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OMBAC's Todd Clever with the try vs SFGG. Pink Shorts Photography - Connie Hatfield Photo.

With over 240 points scored in the three California Cup matches this past weekend, the offenses were on tilt as OMBAC, Life West, and Belmont Shore added victories to their records. OMBAC nearly doubled up SFGG, 62-36, to explode in the second half behind hat tricks from Todd Clever and John Grant. With five players returning from the dissolved San Francisco PRO team, Life West remained undefeated dispatching the Olympic Club, 46-23. Lastly, Belmont Shore withstood an assault from the Old Aztecs to win late picking up its second consecutive victory, 44-31.

After dropping last Saturday’s match to Belmont Shore, OMBAC needed a strong performance against SFGG to keep its Grande Final dreams alive. After playing tight rugby for 40 minutes that saw SFGG lead by a point at halftime, OMBAC surged in the second half scoring six tries on the way to a 62-36 victory.

Commenting on the difference in the two halves, OMBAC head coach Jason Wood said, “We were not committed‎ to the man up tackles in the first 20 minutes, but once we sorted that out and started making it difficult on them, we were able to turn the ball over and then control possession scoring through multiple phases. Once we got those phases going, we were able to pour in the tries.”

Fresh off its victory against the Olympic Club, SFGG built a 12-0 lead in the first five minutes with scores from Isoa Donaldson and Brendan Daly. OMBAC responded with a try from Todd Clever, an OMBAC and USA Eagle veteran who joined the club from the Austin Huns.

SFGG snatched back the momentum scoring a try from Pila Huihui and then Donaldson added a penalty to extend the lead to 22-7. OMBAC regained its composure and closed out the half with tries by Chris Turori and John Grant. Kalei Konrad connected on all three conversions in the half, but OMBAC trailed 22-21 at the break.

SFGG opened up the second half with a Daniel Laprovette try in the 43rd minute, but OMBAC put on a clinic of ball control and phase play blowing the game wide open with five straight tries to the 52-29 advantage. Clever added two more for the hat trick and Tim Stanfill, Nick Evans, and Grant joined the fun in the endzone. Konrad and Zach Pangelinan converted three of the tries and Pangelinan chipped in a PK for three more points.

In the final ten minutes, the clubs went back and forth as SFGG’s Joseph Fukafuka and OMBAC’s Grant crossed the whitewash, but the lead was too much for SFGG to recover from as OMBAC won, 62-36.

Reflecting on the match, SFGG head coach Neil Foote stated, “SFGG played really well in the first 25 minutes of the half. We got our attack structure going early and managed to recycle ball well and had some great continuity. We lost our way a little at that point and became more individual than collective and allowed OMBAC to come back into the game.”

“We scored a try early in the second half, but from there on OMBAC had all the momentum,” Foote added. “I thought they changed their tactics well turning to a kicking game to test our back three in the low setting sun and from that point on, they were pretty much unstoppable.”

Wood singled out outside center John Grant as having an exceptional game for OMBAC. “John used his size and speed to exploit mini gaps in the SFGG defense and also to help shut down their wide attack in the second half.” In addition, lock Tai Tuisomoa was a load to bring down, Todd Clever’s presence was felt all around the pitch, the flyhalf Ben Batger directed his troops to tactical perfection.

Still in the fight for the championship with a 2-1 record, SFGG will rest up over the holiday break before playing Belmont Shore on January 7th. “We are looking to move forward to Belmont in the new year in knockout mode,” Foote concluded. “We will work on staying in our attack structures and work on our defensive connections.”

In an effort to preserve its unblemished record, Life West took its show on the road to Treasure Island, Calif. for a date with the Olympic Club. Aided by the boost of returning players from the San Francisco Rush PRO team, the Gladiators took control in the middle third of the game to ultimately win, 46-23.

Life West welcomed back Devereaux Ferris, Pila Iongi, Martini Talapusi, Junior Helu, and Fancy Namalauulu in the fold where the five players contributed a total of 36 points in the match. Outside center Iongi dotted down four tries and Ferris and Talapusi each added one more. Wing Anthony Munoz also got in on the act scoring in each half.

