The Elite Cup is down two four teams and two weekends, and on both coasts the teams in the semis know each other very well.
In the west, Old Puget Sound travels to San Francisco Golden Gate. SFGG beat OPSB soundly in January – a game most agree Old Puget Sound wasn’t really ready for – and then won a close one in Seattle 36-27.
It’s reasonable to expect this matchup to be close.
OPSB comes off an 86-7 thrashing of the San Diego Old Aztecs in DI playoff action. This was a game Beach needed.
“I think we needed to put in a good team performance,” said OPSB captain Matt Trouville. “Key for us is our defense. We really played good defense against San Diego. The guys in the middle, Oliver Kilifi and the other forwards, were huge for us, but it was a total team effort.”
OPSB punished turnovers ruthlessly against the Old Aztecs, leading to four tries for speedy wing Isimeli Daveta, and will certainly look to do the same against SFGG. Of course, Golden Gate will, too.
“They are a very dangerous side on turnovers, 100 percent,” said Trouville. “We need to be able to defend that as well as attack off them.”
SFGG Head Coach Grant Wells said he is pleased with how his squad has come together, and isn’t upset that his players didn’t have a game to play last week. (SFGG pulled out of the DI playoffs, and would have played the Old Aztecs if they had stayed in, with OPSB taking on the tough OMBAC club.)
“We’ve had a lot of those sorts of blowout games, and I’m not sure we’d get a lot out of it,” said Wells. “We spent the week making sure we’re healthy.”
SFGG will certainly be looking to counter-attack off mistakes. In front of a home crowd of perhaps 500 to 1,000, they will have plenty of cheers to back them up.
SFGG’s back row is outstanding, with Danny LaPrevotte leading a lupine pack of ball-hunters, and Tom Rooke at lock and Chris Biller at hooker are like flankers, too (Rooke actually was mostly a flanker in college).
Perhaps the guy to really look at for SFGG is Biller, who has increased his work rate, and become more of a leader.
OPSB Head Coach Justin Fitzpatrick knows all of this, and says the game will be a challenge.
“We’re going into the belly of the beast,” he said. “We’ve shown we can score points. With the athletes we have, I know we can do that. So we’ve really been looking at our defense. San Diego was a good team with some big boys, but our guys held them. We now need to do even better against SFGG.”
Key Matchups (OPSB players listed first):
Emosi Vucago v. Mose Timoteo
Vucago is an experienced, aggressive scrumhalf with a good pass and a quick step through a gap. Wait, so is Timoteo! Actually, Timo’s passing is perhaps a little crisper, and Vucago a more impressive open-field runner.
Russell Armstrong v. Volney Rouse
Both men use the guys outside them and kick extremely well. Which one slots the goals could be the one who makes the difference.
Pate Tuilevuka and Nick Hawkins v. Mile Pulu and Samisoni Pone
Tuilevuka and Hawkins are older, bigger, grouchier, and use a variety of skills to score and set up tries. Pulu and Pone are young and adventurous. The knock on Pulu this year has been his fitness, but his coach says he keeps scoring tries, so what’s the big deal?
Miles Craigwell and Fili Botitu v. Jeff Van Meter and Jeff Colata
The SFGG wingers are big and powerful, and score tries. The OPSB wings are smaller, but hit hard and have a lot of pace. OPSB can also call on Mike Palefau and Isi Daveta, while SFGG has Ken McFarland at fullback.
This could be the story of the game – which deep three unit gets space. The Seattle club has more out-and-out pace, but they will need space to use that speed.
OPSB’s forwards are big up front, workmanlike in the middle, and tough at the back. They work the rucks and don’t worry too much about getting into the backline – they don’t need to. SFGG’s forwards are perhaps more widely used, but they have big size up front also. It will be a battle in tight, but one that ends up being decided in the wide open space.