Express back to winning ways as Aviators pad PRO lead

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - Two weeks after handing Denver Stampede its first loss of the inaugural PRO Rugby season, the Aviators out of Ohio flew into first place in the standings with a 44-21 handling of the league's best Californian outfit: San Diego.

Elsewhere, recently-capped Eagle Langilangi Haupeakui scored two tries and hounded the San Francisco Rush on offense and defense in a Man of the Match performance in Sacramento Express' second win, 43-19, of the season. PRO Rugby action continues in Week 13 with the Week 12 winners clashing at Bonney Field Saturday, July 9, and Denver hosting the Breakers at CIBER Field on the campus of University of Denver Sunday, July 10.

Since an overtime loss to Denver on PRO's opening day, Ohio has stumbled just once on the way to overtaking the Stampede as the league's No. 1 - albeit with two games in hand. Heading into Sunday's drubbing of San Diego, the Aviators had already dotted down beyond the end line 52 times in nine 80-minute stretches, the most of all five teams.

PRO-leading try-scorer Aaron 'Spike' Davis dotted down twice in Sunday's victory at the Aviators' "Fortress Obetz," but it was Dylan Fawsitt's brace that set the tone early in the match. Following a penalty apiece for capped Eagle Shaun Davies and Tongan international, and league-leading points-scorer, Kurt Morath, the Ohio hooker held onto the ball in a driving maul from a five-meter lineout to score the match's first try after 20 minutes.

Davies and Morath traded penalty goals to bring the score to 13-6 in the 27th minute, and San Diego was burned from the 27th-minute restart. Claiming the kick at their 22, the Aviators scored a patented full-field team try, with Fawsitt blazing down the field to receive Dominic Waldouck's pass in front of Davis and the try line to bring the score to 20-6, where it would remain until halftime.

Ohio No. 8 Riekert Hattingh was able to fend off an attempted tackle from Mike Te'o following a 49th-minute scrum to extend the lead to 27-6, and Morath kicked his third successful penalty minutes later for a 27-9 scoreline.

Davis received the first pass from a ruck meters from the San Diego try line in the 61st minute and was able to bulldoze his way through both Sione Tu'ihalamaka and Canadian international Phil MacKenzie to place the ball on the line for Ohio's ninth bonus point in 10 matches. Not two minutes later, he intercepted Andrew Suniula's pass as the Breakers crossed midfield to find an open field ahead of him for try No. 2 and a 39-9 Aviators lead.

Not far behind Davis in the try-scorers table, Sebastian Kalm scored his ninth try of the season, Ohio's last of the game, before Tom Bliss and Jeffrey Kalemani each dotted down consolation scores for the Breakers to bring the final score to 44-21.

In San Francisco, where the Rush were 1-2 at Boxer Stadium, San Mateo native Haupeakui made himself comfortable from the opening restart a week after making his international debut, setting up tries for both Cam Falcon and Cody Jerabek by the 12th minute of the game. A five-meter scrum five minutes in was taken from the back by the No. 8, and he held off two defenders to inch towards the line before his hooker finished off the attack over the line.

Five minutes later, following successive penalties against Sacramento inside its 22, Patrick Latu's five-meter lineout throw went over his teammate's head and taken by the wind into the awaiting arms of Haupeakui. With seven of the Rush's forwards involved in the set piece, Haupeakui stepped both Volney Rouse and Jake Anderson to breach the defense, and showed serious pace on his way to San Francisco's 10, where he offloaded to scrum half Jope Motokana. The Express moved possession quickly after Motokana was tackled at the 22, and Alex Hodgkinson waited just long enough before giving the ball to University of Wyoming's Jerabek along the touch line for a 12-0 lead.

Cutting down Rush scrum half Devereaux Ferris in the 20th minute put Haupeakui in perfect position to receive Nemia Qoro's offload when Motokana's stand-up tackle knocked the ball out of Orene Ai'i's hands. The No. 8 again showed his speed in catching the then-attack-minded Rush off guard to run 60 meters for his first try of the match and a 19-0 Express lead.

To make matters worse for the home side, 100-cap All Black Mils Muliaina, who was beaten on Jerabek's try, was forced off the pitch following Kyle Sumsion's 25th-minute try. Sacramento's Ryan Thompson also found himself out of the game ahead of the seven-point play, injuring himself in pressuring Martini Talapusi into touch five meters from the line to set up the score.

The 26-0 lead was at risk in the 29th minute when Ai'i smartly took a quick tap at the attacking 22. Jerabek, not back 10 meters, took the Kiwi center into touch, giving match official Derek Summers no choice but to send the wing to the bin for 10 minutes. David Tameilau needed just one fend to score from a five-meter scrum during the same attack, and Ai'i went over from the ensuing restart to cut Sacramento's lead to 26-12. The Rush kept the pressure on with the first frame coming to a close, and Ai'i broke the line and offloaded to Bill Fukofuka for a 26-19 halftime score.

If San Francisco had built any momentum in front of its home fans heading into the break, it was gone by the time the teams took to the field for the second-half restart. Sacramento, now back to 15 men, went on the charge, and Haupeakui beat two defenders from his team's scrum at the attacking 22 to score his second try of the game.

The Rush did not let the 33-19 scoreline lower heads, but the Express kept the match tightly-contested to keep San Francisco from the try zone, and a 70th-minute penalty try from an unbound scrum sealed the 43-19 victory for the Express.

Both of the Express' PRO victories, in Week 1 and Week 12, were at the expense of San Francisco, which finds itself just two points ahead of its northern California rival at the bottom of the standings. Sacramento still has a game in hand, as well, and can overtake the Rush Saturday when it hosts Ohio. The Stampede will be champing at the bit after a bye week to earn all points on offer when San Diego travels to Colorado for a Sunday kickoff in an attempt to regain its first first-place standing. All PRO matches can be viewed live on the league's YouTube channel.