaker squad.
For San Francisco, the problem this season hasn’t been getting points on the board for themselves. Rather, it’s been a ‘stopping the other team from scoring more times than them’ kind of problem. While The Rush have scored a respectable average of 27.5 points per game this season, they have allowed a league-leading average of 38.3 points to their opponents.
Much like San Diego, San Francisco has shown flashes of brilliance with the play of its wings. In particular, Orene Ai’I has proven why he was such a high profile addition to PRO this year, displaying the footwork and timing of a rugby mastermind. The presence of Ai’I is now even further complimented by the arrival of Mils Muliaina, who brings an even more define aura of leadership into the locker room, and was the first to find the try zone in their week 7 win over Ohio.
Interestingly enough, the top scorers of both teams currently sit in the top two spots of total points scored this season. San Diego’s Kurt Morath leads the league with 95 points (13.5 AVG points per game), while Volney Rouse is right behind in second with 67 points, (11.1 AVG points per game). Morath is lightyears ahead of other primary kickers in this league, but Rouse has at least been able to find the try zone twice this year, on top of having one of the most accurate boots in the league.
Though the likes of Rouse, Ai’I, and Muliaina are sure to make a difference down the stretch this season, my gut tells me to ‘Back the Breakers’ on this one. San Diego’s wings, when on form, are efficient and can get the breaks that gain the valuable territory that either leads to tries, or sets up Morath for three points.
San Francisco will probably keep this game close, even making San Diego sweat at times (which shouldn’t be hard in sunny California). They may even be able to pull out the win if they can win the turnover game. But I doubt it, as San Diego’s ability to put points up at a fast, consistent rate will probably prove to be more than the struggling SF defense can handle.
San Diego- 41
San Francisco- 30
Sunday- Ohio at Denver
On Sunday, Denver must once again have to push back against an opponent looking to move within striking distance of first place. Meanwhile, Ohio comes to town looking for a repeat of their dominating performance over San Diego last week.
As I raved about in my preview article last week, Ohio has been winning their games through scoring tries, and I absolutely love it. Not only that, it has made their point differential skyrocket way above that of other teams (+91).
There isn’t any one player you can point to as a fulcrum of this team’s success either. Aaron ‘Spike’ Davis, currently leads the league in tries with 7, while his teammates take up the next three spots on the top 5 (Sebastian Kalm-6, Filippo Ferrarini-4, and Dominic Waldouck-3).
The numbers say it all, which is that this offense, when on the attack, is near unstoppable. It doesn’t hurt to have the likes of Jamie Mackintosh plowing over 3 people on his way over the middle either.
Now, I say unstoppable, but this is Denver we’re talking about. While Ohio has blown out its fair share of opponents, Denver has done the same, while keeping it nail bitingly close in others. That’s not to say Denver struggles to stay ahead (they are undefeated after all), but it has more to do with the way they win.
Denver’s top scorer Will Magie (who is their primary kicker) currently has 50 points on the season (8.3 AVG points per game), while their top try scorers, Zachary Fenoglio and Maximo De Achaval, have three apiece. Having only won 3 of their games (50%) by more than one score this season, Denver’s incredible win streak has spoken more to their ability to shut down an opponent’s attack in the middle and especially at the goal line, rather than lighting up the scoreboard themselves.
This is going to be a close one. I’m tempted to go with Ohio, but Denver has had a week off to rest, and are going to be a much bigger challenge than an injury riddled San Diego team. This game goes down to the final minute, but The Stampede will stay undefeated.
Week 9 came, week 9 went, and Ohio left with it not only as winners, but as the new holders of second place in PRO Rugby North America’s inaugural season.
This game was, by all accounts, supposed to be a close one. This didn’t end up being the case, however, as the Ohio Aviators ran away with it by the middle of the second half, allowing the game to end with a final score of 55-29 over San Diego.
Watching the Breakers this week, it was hard to believe that this was (almost) the same team that stood toe to toe with Denver last Sunday, coming within a single point of first place. Now, they are on the outside looking in, tied at 22 points with Ohio.
