|All photos by Pat Clifton|
|Glendale's Cristian Sarmento en route to try against KC Blues|
|Shae Tamate and Connor Harding tearing down Barbo ballcarrier|
|Reed breaking away from Harlequins in final|
|Young Quins on attack in semifinal|
|Kenny Scott speeding past Reed|
|Marcus Neal of the Rogues against Glendale|
The Glendale Raptors looked vulnerable at times during their championship bid at the Harlequin Cup (the first of three West qualifiers) in Irving, Texas Saturday. They didn’t lose, going 5-0 on the day, but seemed anything but unbeatable on a couple occasions.
The first was in the tournament’s opening game against the Kansas City Rogues. The Rogues arrived at the pitch minutes before being forfeited, rushing to kit up before the opening whistle. They kicked off, gained possession and scored within the match’s first 30 seconds when Marcus Neal dragged multiple Glendale defenders into the try zone.
Glendale ended up winning the match 29-7, not allowing the Rogues another sniff of the try line the rest of the way, but they led by just one try at halftime.
“I think that was maybe what we needed,” said Glendale coach Andre Snyman of the early deficit, “and it gave my guys a bit of a wake up call…I just told them to keep their composure, because we have a long day of rugby ahead of us.”
In their second pool game, the Raptors crushed Fort Worth Elite 35-0, looking every bit as strong as one would expect from a team comprised of Ata Malifa, Dewon Reed and a cast of other DI 15s national champions.
Their third pool play game was a narrow win, 17-14, over the Denver Barbarians. The Barbos, six-time defending West champs, did not have as star-studded a roster as they’ve boasted in the past, and they likely won’t all summer with Mark Bokhoven and Nic Johnson trying to make the World Cup roster, but they are still a salty side.
The Raptors got their second wake up call of the day from another Kansas City team, the Blues (who had gone 2-1 in Pool B) in their semifinal match. Glendale looked out of sync the entire contest, and the Blues were playing feisty, nagging defense.
Still, Glendale led 12-7 with about two minutes to play. The Blues were awarded a lineout in the middle third of the field, which they won. They swiftly switched the ball wide to Kenny Scott, who had scored a long-range try at the death of Kansas City’s 14-12 pool win over the Woodlands Exiles earlier. Scott used his long stride to stretch Glendale’s defense and cut against their angle of pursuit, centering the go-ahead try that was soon converted and putting the Blues up 14-12.
All that was left to play was the kickoff. If the Blues got the ball out of bounds or forced a scrum, it’d be over. Glendale calmly took the kickoff and got the ball in Malifa’s hands. He made a pair of defenders miss and offloaded to Shae Tamate, who dished to Tim Muraguri. Just as Scott did in pool play to the Exiles, Muraguri ripped the heart out of the Blues with a try at the death to win, advancing Glendale to the final.
The host Harlequins, who went 3-0 in pool play, defeating the Blues, Exiles and Austin Huns, played the Barbos in the other semifinal. Dallas led the majority of the match, and it took a late Denver try near full time to put them down a single score, which is where they’d end, as the Quins held on for a relatively comfortable 21-14 victory. Gonzalo Ruiz and Zac Mizell were exceptional for Dallas not only in the semifinal, but all day.
The championship match was never in doubt. The Raptors, now fully aware of their beatability, were sharper than they had been all day. Malifa raised his game to another level, drawing multiple defenders consistently and conducting the flow of the game with precision, leading Glendale to a blowout 34-7 victory.
“He’s a great manager. He controls the game, he knows when to pull out, when to settle things down, and that’s why I’ve got him on the team,” said Snyman of Malifa. “He’s like the levelheaded guy on the team, and he just sets up the guys.”
No one benefited from Malifa’s work more than Reed, who scored three tries in the final and took home Man of the Match honors.
“He’s a real world-class player in his own right. He’s got really lightning feet, he’s got a good step, he reads the game, he runs good lines, he’s got power, so yeah, he’s got the whole package,” said Snyman of Reed.
“I would really like to see him in the future maybe playing for the Eagles, because I think he deserves it. He’s and all-around player, he’s a character on and off the field, and that’s what a team needs.”
The tournament win puts Glendale atop the West standings with 6 points. Dallas trails with six, Denver secured two series points with a lopsided third-place win over the Blues, who are awarded one point. The next West qualifier is July 9 in Kansas City. Glendale will not be in Kansas City to attempt a repeat, but Aspen is expected to make its qualifier debut there.