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Five weeks of intense competition of the inaugural California Cup concluded on Saturday with OMBAC emerging as champions over Life West, 26-22. At the Grande Final at Treasure Island, San Francisco, Calif., OMBAC built a 20-3 lead at the half only to have Life West surge back with the help of a couple yellow cards. Two second half penalties gave OMBAC enough of an edge to hold off the Gladiators and win the first ever California Cup.
Speaking with OMBAC head coach Jason Wood, he said, “Life West dominated possession and territory, but OMBAC dominated the big breaks and scoreboard which in the end is what matters... We tried to be more patient with the ball when we had it [in the second half]. Life West dominated possession, so the only place we were pressuring them enough was on the scoreboard and we needed to do it more with possession.”
OMBAC set the tone early with fullback Zach Pangelinan breaking the goose egg in the 7th minute with a try and inside center Kalei Konrad added the conversion for the early 7-0 lead. Life West rebounded as flyhalf Guillaume Cazenave connected on a long range penalty into the wind.
OMBAC struck back turning a turnover into points for wing Tim Stanfill. With the momentum, OMBAC kept its foot on the gas scoring two more times before the halftime whistle. A penalty by Konrad increased the lead to 15-3 half way through the period and outside center John Grant took advantage of a weak side gap to barrel in for the 20-3 making try.
In the final ten minutes of the half, OMBAC’s defensive prowess was put to the test. Head coach Jason Wood said that one of the keys to the game was his club’s defensive resilience, “We tackled and reformed our shape well all game long.” In those ten long minutes, Life West pounded against the OMBAC line, but couldn’t break through. Although Konrad was carded off at the end of the melee, OMBAC found itself up 20-3 at the half without incurring an additional damage.
Still with the man advantage to start the second half, Life West didn’t waste time to score. In the 43rd minute, a break from outside the 30 meter line turned into phase ball for the Gladiators. Cazenave evaded the cover tackle of Pangelinan to score 15 meters from the corner flag. OMBAC got Konrad back soon after but, a second yellow card gave Life West the chance to dig deeper into its opponent’s total. Minutes later, lock Alex Pedjase scored under the posts for a forwards try to cut the deficit to 20-15.
Once back at full strength, both teams locked down their defenses, but discipline issues allowed OMBAC to chip in two penalties in the next 15 minutes to increase the lead to 26-15. Each team had their opportunities to enhance their tallies, however, those offensive breaks were thwarted by excellent defensive play.
As the final whistle approached, a strong carry by Maka Tameilau and inspired forward play saw Life West reserve inside center Siaosi Lata score next to the posts. Cazenave connected on the conversion to shrink the lead to 26-22 with only a minute left on the clock. The Gladiators attempted to move into scoring position for a game-winning try, but a knock-on ended the comeback as OMBAC kicked into touch to end the match.
On what winning the Cal Cup means to OMBAC, Wood responded, “We've had a strong team the past three years, especially last year, but just came up short in the big games. These guys – Zach [Pangelinan], Tai [Tuisamoa], Ethan [Willis], Ian [Cassidy], Josh [Vainikolo], Shane [Moise], Jamie [Purcell], and Todd [Clever] - who were all here before this buildup - deserved to win one and they did that.”
Lock Tai Tuisamoa was named the match’s most valuable player. “Tai put in some big hits, especially with go forward runs from our #9 (Jamie Purell),” Wood said. “He set the tone for all to follow. He controlled our lineouts, even in Doyle's absence, and made a huge difference.”
As for Life West, its fantastic season came to an end against OMBAC. “We let OMBAC have a huge advantage in the first half by trailing 20-3 at the break,” head coach Adriaan Ferris said. “Essentially, the difference was that OMBAC capitalized on two of our mistakes – leading to tries... Scoring 19 points to six against OMBAC in the second half showed what we can achieve, but we needed to be more clinical in the first half.”
“It was an intense, physical game and one that we didn’t really play to our potential,” Ferris added, “but, ultimately you have to give credit to an experienced OMBAC side who defended desperately at times and were deserved winners.”
Coach Wood boiled OMBAC’s play down this season. “We don't get frazzled. Against SFGG, we were down by 18 points just 20 minutes into the match and won by 26. Life West controlled the ball, too much in the attacking 22, and we never gave up defending the line. Most of all, we are a true team - one for all and all for one.”
OMBAC doesn’t get to enjoy the victory to too long as it ventures to Texas to face the Austin Huns on Saturday. “It will be a tough match as they are playing to prove they can compete at the elite level,” Wood Stated. “To us, it is more an end of season celebration social trip, but come Saturday at 3:00 we'll be taking the game serious with the intent to win.”
Life West will also be on the road on Saturday as the Gladiators fly to Infinity Park in Colorado to meet the Glendale Raptors, as well as face off against the East Palo Alto Razorbacks for the start of its Pacific North DI schedule.
“It will be a great weekend of rugby and we look forward to facing two very strong teams,” Ferris said. “It will be challenging for us, but we have strong numbers and this is an opportunity to give all players in our program the chance to play against very good sides. It will help the program get better.”
In the remaining matches of the Cal Cup Finals Weekend, SFGG outlasted Belmont Shore, 20-18, for third place and the Olympic Club blasted the Old Aztecs, 50-14, for fifth place.
1st Place – OMBAC 26, Life West 22
OMBAC – Tries: Pangelinan, Stanfill, Grant; Penalties: Konrad (2), Cassidy; Conversions: Konrad.
Life West – Tries: Cazenave, Pedjase, Lata; Penalties: Cazenave; Conversions: Cazenave (2).
3rd Place – SFGG 20, Belmont Shore 18
SFGG – Tries: Rooke, Huihui; Penalties: Rouse (2); Conversions: Rouse (2).
Belmont Shore – Tries: Schilling (2); Penalties: Jackson (2); Conversions: Jackson.
5th Place – Olympic Club 50, Old Aztecs 14
Olympic Club – Tries: Rafferty, Haley (3), Englebrecht, Mohr, Gallo; Penalties: Englebrecht; Conversions: Englebrecht (6).
SFGG – Tries: Iaulualo (2); Conversions: Breytenbach, Persson.