On having the PRO players return to the club, Life West head coach Adriaan Ferris said, “Having them back with the attacking mindset is good. It gives our boys the ability to play our expansive game and we have a lot of players that can put the ball into space and move the ball into space. For us, just having those players there and having the ability to keep the alive gets our team fluidity flowing.”

Olympic Club head coach Ray Lehner was optimistic with his chances of pulling off the upset before the match. “Life West seemed like a team we had a chance to beat. We missed a couple of one on one tackles where we had guys in position to make a tackle and just didn’t. Once that team gets a line break, it’s pretty hard to stop them. They are pretty good finishers.”

For OC, fullback Jake Anderson, hooker Travis Moscone, and inside center Mike Haley each scored tries in the loss and flyhalf Keegan Engelbecht notched two penalties and a conversion.

For the final two games of the season, the two clubs are going in different directions. Life West is in must win mode to preserve its path to the final and has its first ever match at OMBAC on January 7th. Ferris considers the Gladiators as underdogs, but will need a win to keep its postseason dreams alive. For the Olympic Club, it will use its games against the Old Aztecs and Belmont Shore as preparation for the start of the Division I Club season.

In the final match of Week Three, Belmont Shore emerged victorious in a contentious match against the Old Aztecs to win 44-31. After battling to a 17-17 tie at halftime, Belmont used its set piece and depth to its advantage to overcome an early second half deficit to score four tries in the frame. The Old Aztecs managed to cut the lead to one point in the last ten minutes, but Belmont crashed in for two late tries to preserve the victory.

Encouraged by the result, Belmont head coach Ray Egan said the key to the victory was their set piece play. “I think our scrum made big improvements this week. Overall, our set piece was more accurate which gave us a good platform to attack.”

Both squads exchanged blows in the first half with the Old Aztecs striking first. Tim Howard began with a penalty and Belmont’s Mason Pederson answered with a try. It was the Old Aztecs’ turn as Robert Stortz’s try and Howard’s conversion made the score 10-7, but Max Paronelli gave Belmont the lead at 14-10. The momentum switched again as Tasi Toilolo pushed the tally to 17-14, but Belmont’s Andy Jackson connected on a PK to knot the score at halftime.

The Aztecs’ Jeff Diggs started the second half giving his team the lead; however, Belmont’s Cameron Reed responded almost immediately with an unconverted try to only trail by two points. About 12 minutes later, flanker Robert Newcomb gave Belmont the lead and flyhalf Hilton Mexted added a penalty to go up, 32-24.

A Lucas Edwards try cut the Belmont advantage to one point in the final ten minutes of play to give the Old Aztecs hope of the upset. Belmont had other ideas dropping hammer in the last three minutes with tries by Paronelli and Newcomb. At the final whistle, Belmont endured for the 44-31 victory.

Egan was proud of his team’s performance, especially from Newcomb, Mexted, and Paronelli. “Rob Newcomb again showed how versatile he can be to our pack and has a great ability to score crucial tries. Mexted controlled the game very well and was able to get us good field position when we needed to build pressure. But, my [Man of the Match] pick this week was Max Paronelli. He score two very good tries and made some really good defensive plays. He is a big player for us and played very well today.”

Rugby Today spoke with the Old Aztecs head coach Jaco Breytenbach regarding the match. “Belmont moved the ball effectively from side to side, and often took advantage of mismatches. They are also very good at set piece and put tremendous pressure on our set piece. That led to turnovers and they took advantage of the space to score tries. In the end of the day, their bench depth made the difference. The score was 31-32 with five minutes to go, and Belmont was able to get that extra push from their fresh legs to close the game out strong.” 

After the holiday break, the Old Aztecs face the Olympic Club as both clubs are in search of their first win. Breytenbach said his team will focus on “ball retention in contact to create better faster phases and better kicking from hand. We also need to improve set piece. We need to get back to our game plan and ball retention will be a huge factor to make that work.”

The victory improves Belmont’s record to 2-1 and firmly in contention for the Grande Final on January 21st. With a date against SFGG on the horizon, Egan will have his players ready for a fight in three weeks. “We just need to improve in all areas attack, set piece, and defense. SFGG is a very good team with lots of weapons all over the field. We will need to be at our best to compete, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”