In the second match of PRO Rugby week 14, we saw the Denver Stampede manhandle a deplorable Sacramento defense to the tune of 59-13. Denver and Ohio now are sure to duke it out for the honor of being the first ever PRO Rugby champions.
The Express seemed to come out with a pretty clear plan at first. Be aggressive on contesting the rucks, and use an array of well-placed kicks to keep the game play in Denver Territory. Neither of those tactics were able to come to fruition. For although Sacramento opened up the scoring with a Bergamasco kick early in the first half, Denver was able to score a total of five tries before half time came about.
Any kind of strategy employed by the NorCal squad would not last, or at least, wasn’t effective. Sacramento’s defense in the first half was practically nonexistent. The Express had to continually commit 2-3 men per tackle, leaving huge gaps open on the outside, allowing the Stampede to…well…stampede all over them with quick passing by the wings being followed up by punishing runs by the forwards .
The two squads would go into halftime with Denver leading 33-6.
Ata Malifia opened up the second half with a try for Denver, displaying some great footwork in between defenders. Plays like that continued to be Sacramento’s problem the entirety of the day. For although Sacramento’s defense would step it up a bit after this, it was at a minimal level. As they would periodically find themselves without enough support to counter the explosive runs by Denver’s athletic wings.
Many times in the second half, Sacramento found themselves inside the 22 or even inside the 5 meter line. Unfortunately, penalties by both sides would kill any momentum built up. And even when the penalty went Sacramento’s way, they wouldn’t be able to capitalize, as Denver’s consistently swarming defense would quell any attempts at a rolling maul or to spread the ball out wide.
Sacramento would eventually score one try in garbage time when fullback Hodgkinson hit his stride on a huge breakaway. However, the consolation try would only be made to seem more worthless, as Denver put it down for one more try right after, ending the game at 59-13.
Denver showed again today why they continue to be near the top of the PRO Rugby totem pole. Their defense would not allow Sacramento to get anywhere near their territory all day, thus taking away their two biggest weapons: The rolling maul, and captain Bergamasco’s kicking foot.
Sacramento’s forwards kept it physical all day, showing slight defensive improvement in the second half. Unfortunately, their inability to effectively cycle the ball to their runners, or get All-star Langhilanghi involved all day, led to their downfall. Sacramento might be looking at a bottom of the barrel finish in 2016, while Denver continues its quest for the top.
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