San Francisco Golden Gate closed its fist a little tighter on the Super League Western Conference with a 50-24 defeat of Denver in San Francisco.
The score might look like a blowout, but in the second half, at least, it wasn’t, as Denver figured out their problems and in fact outscored SFGG 24-17 in the second half.
The wind coming off San Francisco Bay whipped across the field all afternoon, and certainly SFGG flyhalf Volney Rouse, who had a very strong game with USA Coach Eddie O’Sullivan looking on, used the wind much more effectively than anyone with the Barbarians.
Denver started the game un-intimidated by the SFGG defense, but they did find themselves battering against a solid defensive front. That frustrated the Barbos and led them to try a few risky moves, namely chipping and grubbering the ball to get behind the SFGG D.
“One’s good, three’s too many,” said Denver Jason Kelly. “We just turned the ball over. We had some possession and we just let them off the hook offensively.”
One kick ahead bounced around in a group of players and somehow Mile Pulu nabbed it and set off into the Denver half. Pulu used his support, and linked with Rouse who fed Danny LaPrevotte for the try near the posts. Rouse slotted the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
Denver replied with a long series, but lost the ball at midfield when SFGG blindside flanker Bruce Thomas forced a holding on penalty. The hosts quick-tapped and kept up the pressure. Eventually hooker Chris Biller went on a sweeping run around the outside, which seemed like an odd thing for a hooker to do, but from the tackle area LaPrevotte ripped the ball and galloped upfield before passing inside to No. 8 Samu Manoa for the try.
Denver got a further blow when flanker Kevin Wiggins had to leave with a leg injury. And SFGG kept attacking. A Smart grubber upfield produced dividends as right wing Jeff van Meter raced in to block the following clearance kick. Golden Gate won the resulting ball and kept up the pressure, eventually setting up a Mose Timoteo backhanded pass inside to Manoa for his second. Rouse was good on his third conversion for a 21-0 lead at 26 minutes. Five minutes later it was 26-0 more quick taps had the Barbarians backpedaling and finally prop Paula Fukafuka bulled into contact and then slipped the ball to LaPrevotte for the flanker’s second.
Denver got smart on the quick taps after that, but the penalties still hurt them as Rouse used the wind beautifully to curve long punts into Barbarians territory. With Biller on the money with his throws and Manoa unbeatable in the air, the SFGG lineout produced solid ball whenever they wanted.
All that led to another try for SFGG, this time with Pulu showcasing lovely quick hands to Thomas hanging out on the wing.
All three back rowers had scored for SFGG and they deserved the tries, as they were outstanding.
“We normally feel our way into the game, but we didn’t this time,” said SFGG Head Coach Paul Keeler. “ We scored early and kind of kept going. But we knew they would come back. We were happy with how the first half turned out, and while we made some mistakes we did what we wanted to do.”
Also helping was the fact that Denver couldn’t figure out how to kick the ball off. Deep kicks played into SFGG’s hands with their speed deep three, and short kicks were blown back to halfway by the wind. Max de Achaval tried a kick along the ground, but SFGG’s hands were too good for that.
With the win, SFGG improves to 4-0 with two games left in the Super League regular season. Denver drops to 1-3.
The second half started all Denver. The Barbarians gave up on the kicks and started running. They brought on Jody Kramer who provided a spark on attack, and they worked the ball wide and got quick ball. It all paid off, as Ben Haapapuro scored. SFGG replied when Manoa linked up nicely with Van Meter. But tries from Garrett Peterson and then hooker Luke Leinweber on a big run made it 38-17. SFGG was never in danger of losing, but Denver made it interesting.
Pulu nabbed a loose ball, dummied his way into a gap and took the corner to make it 43-17, then one more Denver try gave the Barbos the bonus point. Van Meter linked with Thomas for the last one.
Keeler said his team was set back thanks in part to some calls they didn’t like.
“The guys have to learn to handle that and not lose momentum,” the coach said.
As for Denver, Kelly said his team needs depth and clearly they need a little time. They didn’t play poorly, but they lacked the athleticism of SFGG.
“We needed to keep our composure and keep our structure, but they got us on our back foot,” said Denver flanker Logan Collins. “When we play to our pattern and played in their half we did well. When they got us on the back foot we had a hard time stopping them.”