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The start of the new year means the beginning of the 2016 season for the Southern California Rugby Football Union. Six Division I clubs were in action attempting to shake off the winter rust and start the year off on a positive note. Belmont Shore, who captured the SoCal title last season, blasted Pasadena, 69-10, the Downtown Rhinos edged Los Angeles 33-22, and OMBAC blanked the San Diego Old Aztecs, 40-0. The Santa Monica Dolphins were idle this weekend, but will face Pasadena next weekend.

Belmont Shore at Pasadena

Although Belmont Shore’s DI season ended in the first round of the National Playoffs in May, it will look to improve in 2016 and defend its conference title. Aided by members of its PRP side, Belmont Shore exploded for 11 tries by eight players, including a three-try performance from outside center Max Paronelli. Playing at Pasadena’s home pitch, both teams had to work out the kinks, but the experience and skill of Belmont Shore powered them to a 69-10 victory.

“I thought we were better than we potentially were going to be,” Belmont Shore head coach Ray Egan said. “Obliviously, it was the first game of the season and we haven’t had any preseason games, so we were going into this cold... For most of the first half, we were under the pump and it was nip and tuck. Once we got the couple of scores before halftime and straight after halftime that probably sealed the match. Their coach made a lot of changes at that stage.”

Paronelli, who recently graduated to the DI side, scored two of his tries in the first half along with scores by Alex Fletcher and Joseph Taufetee. Kameron Moeller connected on three conversions in the first half and had a total of six on the day.  Pasadena scored its ten points in the first half behind a try by Lyndon Liti and a conversion and penalty kick by Russell Pitts. Belmont Shore led 26-10 at the half.

The floodgates opened in the second half as Belmont Shore scored 43 unanswered points on the way to the 69-10 win. Paronelli, Andrew Jackson, Mafi Malua Seanoa, Yacine Mechekak, Peter Sio, and Peteru Nifo each had tries in the second half.

Commenting on the influence of a dominant victory to start the season, Egan said, “It was a good first hit out. It’s obviously important for momentum to start off with a win, but it was more about the performance. Certain guys stood out and put their hand up. Ian Carpenter in forwards at #8 was firing on all cylinders and Ed Pitts at #12 defensively hasn’t missed a beat since last season. When you have senior leaders who start that way and set the tone, it was very pleasing getting a performance.”

Los Angeles at Downtown Rhinos

In beautiful Las Vegas, Nev., Los Angeles made the five-hour trip northeast to face the Downtown Rhinos. In a match featuring six lead changes and multiple yellow cards on Downtown, the Rhinos were able to endure and pick up a well-earned 33-22 victory to start the season. The kicking combination of flyhalf Elvis Seveali and inside center Hayden Randall contributed 18 points to the victory.

LA led by two points at the half, 12-10, behind tries by Josh Sowa and David Boyd. Downtown’s Brandon Rey scored the Rhinos’ lone try of the first half and Randall kicked the conversion and PK. The Rhinos took the lead early in the second with two PKs, but Sowa scored his second try to put LA up by three points at 19-16. With 12 minutes left, Zakar Stepanian scored a shorthanded try for the Rhinos for the 21-19 lead. LA’s Todd Hugh cut the advantage to one point with a PK, but a try by David Benjamin and PK by Seveali secured the 33-22 win for the Rhinos.

When asked by Rugby Today what was the deciding factor of the game, Downtown coach Tom Carter said, “Team effort and turning pressure and continuity into points. We tried to get points anytime we crossed the halfway line. Also, I think we had to dig deep on the three occasions when we were down to 14 players. We just held onto possession and played good field position.”

“We played average and it definitely showed that it was the first game of the season,” LA’s Nate Heiselt said. “We were penalized in the tackles repeatedly costing us several points as their kicker Elvis [Seveali] was able to make capitalize on several penalty kicks from 50 meters out.

With Belmont Shore on the slate next weekend for the Downtown Rhinos, Carter stated that his team has lots to work on to improve. “We can take some positives from the game, but will also look at all the mistakes we made. Expectations are to try and build some momentum on this win and set ourselves some team goals. It's a tough league we play in. We have Belmont shore next week, which will be very tough game on the road.”

OMBAC at San Diego Old Aztecs

With the match originally scheduled at San Diego, rain closed the Old Aztecs’ field and the game was relocated to OMBAC’s venue. With the PRP not starting until later this month, the majority of the premier side played against San Diego to the tune of a 40-0 spanking. The Old Aztecs attempted to match the skill and experience of OMBAC, but were unable to pierce the defensive front of their cross-town rival.

Tim Barford, Zach Pangelinan, Matt Long (2), Bryce Baker and Anthony Kalani each had tries for OMBAC. D1A All-American and San Diego State graduate Kalei Konrad scored ten points on two PKs and two conversions in his first game for OMBAC.

“It was a rocky start being the first match of a new year,” OMBAC captain Darren James said. “We made typical mistakes in the beginning, but once we found our groove, the scoring, space and opportunities to the ball in hand and spin it wide were there. The forwards were outstanding. Once we got up 20-0, we knew we could win this match, but we don’t need to get complacent. Our focus was to maintain the defensive mentality we have had throughout the preseason.”

Using this match as a measuring point against a high quality opponent, San Diego team president Jaco Breytenbach said, “I was however happy with our physicality and how well we competed at the rucks. Close quarter defense was very solid, but we gave them too many opportunities on the outside to score. We struggled in the set pieces and weren't able to finish when we had chances, so we need to sharpen on those areas. We always see it as a good challenge as we get to play some of OMBAC's top players early in the season before PRP starts, and it was a good chance to see what we need to work on to compete.”

Commenting on how this win sets up the journey for this season, James stated, “This was definitely something to build on. [The Old Aztecs] are a pretty good local side, a battle for San Diego. We held true to what we have been trying to accomplish all preseason. We have been trying to maintain the go forward on defensive tackles and having an attacking defense, which forces turnovers. We have a lot to be proud of.”