When San Francisco Golden Gate and Life met at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. Saturday for the Elite Cup final, some interested onlookers were in the stands – the Denver Barbarians. The Barbos were doing some scouting of the Running Eagles, their opponents Saturday in the DI semifinal.
What Denver saw was a Life team that was really good in the set pieces and with their forwards in attack, but one that didn’t play too expansively.
“I don’t know what the right word to use is, but they were very safe in the backs, and they sort of hung in the game,” said Denver coach Karl Savimaki. “When they went ahead 26-24, I thought they might sneak away with it, but you can’t sleep against San Francisco.”
Denver knows that all too well, having lost a squeaker (29-23) to Gate earlier this season, too.
The Barbos have a capable forward pack, but most of their offensive firepower lies in the backs. Taylor Howden will likely line up at flyhalf, and he keeps the defense honest with a strong step and carrying ability. In the centers and on the wings are some tough, flanker-like runners, like Jake Humphrey, Kyle Hitt and Phil White. All of them are big loads to bring down who essentially guarantee go-forward ball.
But Denver’s most lethal back will start on the bench Saturday. Hunter Leland, just a couple of games back after an injury, provides a lot of electricity and big-play ability off the bench.
In the back, Denver has the steady Maximo DeAchaval, who provides really good defense and some punch in attack. But where DeAchaval excels is with his foot. He’s capable of engaging Life in a ping pong battle if AJ MacGinty struggles to get the ball into touch.
An interesting battleground will the back rows, as both Life and Denver boast some good, young loose forwards. Life could well be without No. 8 Cathal Doyle, who left the Elite Cup final with an injury and was on crutches right after the game, but Benji Goff and Paul Bester are really good.
So are Denver openside Logan Collins, No. 8 Tommy Pasque and blindside Brendan Shea. Shea and Pasque are freshly out of college, Wake Forest and Colorado, respectively, just like Goff (Tennessee) and Bester (Life).
Shea earned MVP honors for Denver in the last round of the playoffs.
“He’s one that’s really earned his spot over the season,” said Savimaki of Shea. “I’d put Jake Humphrey there in heart beat, but Brendan Shea’s playing so damn well.
“You can’t say much more good about Logan. He’s captain for a reason. He leads well, and his defense around the park is exceptional, and then you’ve got Tommy Pasque at 8. He’s a dynamic runner and he’s a real workaholic in the offense in the loose. His work off the ball is really positive.”
Where this game might be won or lost is in the set pieces. Life is expected to have the stronger scrum – they pushed SFGG around pretty well last week. But Denver is confident it can hold its own there and in the lineout.
“One of our strengths of our game has been in our lineout,” said Savimaki. “The guys have come in leaps and bounds over the season in terms of what to do when.”
The crowd should be in Denver’s favor. It’s not often the Barbarians get to play in such a big game right in their backyard, and their fans will enjoy filling rival Glendale’s stadium with green.