When I say this was ‘almost’ the same team that took on Denver, I’m making light of the fact that the Breakers took the field today without three of their most play-making members: Hubert Buydens (Prop), Phil ‘The Dragon’ Mackenzie (Center), and Mikey Te’o (Fullback).
The loss of three superb players and leaders is bad enough. On top of that, this game saw four more San Diego players hit the ground with injury. By match’s end, the bench looked like a hospital ward of car crash victims.
The game began with Ohio doing what they do best, which is score tries. Dominic Waldouck, who made his PRO Rugby Ohio debut in amazing fashion today, secured not only the first score of the day, but he would go on to put down two more before 80 minutes had been reached. Talk about making an early impression.
Ohio would do well enough through the first half, retaining possession and winning the rucks. San Diego laid down what were a few massive hits, but the likes of Jamie Mackintosh and Demecus Beach could not be intimidated, as they and the rest of Ohio’s forwards would regularly plow through 2, sometimes even 3 or 4 San Diego defenders before being brought down.
San Diego (as usual) showed that their wings are among some of the fastest and most athletic in American Rugby. However, they were haunted all game by big breaks being called back for penalties, or otherwise stupid drops and overthrows, which resulted in turnover, after turnover, after…well, you get the idea.
Even when the Breaker offense wasn’t shooting themselves in the foot by practically handing the ball off to Aviator players, Ohio was doing a jolly good job themselves of playing defense. Knowing that the Breakers were devoid of explosive playmakers such as Te’o and Mackenzie who could score off the wing from far out on a break, all Ohio had to do was cut down on the mistakes within San Diego’s Kurt Morath’s range, and let their goal-line defense do the rest, as San Diego was denied at the door, time and time again.
The second half started with some hope, as San Diego was only down 22 points to 17 at the end of the first half. That hope would get extinguished quickly though, as San Diego seemed to come out half asleep in the second, while Ohio came out looking to put the nails in the coffin.
The tired San Diego squad did what they could to quell Ohio’s massive forwards from advancing, but it proved to be futile as Davis, Howden and Waldouck would all find the try zone in the second half, allowing the Aviators to break 50 points for the second time at home this season.
The end of the game saw a late resurgence by the Breakers that would come as too little, too late, when Ben Leatigaga and Zachary Pangelinan pulled off two acrobatic tries. The last ditch effort would at least earn the SoCal squad a bonus point in the standings.
As FrozenOne said in making his picks, this game came down to defense (or lack of), and San Diego’s ability (or inability) to find the try zone. Though this team, when healthy, boasts one of the most talented rosters in North America, they have got to learn how to finish games while relying on more than just the crazy accuracy of Kurt Morath (who, by the way, pushed his season point total to 95 today).
Ohio, despite a slight hiccup in a game vs The Rush, might stand the best chance of taking down the top ranked Denver, simply through their ability to get tries. If their defense can find a way to shut down the Stampede’s attack, the quest for first place might get that much more interesting.
Two of PRO's Highest Scoring Teams are Set to Square Off
Week 9 of PRO Rugby’s inaugural season looks to follow up last week’s nail biter of a match with a clash of two squads who currently find themselves in the middle of the current standings (SD #2, Ohio #3).
Last week, the newly coined San Diego Breakers lost a tough match versus The Denver Stampede in heartbreaking fashion, when Denver’s Will Magie hit the game winning conversion in the contest’s dying seconds. Now, the SoCal squad looks to rebound against an Ohio unit that is still licking the wounds of its most recent loss to the San Francisco Rush.
Getting that ‘rebound’, though, will be easier said than done. Although San Diego currently leads the league in total points scored (190 points, 31.6 AVG), Ohio remains not far behind at all (185 points, 30.8 AVG). The last time these two sides met up, San Diego got away with the win by a mere margin of 4 points.
At first glance, those numbers seem to tell you that these squads are pretty even, which in many ways, they are. But, a closer look reveals a little bit more about the style and manner in which the points are obtained, and why one team might have a slight advantage over the other.
