Saturday, May 28, 2016

Preview: Ohio Heads To San Francisco

By Derek Sagehorn,

Ohio visits the City by the Bay this weekend hoping to make it two wins in a row. The Midwesterners successfully defended Fortress Obetz from Sacramento 50-17. They will look to extend their dominance of Northern California with an away win over San Francisco Sunday afternoon at Boxer Stadium at 3pm PST. San Francisco, having come up agonizingly short 41-37 to Denver last weekend, will be determined to notch their first win at home. They will have help, in the form of All Blacks centurion Mils Muliaina, who makes his Pro Rugby debut. Muliaina will add impact to San Francisco; whether he can swing the 30 point deficit from these two team’s last meeting remains to be seen.

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In addition to the star power, San Francisco makes a few changes from their near miss side at Denver. Patrick Latu makes an appearance at hooker, with Codi Jones and Jay Finau on the bench. He will likely slide to tighthead prop after the first stanza for Fancy Namulauulu. After a promising debut at the line of touch, Brendan Daly and David Tameilau return to their new partnership in the second row. Isaac Helu makes his first start for San Francisco at openside, while Bill Fukofuka retains the number eight jumper.

Michael Reid returns to halfback for San Francisco, while Volney Rouse will captain the side as flyhalf. Orene Ai’i combines with the aforementioned Muliaina for an all-Kiwi midfield. Nick Blevins, who has played fantastically for San Francisco, could only be relegated to the bench by such a figure. Pila Iongi, recently selected for the Tongan national side, Michael Haley and Martini Talapusi round out the back three. San Francisco Golden Gate’s potent finisher Pila Huihui makes the bench for San Francisco hoping to make a Pro Rugby debut.

Ohio’s indomitable front row returns again, unchanged. Mackintosh and MacLellan will try to exploit an improved, but still shaky home team scrum. Kyle Baillie takes over the lock shirt for Dominic Pezzutti this week. Rounding out the pack, the Pro Rugby backrow standard of Kalm, Hughston and Ferrarini.

After JP Eloff’s unfortunate injury two weeks ago, Ohio selects two halfbacks: Shaun Davies and Robbie Shaw. The latter will wear number ten, but both will share duties coordinating the attack. Thankfully they have Roland Suniula’s veteran presence and strong ball running to help them when things go curly. Ryan Cochane starts at outside center and will be tasked with tackling Muliaina. Ahmad Harajly joins mainstay Spike Davis on the wing. Presumptive wing and football crossover Sam McGuffie appears on the bench for Ohio.

All eyes will be on All Black Muliaina Sunday, as Pro Rugby fans get to see perhaps the marquee signing in a San Francisco jersey for the first time. As said before, Muliaina will be huge for San Francisco. The game will be decided, however, by the back five of each team. When San Francisco visited Ohio a month ago. Messrs. Kalm, Hughston and Ferrarini ran wild over them in the tackle and with ball in hand. In addition, Pierce Dargan and Kyle Baillie are flankers posing as locks. In the interval, Ohio’s unit has continued to sparkle. The question will be how far San Francisco’s have come. The additions of Fukofuka and Daly certainly help, as well as David Tameilau’s return to form. Whether these gains can overcome, or even keep Kalm and company at bay, will make the difference between a San Francisco win and a might-have-been. 

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