Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
by Ted Hardy
San Francisco Golden Gate lifted the 2011 Rugby Super League Championship with a narrow 20-15 win over Life in a game marred by penalties and missed opportunities.
With the gametime temperature around 90 degrees, the game started well for the home side as SFGG fell afoul of the referee with a series of infringements. In just the second minute Life fullback Aaron McMaster slotted a penalty from the 10m mark to give Life an early 3-0 lead.
Five minutes later, McMaster added another penalty from directly in front of the posts to extend Life’s lead to 6-0. McMaster had a third attempt at goal in the 19th minute, but missed the mark.
Life had the bulk of the possession in the first quarter, with short runs being met with a very physical defensive SFGG line. After 25 minutes, an attacking SFGG lineout near the 22 was followed by bruising runs from Danny La Prevotte and props Paula Fukofuka and Saimone Lauaupaleau, before the ball was spun back toward the sideline for number 8 Samuela Manoa to cross the goal-line to put SFGG on the board. Volney Rouse added the difficult conversion to give SFGG a 7-6 lead that they would hold onto for the remainder of the match.
On the restart, disaster struck for Life, as there were players ahead of the kicker. From the scrum the ball was flicked to Tomoteo, who fed Folau Moleloa on the burst on the right hand side. Folau weaved his way through the defenders and reached the goal line for another SFGG try. Rouse added the conversion, and SFGG extended their lead to 14-6.
Shortly after, Life’s Mc Master cut the deficit to 14-9 with another penalty kick.
SFGG answered back with a penalty goal from Rouse in the waning moments of the half and the favorites took a 17-9 lead into the break.
The penalty parade continued into the second half as the teams traded goals to push the scoreline to 20-12.
SFGG’s penalty woes put the squad under increasing pressure and ultimately landed flanker Bruce Thompson in the sin bin. The penalties and man advantage gave Life new hope for a comeback. Unfortunately, the home side count not convert the advantage into points and the game remained at 20-12 with 15 minutes left to play.
Entering the last fifteen minutes, Life needed a spark and it came in the form of prop Blake Bradford. Recovered from a dislocated shoulder in the first half, Bradford intercepted a SFGG pass near midfield and headed downfield. SFGG was able to turn over the ball, but another penalty gave Life a shot at goal.
Life’s McMaster slotted his fifth penalty of the day to make it 20-15 with less than ten minutes to play. Life put forth one last promising attack only to be denied by a knock on near the goal line.
With the title within their grasp, the SFGG players made no mistake, keeping the ball close and running out the clock for the deserved 20-15 victory.
Afterwards SFGG coach Paul Keeler credited his team’s defense today, “When our offense was on it was fantastic, but it was really our defense” said the coach, adding ” I thought we would win, as I had total confidence in the boys, but I was fearful it was going to be that close, Life is such a quality organization and they are such class guys”.
James Isaacson, Life’s coach credited SFGG with not giving much for his team to exploit: “I wanted to keep the ball away from them and starve them of possession, as we all know what they can do with the ball”.
Isaacson went on to credit SFGG with “being, on the whole, the best team in the country this year”.
USA Eagles Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan presented the Championship MVP trophy to SFGG center Mile Pulu after the game.