The inaugural PRO Rugby season is halfway over and as things stand Denver and San Diego sit at the top of the table. Both were expected to be in that position prior to the season started and so far Denver has delivered with a perfect 5-0 record. San Diego are right behind them with four wins and their only loss coming to Denver a few weeks back. Only three points separate the teams in the standings. Put it all together and today's match has all the trappings of a must-win for each team.
If San Diego, who have a strong home record except for their loss to Denver, can come away with the victory then they will leapfrog Denver into first place. That would put a lot of pressure on Denver to not slip-up the rest of the way. If Denver wins then it creates at least a full match division between the two clubs. It also would give Denver an aura of invincibility that would make them very difficult to overcome the rest of the way.
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Through five games Denver have kept their record perfect and they have shown great depth both across all starting positions and on their bench. The back-row of Peter Dahl, Hanco Germishuys, and Pedrie Wannenburg has been outstanding. Casey Rock and Christian Wiessing have been great at lock. Just to show their depth Brodie Orth and Logan Collins, two players that could start on almost any team, are on the bench.
Where Denver have a major strength is in their front-row. Ben Tarr has been a revelation this year while Chris Baumann continues to improve. A few weeks back it was their front-row and forward group that helped Denver to the win. However, they are coming up against a much improved San Diego forward group. The return of Joe Taufete'e has helped while Jake Ilnicki was a welcome addition last weekend. They are no longer being pushed backward and instead have given the team a platform to attack. Even more, Jean Baptiste-Gobelet and Bruce Thomas come into the team and will give them some extra oomph.
The forwards may do the heavy lifting in the match but where it's going to get fun is in the backs. Both teams are stuffed with talent. The battle between the ageless Mose Timoteo and the scoring hero Charlie Purdon is going to be fantastic to watch. Then there is Kurt Morath against Will Magie in what should be a great battle of kickers. Then look at the wings. Tim Stanfill and Taku Ngwenya for San Diego and Timana Tahu and Mike Garrity for Denver. Through in internationals in the centers and very experienced fullbacks and this match is going to be wide open.
If their previous meeting, a 22-16 win for Denver back in week three, is any indication this match will be close. Each team has won all of their matches since that point with some blowout wins and other close results. Denver in particular had a close result against an improving San Francisco team in their last match. It's going to be very close but we think that San Diego is improved enough in the forwards recently to grab a narrow win. Their backs are playing fantastic rugby at the moment and as Taku Ngwenya has settled into the team he's brought some extra flair that gives his team an edge.
The match starts at 8:00 p.m. et/5:00 p.m. pt and can be seen on prorugby.org and One World Sports.
Forwards: Ben Tarr, Nick Wallace, Chris Baumann, Casey Rock, Christian Wiessing, Peter Dahl, Hanco Germishuys, Pedrie Wannenburg
Backs: Mose Timoteo, Will Magie, Timana Tahu, Ata Malifa, Chad London, Mike Garrity, Max De Achaval
Bench: Zach Fenoglio, Jake Turnbull, Luke White, Brodie Orth, Logan Collins, Bobby Impson, Martin Knoetze, Dustin Croy
Forwards: Hubert Buydens, Joe Taufete'e, Jake Ilnicki, David Dolinar, Tai Tuisamoa, Jean Baptiste-Gobelet, Bruce Thomas, Sione Tuihalamaka
Backs: Charlie Purdon, Kurt Morath, Tim Stanfill, Andrew Suniula, Phil Mackenzie, Taku Ngwenya, Mikey Te'o
Bench: Mikey Sosene-Feagai, Mason Pederson, Brice Schilling, Ian Carpenter, Nikola Bursic, Kalei Konrad, Ben Leatigaga, Pono Haitsuaka