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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Preview: San Francisco Heads To San Diego

By Derek Sagehorn

As the Eagles take on Italy in Northern California, Pro Rugby continues as San Francisco visits San Diego at 6:30 pm. The home team will be defending Torrero stadium for the final time this season without Eagles Taku Ngwenya, Mikey Te’o and Joe Taufete’e.

San Diego will be looking to bounce back after two difficult losses. Two weeks ago, the Breakers were poised to take over league-leading Denver but allowed a misplayed kick to turn into a last-minute try. The heartbreak compounded when the Breakers ran into the Ohio Aviators buzzsaw. Although Zach Pangelinan impressed in his debut, the absence of the aforementioned Eagles as well as Canadians Hubert Buydens and Phil MacKenzie to Test rugby duty was glaring. The Breakers struggled to win the contact area and looked disorganized in defense. The combinations and trust between replacement and new players must develop if San Diego hopes to succeed against San Francisco.

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Ray Egan has selected a familiar tight five with young Mason Pederson taking hold of the number one jersey again (which is his to keep after Buydens season-ending injury). David Dollinar takes over for Nikola Bursic in the second row. The breakers backrow stays impact, led by hard-charging number eight Sione Tu’ihalamaka. Out wide, Charlie Purdon and Kurt Morath continue their stellar halfback partnership while Phil MacKenzie plays inside center for the first time this season. Ryan Matyas returns to outside center hoping for more help—the Eagle made several line breaks that were wanting for quick support play. Ben Leatigaga will take over Tim Stanfill at wing, after the latter suffered a knock against Ohio.

Unlike the Breakers, the San Francisco Rush benefit from a couple weeks of rest as well only two missing internationals (Tom Coolican for USA and Nick Blevins for Canada). San Francisco spent their time off conditioning after due criticism, but the Rush’s stamina and will have hardened of late. In their game against Denver, San Francisco pushed the fit Stampede to the end before falling short. Against Ohio the next week, San Francisco claimed their first win of the season. In addition to the celebrated Mils Muliaina, San Francisco demonstrated a newfound sense of composure with ball in hand. They also fronted up against a physical Ohio backrow on defense.

The rush will have a new looks at front row as hooker Codi Jones shifts over to loosehead while usual tighthead Pat Latu plays hooker. Latu struggled to make throws against Ohio, so look for Jones to take over lineout duties if things go curly. David Tameilau drops to the bench for the Rush, as Jeremey Laenaerts of Central Washington gets the nod at lock. In the backs, San Francisco is led by Volney Rouse and Orene Ai’i with Muliaina at outside center. Jake Anderson returns as a starter, this time as a wing with Mike Haley.

For San Diego, Phil MacKenzie is key as he slots in at inside center. He will be tasked with leading the defense against a creative, but physical San Francisco midfield. If MacKenzie and Matyas can keep the Rush bottled up on first phase possession, the Breakers backrow will be well-possession to slow ball.

San Francisco will need to keep the penalty count low and keep San Diego on the far side of the field. The Rush have a tendency to play from anywhere, which, while exciting, could be turn into lots of points with Kurt Morath pulling the strings and kicking the points.

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