As anyone who has poured over this season’s statistics will tell you (No? Just me? Okay.), San Diego’s Kurt Morath has been on a penalty/conversion spree since the team’s first game of the year, currently holding a league leading total of 86 points (14.3 AVG). And although San Diego has managed to get at least 1 try from 12 of its current players (19 total, 3.1 per game), it’s no secret that Morath’s boot has been the key to a large majority of their success.
Ohio on the other hand, has been on a try-scoring frenzy this season, with 27 being put down among 9 different players (AVG 4.5 per game). Three Aviators are also currently ranking in the top 3 try scorers of the season so far (Sebastian Kalm-6, Aaron Davies-5, and Filippo Ferrarini-4).
The inability to find the try-zone more than once turned out to be the Breaker’s downfall last week, when they came within a hair of unseating the undefeated Stampede from the league’s top spot. Kurt Morath had a phenomenal 18 point day off of 6 different penalty conversions, but it just barely wasn’t enough to lift his team to victory. In fact, in the end, Kurt Morath’s missed after-try conversion proved to the most crucial error of the match.
Denver’s Will Magie had a few issues in converting penalties into points himself, which in the end could have costed his team dearly. But, the tries scored by his teammates (along with his after-try conversions all finding their mark) provided just enough support that any errors by the English-born leg were rendered null and void.
Despite their remarkable ability to find the try-zone like blood hounds to a steak, Ohio was brought back down to earth two weeks ago when the previously winless San Francisco Rush upset the Aviators 35-20. One key difference between that meeting and all of San Fran’s previous ones though, is that they were finally in the company of All Blacks legend Mils Muliaina on the pitch, who of course, found the try-zone almost instantly.
Ohio clearly wants to go out on Sunday and prove that they are among the best. San Diego wants to go out with the hope that they can close in on first place ahead of their week 13 rematch with Denver.
In the end, this contest I going to come down to defense. Can Ohio keep San Diego out of their zone while avoiding the costly penalties that give Morath the chances to put up points? And can San Diego stop the relentless attack of the Aviators offense that has put up more 5-pointers than any other?
Calling this game is almost as difficult as last weeks. But, I'm going to go with the Aviators in this one. Finding the try-zone multiple times every game while not leaning on your kicker is always the best formula for victory. Plus, they have a week's more worth of rest than the Breakers.
San Diego: 24
Catch the match on Sunday, 3 P.M EST.
Near Flawless Showing with an Exciting End
Edits: We originally reported Denver's Casey Rock intercepted Te'o and returned it for a try, when in fact it was Christian Wiessing
A game that started with a low scoring, defensively dominated first half turned into fast paced free for all to win it all in San Diego on Sunday. Denver, in the end, was able to eke out the victory over the Southern California squad, 24-23.
The first half saw what many expected going into it, which was two strong showings of defensive play from both sides. Players like Mikey Teo for San Diego (who was an absolute beast today with his signature goose stepping) and Chad London for Denver both had some great runs, but neither was able to crack the other one’s wall.
Mikey Teo came close with a huge run and some fabulous footwork, but it was ultimately called back for obstruction. The first and only try of the first half would go to Denver after taking advantage of some favorable numbers to the outside while inside San Diego’s 22.
The first half would come to a close with San Diego in the lead, 9-7, with all of the home team’s points coming from Kurt Morath kicks.
The second half would open up with a much faster pace shown by both teams. Denver’s wings were showing great improvisation in between tackles and were controlling the possession early, leading to a Magie kick to put them back in the lead 10-9.
San Diego was not to be kept down, however. Kurt Morath, who has been the not-so-unsung hero of his San Diego’s season thus far, gave his team the lead with 6 unanswered points resulting from kicks, giving them some breathing room at 15-10.
Unfortunately, that breathing room would fill up rather quickly and unexpectedly after a brilliant interception and Try by Lock Christian Wiessing. The conversion by Magie would be good, giving Denver back the lead at 17-14.
