Defending DI club champs the Glendale Raptors demonstrated well the reason for their status in a comprehensive victory over cross-town rival Denver Rugby Highlanders at Infinity Park rugby stadium Saturday evening. Over 1,000 spectators were in attendance for the Division I clash in near-perfect fall weather conditions.
Highlanders spent a good portion of the initial stages of the match inside Raptors 22 meter line, but were unable to come away with points as they crossed into goal twice though the Raptors defense denied them groundings. Glendale’s lineout play was impeccable, securing their own ball and pilfering most of Highlanders throws.
After a Highlanders missed swipe at goal in the first minute, flyhalf Ata Malifa put his side up by three with a penalty conversion from 35 meters at four ticks as Highlanders were judged to have not released at tackle. The next fifteen minutes featured territorial kicking by Highlanders flyhalf, Leif Gibson, which pinned Glendale deep in their own end, but consummate defense by the home team kept Denver from tallying.
Raptors increased their lead to eight in the 19th minute as their backs shifted ball at speed and second center Christian Sarmiento finished in the corner. Glendale upped the margin as Malifa deftly fed onrushing wing Max Stattler back inside and the speedy threequarter crossed and dotted for a Malifa-converted goal and it was 15-0 at 26 minutes.
Glendale had a player shown yellow at the 30 minute mark, but the visitors were unable to capitalize on that advantage though they managed a fair amount of time inside Glendale’s 22. Instead it was the formidable Malifa who broke through the defensive wall at Highlanders’ 22 meter line and streaked into goal for his own conversion and a 22-0 lead at the 33rd minute.
Gibson slotted a penalty goal at 35 minutes to put Denver on the board and it was 22-3. Sarmiento picked up his brace with a well-squibbed boot into the box he was able to snatch at speed and dot for a Malifa-converted goal, and a 29-3 lead as time dwindled in the half.
It was Glendale yet again at the whistle when a Highlander was pinged for grossly inhibiting play and the home side were assessed a penalty try by ref Tim Luscombe. Malifa’s conversion brought the score to 36-3 at halftime.
Raptors got on the front foot quickly after the re-start with Stattler getting his double after receiving a pop pass from Croy and burning the sideline for fifty to dot for a goal converted by replacement Dan Power, who played once in a non-cap game for the USA, and Glendale increased their lead to forty at minute 43.
Raptors tried again at minute 48 when loosehead Pat Carroll, exhibiting admirable pace in support of a Power break, touched down. Power’s conversion took the scoreline to 50-3.
Glendale dotted five more times before the whistle with tries by: Croy, Power, a brace by flanker Brad Winbush, and the final by Faroud Douarian for a resounding 77-3 victory.
Glendale’s head coach, Mark Bullock was pleased with his side’s opening of their national title defense, “We managed to get on top of the Highlanders in the set piece and really created problems for them at lineout time as both locks, Matt Doubek and Casey Rock were very effective in stealing Highlander lineout ball and winning our own.” Bullock was pleased with his forwards’ overall play: “We were very strong in the loose. This denied the Highlanders a platform for attack and provided us an opportunity to counter attack which we did quite effectively tonight. “
Next up for Denver Rugby Highlanders is Utah’s Provo Steelers, 1pm kick at Infinity Park South while the Raptors play host to KC Blues in the Stadium. Both matches on 10/1.
Glendale Raptors 77
Tries: Sarmiento (2), Stattler (2), Malifa, Penalty Try, Carroll, Croy, Power, Winbush (2), Douarian
Convs: Malifa (4), Power (3)
Denver Rugby Highlanders 3
Referee: T. Luscombe