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At the end of three rounds of play in the Pacific Rugby Premiership, only one team remains undefeated with three challengers jockeying for position behind them. In a clash of the unbeaten, OMBAC scored early and often to beat Belmont Shore, 54-25. Looking to build on victory last week, SFGG outlasted Life West at home, 30-22, and lastly, Olympic Club notched its first win with a 17-7 victory against Santa Monica.
After the two-hour trip up the I-5 to Long Beach, Calif., OMBAC hit Belmont Shore hard and fast to improve its record to 3-0. Bolstered by a hat trick from Tai Tuisamoa, OMBAC scored a total of six tries with Charlie Purdon, Albert Harmon, and Tim Stanfill also finding the endzone. Fullback Michael Dillon was 5/6 on conversions and connected on four penalties for 24 total points. Fullback Viliame Longi scored a pair of tries for Belmont in the loss with Robert Newcomb dotting down another.
Player/coach Tai Tuisamoa attributed the win to the superb play in the forwards. “We needed a big game from our forward pack. Belmont has big ball carriers and big solid tacklers, especially their eightman Keni Nasoqeqe... We were able to put some phases together and put our front foot forward in our set pieces. Our forward pack was the difference maker on Saturday.”
Against a potent offense like Belmont, the OMBAC defense stepped up to limit its opponent’s chances. “In the last two games versus O Club and Life West, we started out pretty slow,” Tuisamoa said. “The focus on Saturday was to get a fast start especially a team like Belmont which they come out of the gate hard at home. We responded and started off well in the beginning and I was impressed with that. We really focused on our defense because that is what wins championships. They responded well and we were fortunate to get a W away at Belmont as it is very tough to play them at home.”
OMBAC’s next stop is at SFGG in two weeks. “Golden Gate is always a physical encounter when you go up against those boys,” Tuisamoa said. “I expect nothing less against Golden Gate and I know they won their last two. They are at home and we’re the visitors, anything can happen.”
After a one-point loss to open the season, SFGG is red hot as Golden Gate has reeled off two straight victories including a 30-22 home win against Life West at Treasure Island. The Gladiators fought until the bitter end and led 15-12 at the half. Tries by Eakalafi Okusi and Viliame Huihui and two penalties by Colby Stevens put the game out of reach for Life West despite a late score by Charlie Brennan.
“It was a tight and intense match,” SFGG head coach Neil Foote said. “It was real work for us to take better care of the ball and allow us to build more phases. We applied pressure to the opposition and I thought we had great improvement in that regard.”
“Going into the halftime break only three points down was a plus for us as the wind was a factor which allowed us to control territory a little better when the match was so tight,” Foote continued. “[The signature moment of the match was] a break made by Life West midway through the second half that looked like a certain try but a couple of our boys never gave up on it and forced an error on the try line. I was thrilled with the attitude in what was such a pivotal moment.”
Foote gave his Man of the Match to Akuila Uaisele for his damaging runs with ball in hand. In addition to eightman’s play, Foote thought, “Our forwards really stepped up in our set piece and work rate, we also got some great game management from our flyhalf Elvis Sevealii.”
SFGG believes it has learned its lesson from the first loss and is making the most of its opportunities going forward. “We are pretty happy with how we are tracking, our match conditioning is starting to kick in, we could easily be 3-0 after losing first game in the last play,” Foote concluded. “It was a valuable lesson for us that if we take care of ball a little better we can create more opportunities.”
In the final game of the weekend, Olympic Club beat Santa Monica, 17-7, for its first win of the PRP. It has been a long road for Olympic this season, but a combination of defense, determination, and tries by Josh Tucker, Mark Bowers, and Drew Gaffney led to the victory.
“We have had a pretty tough start to the season,” Olympic head coach Ray Lehner said. “Out first three games were against three of the best teams in the country in Cal, Saint Mary’s and OMBAC. While I thought we had good trainings since then, it wasn’t until these last two weeks against Belmont and Santa Monica that the team was really gelling and coming together.”
"I felt the guys were pretty pumped up for this game,” Lehner added. “We scored inside the first five minutes... I think because we scored so quickly, the guys felt that this was going to be a walk. They started getting careless with the ball. At halftime [trailing by two points], we said look, if we can take care of the ball, take this team through some phases, we can score some tries on them and we did.”
Lehner commended the play of second row Mark Bowers praising his work rate and physicality with and without the ball. However, the one thing that stood out was his running down and catching kickoffs. “Bowers ran down a caught the opening kickoff and it was incredible. It was turning point as we were right on the front foot with the ball in their half and on attack. That was a great moment and he went from strength to strength after that.”
Olympic Club will look to improve on the win in two weeks when they travel to Life West on March 10th.