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The Inaugural California Cup starts this weekend with six of the best club teams vying for the title. Four former Pacific Rugby Premiership teams including SFGG, Olympic Club, Belmont Shore and OMBAC are joined by DI stalwarts Life West and the San Diego Old Aztecs.
Due to the emergence of the pro league, the PRP is taking this spring to evaluate its relationship to professional rugby. The California Cup will fill some of the void, playing a condensed schedule that will be the equivalent of a preseason to the Pro League.
The teams will play a compressed round robin schedule of five games with the top two teams playing in the championships at the end of the season.
“The schedule means that you can’t really drop a game and I am looking forward to the competition style,” said OMBAC captain Ian Denham.
Pro Rugby has refused to release its players to compete on the club level, so many of these players will be newer faces, showcasing themselves for a possible contract down the line.
“We wanted a league or a competition that finished before the pro league started so that we can showcase players in it and that could go on to play pro rugby,” said Life West coach Adriaan Ferris
As a result of the player situation, the competition appears on the surface to be wide open. Without Glendale in the mix, SFGG, in its 50th season, comes in as the early favorite, but Life West will add a new element to the tournament.
“Glendale were a quality team last year. So it is unfortunate to lose them from the tournament but I think that the addition of Life West will be a great addition as well,” said Denham.
Life West has made a steady rise from DIII to the top of DI and is looking forward to the new challenge of playing PRP teams.
“We are thrilled to be joining the likes of SFGG and OMBAC. It is a challenge but we are pretty excited about the next 7 weeks,” said Ferris. “We have a few players from the bay area and a couple of younger guys that are taking the opportunity to come play with us.”
OMBAC always plays everyone tough and will get a couple guys back from injury.
“We have a very similar team from the last couple of years. A couple of guys who sustained injuries last year are fit now,” said Denham.
OMBAC’s first game will be a test against Olympic Club. The Northern California side struggled in recent years in PRP play but a home game at home might be just what the doctor ordered for the start of the new season.
San Diego reached the elite eight in DI last year, eventually losing to Life West in a close game. Coming into the competition, conventional wisdom would dictate these two teams are going to struggle. However, with the lack of pro players in the league, it is up for grabs.
Belmont Shore rounds out the group. Ray Egan is back coaching the group before the pro season starts but the team has had no preseason so coming into week one against Life West.
The season begins this Saturday with the following slate of games:
OMBAC vs Olympic Club
Old Aztecs vs SFGG
Belmont Shore vs Life West