Back-and-forth affair in San Diego ends victoriously for PRO Denver

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - The top two teams in PRO Rugby clashed June 5 when Denver scored a late converted try to turn back San Diego, 24-23. The Week 8 contest marked the halfway point of PRO's inaugural season, and while the weekend only produced one match, the back-and-forth fixture did not disappoint the fans at the University of San Diego's Torero Stadium.

Undisciplined play marred the first 20 minutes of an otherwise edge-of-your seat game. Penalties allowed both sides to take a few attempts at goal during the opening exchanges. Though San Diego fly half Kurt Morath was able to connect with one at the five-minute mark, both he and his counterpart in the No. 10 jumper, Will Magie, missed on two early attempts.

The back line of the home team, led by internationals Phil Mackenzie, Andrew Suniula, and Mike Te'o, made successful linebreaks in Denver's half, but failed to build pressure in the red zone and settled for a 6-0 advantage after Morath's penalty in the 35th minute.

Needing a spark, USA Rugby AIG Men's Junior All-American captain and Denver flanker Hanco Germishuys put San Diego on its back foot with a hard-charging run. With the attacking platform now set, a skip pass found the hands of Maximo de Achaval and the full back dove over the line for the game's first try. Magie's conversion put Denver ahead, 7-6.

It appeared the visitors would head into the locker room with the lead despite playing the majority of the opening half on defense, but a no-wrap tackle by Ata Malifa sent the center off with a yellow card, and a Morath penalty followed to put San Diego back in the lead before the halftime whistle, 9-7.

The second half's initial pressure was applied by Denver, and allowed Magie to put Denver ahead with his lone successful penalty of the match four minutes into the second frame. Denver's inability to gather the ensuing kickoff put Morath, who scored 28 points during the 2015 Rugby World Cup playing for Tonga, in position to slot his fourth penalty before adding a fifth for San Diego soon after.

Trailing, 15-10, Denver's Christian Wiessing blitzed San Diego's back line and intercepted a floating pass out of the hands of Te'o, and galloped under the posts for a converted try.

A sixth lead change was recorded when Morath's sixth and deepest penalty kick of the day split the uprights.

Denver continued to kick into Te'o's arms even though the full back carved through its defense on a counter attack for a would-be try called back for obstruction in the first half. Denver would not be so lucky in the 61st minute when the dual-code speedster collected the ball just inside the San Diego half, and beat one defender before drawing two more and distributing to Kalei Konrad for the score.

Trailing by six points and needing a big play, Magie stabbed a kick deep into San Diego's half and Glendale Raptor try-scoring machine Martin Knoetze scooped up the ball and reached over the line. Magie, who connected on a game-winning kick in a Week 1 win over Ohio, put Denver ahead on the conversion.

The seventh lead change of the match proved to be the game's last, and Denver returned back to the Rocky Mountains with a win and a still-unblemished mark of 6-0. The tough-to-swallow loss for San Diego dropped the team to 4-2.

San Diego remains on next week's one-match slate of PRO Rugby games when it travels to Obetz to face Ohio. The two teams met previously - May 15 when San Diego upended Ohio with a late try. Tickets for the June 12 rematch can be purchased here.

The first-place Denver squad now heads into a bye week before returning to the pitch in Week 10 when it hosts Ohio. Tickets for the June 19 match between Denver and Ohio are available for purchase here.