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The 2015 NorCall Division II opening weekend featured the defeat of the unbeaten division champion, a 61-point blowout, the DIII National Runner-Up earning their first DII win, and a one-point victory.
The Sacramento Blackhawks were 12-0 in the division last year and made it to the round of 16 before being narrowly defeated by Snake River. Their opponent this weekend was the Vacaville Old Dogs, who were 9-2 last year with the only losses to Sacramento. Behind six tries and a kicker who was perfect on the day, Vacaville got their first win of the season, 45-17.
Inside center Conner Kanellis, flanker Patrick Wehner, hooker Brett Fortney, and flanker Joe Powell each had a try for the Old Dogs. However, flyhalf Matt Hensley shined with two tries, six conversions, and a penalty kick. Coach Chris Motes stated that Hensley, “kept us organized and was able to launch very effective moves from set piece possession.”
For the Blackhawks, Flanker Taliauli Finau, fullback Rob Carter, and flanker Rich Knight each scored a try, and Carter added a conversion. Sacramento coach Ben Parker stated, “The Blackhawks created enough scoring opportunities to win, but a combination of lack of accuracy in finishing coupled with the determined defense from Vacaville was the difference on the day.”
Rugby Today asked Motes what was the deciding factor of the game and he said, “Consistent defensive pressure causing turnovers, maintaining structure, winning the set pieces, supporting with numbers, and moving the ball to open space.”
The Sacramento Capitals started the season with a bang ripping off nine tries by six players en route to a 64-3 drubbing of the Chico Mighty Oaks. The hosting Mighty Oaks did not help their cause by committing two yellow cards. The few points for Chico were scored by flyhalf Jacob Velikonia on a penalty kick.
Outside center David Sallee Jr., inside center Michael Dopson, and scrumhalf Tyler Harrison each scored two tries for Sacramento, and lock Casey Spaich, prop Zach Finney, and reserve flanker Tui Seagai each scored one try. Harrison further contributed with a penalty kick and was 8-for-9 on conversions.
“A lot of our guys are still trying to get used to our new pattern of play,” Capitals coach Mason Gunn said. “We had six new players that started on the A side game. After our practice and scrimmage versus the Olympic Club last weekend, we were able to figure out a couple of things about our pattern of play and defense.” Coach Gunn commented that retaining control of the ball and having more possession were the biggest contributors to the victory.
After reaching the DIII National Championship last year, the Life West Gladiators moved up to DII eager to face stiffer competition. Their first test was travelling to B.A. Baracus, who finished third in the division last year. Life West prevented their opponent from entering the tryzone, but Baracus would not make it easy. Baracus’ flyhalf Stuart Campbell connected on eight penalty kicks. However, the Gladiators scored five tries to win 36-24.
Life West’s first points were from a penalty kick by halfback Devereaux Ferris, and Baracus countered with three PKs to take a 9-3 advantage. The Gladiators took a 10-9 lead when flyhalf Junior Helu scored a try and Ferris tacked on the conversion. Baracus answered with three more PKs, and Life West responded to cut the lead to one point after fullback Travis Atualevao scored in the corner, 18-17.
Baracus did their best, but could only come up with PKs. One more PK made the score 21-17, but Life West took the lead after lock Chris Walker muscled through to the try line and, with the kick, made the score 24-21. Baracus connected on another PK to tie the game at 24-24.
Wing Setefano Latu broke the stalemate and hooker Sione Tovi closed the door with tries for the Gladiators. Ferris’s only miss on the day was the last conversion. The final score was 36-24, and Life West celebrated their first victory in DII.
“Stuart Campbell, our flyhalf, was only person putting points on the board that day,” Baracus coach John Kuhns. “Stuart was the man of the match for the day, he did really well. Anytime when we were within 30 meters of the posts, he is usually pretty accurate with his foot and that’s where our points came from on the day.”
“We expected a lot from Life. We knew they were a storied program in Georgia, so we were expecting a fairly classy game from them and we got as such. I think where we were better than them on the day was discipline, especially around the breakdowns. Our fitness was good and our defense was pretty damn good. I’m pretty proud of that. The game for us was mostly reactionary. We weren’t really able to get into our systems as well as we wanted to. Meaning we weren’t able to execute on certain set piece plays.”
The final game of the weekend came down to the wire with the Diablo Gaels scoring a try and conversion with no time left to edge Berkeley RFC, 26-25.