Fitness hasn’t always been on San Francisco Golden Gate’s side, and it wasn’t in the meat of the Elite Cup Final’s second half Saturday at infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. After going up 24-12 with about 25 minutes to play, Gate conceded back-to-back converted tries and the lead, and nearly the game.
“The guys were fatiguing for sure, and we were having issues with our set pieces. We weren’t winning them consistently, and the guys ground it out,” said SFGG coach Grant Wells.
“We knew we had to try and get a field position game, and the first point of the second half when we got up some points, we had controlled that position, and then we obviously let them back with territory.”
SFGG’s strong scrum and tank-like maul from the lineout wore the big SFGG pack down, and Gate started reverting to penalties. That just led to more tiresome defensive work and great field position for the Running Eagles. Aside from Tui Osborne’s try, which he ran through an exhausted San Francisco defense to get, most of Life’s points came off of mauls set up by SFGG penalties.
“I knew, the boys knew, that that was their game plan – structure, patience, and we just had to match them fire with fire,” said Gate openside flanker, try scorer and club director Bruce Thomas.
“And I think the boys were just getting carried away, because we knew if we got that ball back and we got it in our hands, we were opening them up. The boys were getting eager to get the ball back.”
When Life took the lead off of Osborne’s try, it appeared the momentum had shifted into Life’s favor, and the Running Eagles seemed to have more juice in their legs.
“The line speed wasn’t there. They were sitting back. They were tired,” Wells said of his players.
But Gate responded, mustering a final scoring to regain the lead, and mounting a stiff defense to force a knock-on and end the game. To do so, Gate reached back into a fitness reserve built up the last few weeks.
SFGG made the decision to not participate in USA Rugby’s DI playoffs this year. Life stayed in the DI playoffs and played back-to-back games last weekend and a crossover game shortly prior to that. During that time, Gate was running.
“We were out there grinding. Saturday morning. 10 o’clock. We were out there, full team in that San Francisco fog grinding it out. So maybe it paid off. I think it did,” said Thomas.
“I kept saying to the boys, ‘This is going to come down to the fittest team on the field,’ and I’m a player that prides myself on my fitness, and even out there [against Life], I was blowing and struggling. It was hard work.”