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The Pacific Rugby Championship opened up play this weekend with two highly contested games and an easy win for the reigning champions, SFGG. In a thriller, Belmont Shore (1-0) overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to beat Santa Monica (0-1), 29-28. At home, OMBAC (1-0) outlasted the Glendale Raptors (0-1), 24-13, and SFGG (1-0) cruised by Olympic Club (0-1) to the tune of a 59-10 victory.
Week one started off on a bit of a somber note for Belmont Shore, as the teams held a moment of silence for its late assistant coach, Mo Mata, as this was Belmont’s first competitive match since Mata passed away from cancer.
Belmont Shore got off to a slow start and trailed at halftime, 20-10. Belmont opened the scoring with a penalty, but off the restart Santa Monica caught Belmont Shore napping with a grubber kick to the blindside winger for a try under the posts. Santa Monica tallied a second try about five minutes later after it charged down a kick on the Belmont goal line. The ball bounced off the upright and Santa Monica jumped on it for a 14-3 lead.
“We were under a lot of pressure in the first half,” said Belmont Shore coach Ray Egan. “We were without much possession of the ball, we turned it over too much.”
Belmont Shore made some changes at halftime and started to play a forward-centric game. “We got some very well-worked tries and tried to keep it tight,” Egan added. Belmont scored three close-range tries and ended up with a 29-23 lead late in the game.
“All game our scrum was very dominant and seemed to be threatening all the time. As the game wore on the scrum became stronger and we were able to turnover Santa Monica ball which very much helped us in our own half,” Egan stated.
In the final few minutes, Belmont had two players yellow carded. Santa Monica was able to outflank the Belmont defense for a try in the corner. The conversion was missed, however, and Belmont was able to wind down the clock for the victory.
In other action, Glendale traveled to San Diego to take on OMBAC. The first half saw both teams shake off some early season rust. “There was a lot of hesitancy from both teams, and it probably showed that Glendale didn’t have any warm-up matches," said OMBAC captain Ian Denham.
In the first half, OMBAC was only able to muster penalties. Nevertheless, OMBAC led 9-8 going into the break. “We were getting ourselves in great position, but we were more than happy to take the points in the first half,” said Denham. “We knew if we kept putting the pressure on we would score in the second half.”
OMBAC finally tallied its first try of the afternoon shortly into the second half. OMBAC had superb performances from its back row, including newly acquired Paul Derham from University College Cork in Ireland. OMBAC will receive a boost to its back row when Todd Clever makes his return. Clever is currently spending time with his family after a long stint in Japan, and will be joining the squad in the coming weeks.
An early season victory over Glendale provides a lot of confidence for the San Diego side. After all, Glendale finished the inaugural PRP season with the best record in the league and as runner-up to SFGG in the in the final last year.
“Glendale beat us 28-14 in this fixture last year, so that turnaround in score line was probably more rewarding than beating the team at the top of the table last year,” Denham indicated.
In the final game of the day, SFGG used a strong second half to run away from Olympic Club, 59-10. Pila Huihui opened the scoring to give SFGG an early 7-0 lead. It was the first of his six tries on the afternoon. Olympic Club responded with a penalty, but Huihui scored his second of the day, followed by a try from Rickey Reynolds.
Towards the end of the first half, Colin Hawley dotted down for Olympic Club, cutting the lead to 19-10 at the break. It was all SFGG in the second half, however, as Golden Gate scored 40 unanswered points, including four more scores from Huihui.