In games past, this has been the point where Denver pulls away and puts the last few nails in the coffin. This, however, was not any other team. This was San Diego.
The SoCal squad came back again, with 8 more unanswered points after another Morath kick and a Try off a Teo assist to give San Diego the 23-17 lead over Denver. But yet again, the excitement would be short lived.
Not long after, Denver began to employ a lot more kick and chase tactics. Eventually, they were able to get a beautiful kick up the touch line for a try. With time expiring and a so-so day already with accuracy, #10 Will Magie for Denver lined up and was able to hit the game winning conversion, putting the score at 24-23 Denver, where it would stay.
Not much you can say other than good show by both teams. The defenses were swarming, the wings communicated and for the most part seemed to be on the same page.
However, this game showed that getting Tries is the only way to sustain success. San Diego has got by thus far with a ton of help from Kurt Morath’s leg, and it very nearly won them the game today on its own. If San Diego hopes to topple Denver in their week 13 match up, they need to learn to win in both phases of the game.
Sunday marks the half-way point of PRO Rugby’s inaugural 16-week season.
Sunday also happens to play host to what is sure to be one the season’s most entertaining contests to date, when the top ranked Denver squad takes on the red-hot San Diego. PTSB takes a look at how these teams stack up against one another.
Veterans Provide a Kick-Start to the Early Success
So far, Denver has steam rolled the competition on their way to a 5-0 record, with a point differential of +52. That success, due mainly to Denver’s ability to smother their opponent’s attempts of moving the ball seconds out of the ruck, is prolonged even further by their ability to put points on the board in both halves consistently, thanks in large part to the boot of Will Magie (41 points, Pen: 7, Conv: 10).
But, if kicking the ball and securing points is one way to victory, San Diego is well ahead in that department, as Fly-Half Kurt Morath currently leads the league in scoring with a whopping 68 points, all coming from the tip of his boot (Conv: 10, Pen: 16). Morath has yet to find the Try-zone this season, but that so far has not seemed to slow him down in leading his team to victory.
Both Impressive and Not so Impressive Play Out Wide
The great successes of Magie and Morath shouldn’t detract from what has been some impressive, though at times sloppy, play from each side’s wings. Denver’s Chad London (Center/Fly-Half) and San Diego’s Phil Mackenzie both crack the top ten in tries scored so far with 3 apiece. Though one is almost sure to pull ahead of the other after the conclusion of Sunday’s match.
Even without putting up huge points, there are members of each squad who have made impacts in their own right. Anybody who has watched a single San Diego match has heard the names (and seen the hair and beards) of Full Back Mikey Teo and Prop Hubert Buydens. Teo acts almost a set of moving goal posts when it comes down to him being the last line of defense during an attacking wing’s break away. And Buydens….well just look at him:
What do you think he brings to the scrum table?
Denver isn’t short on large, physical players in the slightest, and Teo is going to have to prove he can bring down huge running targets such as Oklahoma standout Michael Al-Jiboori and former Springbok Pedrie Wannenburg. Hooker Zach Fenoglio also stands to pose a threat to San Diego’s defense, holding three tries himself on the season.
However, as previously stated, both sides (and just about every team this year) has seen some very sloppy play this year when it comes to passing the ball. Some of these quick, no-look passes we’ve seen being attempted this year might in theory look good on a highlight reel, but when the Sir has to stop the match every few seconds for a knock-on and a subsequent scrum, that can lead to a loss of momentum for both sides, and a whole lot more frustration for the fans.
So Who Goes Home a Winner?
It’s a tough call for this one. I doubted Denver the first two weeks in a row, and here they stand at 5-0, as a well-oiled and battle tested unit. Yet, here San Diego is on a three game win streak with both an offensive and defensive strategy that for the most part seem to be clicking.
I’m going to go with Denver on this one. They seem destined to be the Champions at the end of all of this, and they seem to get better every week.
San Diego: 26
I’m going to say Kurt Morath has great day with at least 4 penalty kicks and 2 try conversions, but Denver’s size and efficient wings get the best of a talented San Diego unit.
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