GLENDALE, CO – Denver won the first ever PRO Rugby match 16-13 over Ohio on Sunday at Infinity Park. The game was won on a penalty kick by Will Magie in extra time. The penalty was won 5 meters out from the try line and 5 meters in from touch. Denver captain Pedrie Wannenburg made the decision to take the penalty goal attempt. “Will [Magie] was running toward [the spot] saying he’ll have it. I said okay, I believe you.” And the captain’s trust was rewarded.
Denver won the match in a manner that procrastinators everywhere should find endearing. For most of the first 70 minutes, an Ohio win seemed all-but certain. With about 10 minutes to play, though, Denver was trailing by 10 but came to life at the same time Shaun Davies was sent off with a yellow card for Ohio. Michael Al-Jiboori scored the first try for Denver after a sustained spell of pressure that included the Davies yellow card penalty. Replacement Nick Wallace scored the try that tied the match up at 13 with only a few minutes to play.
Ohio head coach Paule Barford said, “I am absolutely just gutted. We were 4 tries better than that. The game should’ve been done by the half. But kudos to Denver for coming back.”
That late comeback was possible in part because Ohio made 4 knock-ons of sure try opportunities. First, Davies started his slide into the try zone early and the ball popped free before he crossed the line. Later, Taylor Howden, who had a great match, was put into the clear by Roland Suniula after a break by JP Eloff. The ball seemed to come free for no real reason, other than the cold and the wet. In the second half, Matt Hughston made a good break inside the Denver 22 but could not hold onto the ball as he went to ground it. Later, Howden made a good run and then a great chip, but Robbie Shaw knocked on as he tried to gather the ball.
Ohio’s biggest name, Jamie Mackintosh, seemed pleased enough with the start of his American journey. “It was a great way to start the competition. It was pretty trying conditions. The ball was a bit slippery, there were a lot of mistakes but at the same time some pretty nice rugby. [The extra time] created a bit more of an occasion…. Our team showed they’re a tough bunch and we worked really hard. Credit to Denver. They stuck in there and made some really good decisions at the end of the game. They kicked well and put us under a lot of pressure.”
When I spoke with Wannenburg, I opened by leading him with, “Good way to start the competition today?” He answered, “Good way or difficult way?”
Ohio went into halftime up 13-3 in part to the strong play of their centers, Suniula and Howden. Several times, Howden was able to find space. “JP’s [Eloff] a good distributor of the ball, and Shaun [Davies] and the forwards were giving a good platform. I was lucky to find a bit of space. Unfortunately, 4 of us weren’t able to finish over the line.”
Denver had the edge in territory early on, but Suniula scored the first try of the tournament after winger Spike Davis made a strong run when Ohio decided to attack from inside their 22. With a conversion and then penalty for Davies, Ohio was up 10-0 after about 30 minutes. Before the half, Niku Kruger kicked a penalty goal when Ohio were caught offside. 13-3 at the half.
Suniula had to leave the game at half time because of a concussion. Before he left, he had several strong runs and big hits. Ahmad Harajly also had to leave the game at half time with a knock.
Before their late push at the end, Denver had several flickering moments looking dangerous in attack, but failed to build pressure with ball-in-hand. In the second half, they tried to keep Ohio in their half – a tactic that bore some good territory for them. The Denver forwards did not have much trouble defending near the breakdown; Ohio’s opportunities were coming wider out. When Ohio did try to keep the ball in close, they failed to make much progress.
When Howden was asked about the standard of play, he answered, “Much quicker, the physicality is higher as well. The speed and physicality level’s a bit of a jump up from PRP (Pacific Rugby Premiership).”
The scrums were largely an even contest, though Denver was able to make things difficult for Ohio at the lineout.
Denver showed their strength and composure today. For Ohio, they have reason to continue to believe they are a dangerous side.
Attendance: Around 2,000.
1) Jamie Mackintosh 2) Peter Malcolm 3) Angus MacLellan 4) Pierce Dargan 5) Ryan McTiernan 6) Filippo Ferrarini 7) Matt Hughston 8) Sabastian Kalm 9) Shaun Davies 10) JP Eloff 11) Alex Elkins 12) Taylor Howden 13) Roland Suniula 14) Spike Davis 15) Ahmad Harajly 16) Demecus Beach 17) Cameron Falcon 18) Anthony Parry 19) Dom Pezzuti 20) Chad Joseph 21) Chris Schade 22) Robbie Shaw 23) Mason Baum
1) Luke White 2) Zach Fenoglio 3) Benn Tarr 4) Brodie Orth 5) Christian Wiessing 6) Logan Collins 7) Peter Dahl 8) Pedrie Wannenburg 9) Niku Kruger 10) Ata Malifa 11) Michael Al-Jiboori 12) Michael Garrity 13) Chad London 14) Martin Knoetze 15) Will Magie 16) Nick Wallace 17) Soane Leger 18) Jake Turnball 19) Gannon Moore 20) Zac Pauga 21) Bobby Impson 22) Max De Achaval 23) Dustin Croy