faithful flooded area rugby grounds Saturday to celebrate a most-anticipated inauguration to the 2016-2017 competition cycle: Denver Highlanders, returning Men’s Division 3 (MD-3) titlists and Denver Barbarians, in Men’s Division 2 (MD-2), opened their accounts in large ways, while 2014 and 2015 Women’s Premier League (WPL) champions, Glendale Raptors, staged a thrilling fightback to claim victory over a star-studded, doughty and determined San Diego Surfers XV.
MD-3: Highlanders v Harlequins
Bright and sunny under a cloudless dome at first kick in the MD-3 season opener for Battle of Denver, Part I, between Highlanders and their down-Oneida-Street-rivals, Harlequins, at the Jake. Host Highlanders were looking to continue their 2015-16 league undefeated streak, while the youthful, spirited visitors reckoned to spoil that record.
Highlanders kickoff just brushed the fingertips of a Quins forward before rolling to touch and the home team had a lineout inside their opponent’s ten meter line. That piece won and spun by veteran halfback Zach Dickerson and fast hands from breakdown in the centers on the short side saw flyer Joe Webb fend away a pair of tackles en route to touch down in the corner and it was 5-nil homeboys inside the first two minutes of play.
Swift and lengthy distribution by pivot, Adam Price, spread the defense and saw inside center Mike Backens through a gap at the visitors 22 for a grounding-made-7 by Price, and the scoreline was 12-0 at minute 5.
Webb got his brace in the 10th minute after a fast scoot for 30 meters along touch, deftly maneuvering past a rear-footed defense: 19-0 with the plus-two by Price.
A hard charge by Backens into the Quins 22 and his smooth offload to onrushing blindside Tim Hochstetler enabled the flanker’s crash into goal for the try that made it 26-0 at ‘13 and the home team were scoring at the blistering rate of two points-per-minute.
Harlequins came alive demonstrably with wonscrum ball at their own ten meter line being transferred quick through halfbacks, Louis Hellen (9) and Steve Zaugg (10), to outside center Mike Marlin; Marlin broke powerfully to space and set flyer Jason Barry to finish forty fast for Zaugg’s conversion, and the travelers were onboard with tallies at 26 and 7 in the 15th minute.
A trio of groundings by: loosehead Kevin Howes, (’30), outside center Ahron Osheroff (’32) and fullback Kyle Gross (’37), 2-from-3 converted by Price, had Highlanders ahead 45-7 at referee Rey Hernandez’ midpoint break signal.
Highlanders were quicker to breakdown with better consolidation and recycle at that phase, which put their guests repeatedly on the rear leg; Quins experienced success when their talented three-quarters line, especially outside center Marlin, laid hands on the pill.
The home XV would see a pair of trys-scored in the second stanza, through wing Brooks Pinnick and replacement center, A. Britt (one converted to goal by Price), while Harlequins got theirs when a late stage linkup enabled fullback Kyle Visagie’s crossing to touch down for Zaugg’s additional deuce, and a result of 57-14 was recorded at Hernandez’ last blast.
Highlanders – Try: Webb (2), Backens, Hochstetler, Howes, Osheroff, Gross, Pinnick, Britt; Con: Price (6);
Harlequins – Try: Barry, Visagie; Con: Zaugg (2)
Match Official: Rey Hernandez
MD-2: Harlequins v Barbarians
While less than a mile down Oneida Street across the Cherry Creek, Cook Park’s Cooker Rugby Grounds was sizzling with action as the Denver Men’s Division 2 intercity derby got underway in the heat of the day. Both clubs finished off the pace last session and each was looking to make a statement of intent regards the imminent league competition. One did.
The visiting Barbarians horde had the better of possession and territory early. Six phases of action, sets and penalties-awarded within the Harlequins business district, 10 meters from their goal, and Barbos tighthead prop Marco DeGuire scooped pill from the breakdown three meters out and banged across for the touch down: conversion by standoff Lance Eberhard and Barbarians 7, Harlequins 0 in the 7th minute.
Home team got onboard with a penalty struck from in front of the sticks 25 meters out by fullback Patrick Burmeister and it was 7-3 in favor the travelers at minute 17.
Eberhard matched that with a Barbarians penalty struck from an identical position on the other end of the pitch and travelers stretched their advantage to seven at 10-3 by the 25th minute.
Quins drew level on a fine backline play: inside center Gordon Westmont drifting wide to spread the near channel defense and flyer Paul Bordenkircher filling the space thus created as lightning,
streaking 25 meters to touch down for Burmeister’s conversion and everybody has their hands filled with 10s nearing time in the half.
A Barbarians wonscrum 10 meters from their hosts goal, and a swift snatch at the rear of the set by the backrow lock saw that 8man Ian Christensen storm to goal untouched for a fiver that made a 15-10 Barbarians halftime advantage at referee Steve Gore’s midpoint whistle.
It was speed and precision of the Harlequins against power and skill of the Barbarians in a well-contested first forty of rugby.
Barbarians outscored the Harlequins 22-12 in the second stanza to record 37-22 victory at Gore’s final tweet.
WPL: Glendale Raptors v San Diego Surfers
In an Opening Day barnburner worthy of a Grand Final, USA Women’s Premier League season got underway at Infinity Rugby Complex’ StoveTop turf pitch with Glendale Raptors squaring off against the swift and powerful San Diego Surfers. Raptors are twice-defending national champions, while the San Diego Surfers are bolstered by personnel from the nearby USA Rugby Olympic Training Center at Chula Vista.
Glendale opened their account with a try by flyer Justine Wypych after well-worked Raptors communication between the hashes and the lane along touch had Wypych touch down an unconverted try and it was 5-nil home team in the 7th minute.
San Diego responded straightaway with surging pick-and-goes from breakdown featuring loosehead prop Sam Pankey and backrow lock Matelina Maluia bringing play into the Raptors end of the field before wing Danielle Miano dotted for five and everyone had a nickel at minute 10.
Glendale displayed indiscipline through the first portion of the initial forty, stymying momentum and benefitting the capitalistic Surfers much. The teams traded trys, San Diego’s converted, and the scores were 12 and 10 for the visitors at referee Kurt Weaver’s halftime signal. San Diego’s free-flowing hands along the three-quarters line and effective industry at breakdown made for the travelers margin at the half.
San Diego upped their advantage when engine, Molly Kinsella, broke to space at Glendale’s 22 and loped to goal for the grounding converted by fullback Tia Blythe, and 19-10 the tallies at the 48th minute.
Glendale’s response came in the form of a three-pointer by their own 15, Mary-Ann Gittings, and 19-13 now at minute 51.
The Surfers extended their lead to 13 nearing the hour mark on a fierce blast from Pankey into goal from five meters out was converted by Blythe: 26-13 for San Diego just now on the StoveTop’s energy-sapping artificial surface.
Raptors closed the gap with a try in the 72nd minute bringing the scoreline to 26-18 for San Diego, but with sands fleeing the hourglass fast, a grim determination settled upon both competing XVs, crowds restless along touch and on the East Terrace.
It was flyer Wypych who provided the magic with a brace of dots in the final three minutes to provide her side its first lead since her opening touch down, sufficient for 28-26 victory for Raptors at Weaver’s last blast.