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Friday, May 20, 2016

San Francisco, Denver Ready To Tangle At Infinity Park

By Derek Sagehorn

Denver hosts San Francisco today at 7:00 pm MT/6:00 p.m. PT in the first rematch of the Pro Rugby season. Denver humiliated San Francisco one month ago, especially their scrum, in a run away 35-18 win. Since then San Francisco has improved in fits and starts but have yet to capture that elusive first win. Denver has continued their undefeated streak, but by much closer margins.

The visitors bring a different pair of frontrow bookends today, as props Niko Lolohea and Fancy Namulaulau start. The former has improved as a loosehead in the tight; while the latter is getting his first start. Captain Patrick Latu should come off the bench shortly after half for Namulaulau. San Francisco gets a big add in the second row as San Francisco Golden Gate captain Brendan Daly makes his first PRO Rugby appearance. Daly is a speedy second rower that is comfortable with space and the ball in hand. In addition to being an excellent lineout option on offensive touches, Daly organizes defensive lineouts well, which leads to disrupted and stolen possession. He partners with David Tameilau, who returns to the second row after making an emergency switch to the spot at the beginning of the San Diego match. Sam Finau takes his usual spot in the back row, while Siupeli Sakalia returns to the starting lineup at flanker. Bill Fukofuka, recently of Southland and Tonga U-20, makes his first appearance for Pro Rugby at number 8.

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San Francisco's backs remain mostly the same. The combination of Volney Rouse and Orene Ai'i at 10 and 12 that clicked in the San Diego game returns against Denver. The hard-working Nick Blevins will connect with Pila Iongi and the Michael Haley, recently finished with grad school finals. Martini Talapusi covers the back again this week with Jake Anderson on the bench. Returned from early season injuries and on the bench are Junior Helu and Devereaux Ferris.

Denver will start a young but experienced pack, fresh from narrowly beating Sacramento. Luke White and Ben Tarr start at props, supporting Nick Wallace's transition to hooker. Tarr devastated San Francisco's Maka Tameilau in the last round, so he should be licking his chops. Casey Rock and Brodie Orth give additional beef to the pack in the second row. In the backrow, Logan Collins, two-try Hanco Germishuys, and Pedrie Wannenburg are all dangerous runners. In addition to this first line, Denver has plenty of options off the bench. including Zach Fenoglio, Chris Baumann and Peter Dahl. There will be little drop off at minute 60.

In the backs, Niku Kruger and Will Magie will marshal hard runners Chad London and Mike Garrity. Ata Malifa takes the 12 shirt again and the responsibility of alternate distributor to Magie. Cross over Timana Tahu appears for Denver on the wing with Max de Achaval controlling field position with sure hands and strong tactical kicking. The backs for Denver are deep with Pacific Rugby Premiership champions Moses Timoteo, Martin Knoetze and Dustin Croy covering.

As San Francisco Golden Gate discovered in last week's Pacific Rugby Premiership final, it is difficult to keep the pace at elevation at Infinity Park. San Francisco's scrummaging and fitness issues have improved since the last meeting. But grabbing that first win of the season against an undefeated, deep home team will be a tall order. Denver by 12.

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