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In the last round before the California Cup Grande Final next weekend at Treasure Island, Life West and OMBAC punched their tickets to championship on Saturday. With the Olympic Club versus Belmont Shore match being rained out, the last two games of the competition were win or go home. Life West came back from a 14-point deficit to beat SFGG in the final minutes to win 36-34 and OMBAC bashed the Old Aztecs, 47-8. The Grande Final will be a rematch of the January 7th brawl where OMBAC took out Life West, 46-28.

SFGG at Life West

With both clubs holding 3-1 records, the victor of the Life West versus SFGG match at the Cal Maritime Academy in Vallejo, Calif. would advance to the finals. The teams clashed until the last whistle with punishing runs and colossal hits. SFGG led for the majority of the day until the Gladiators recovered from a two-try lead in the second half to win, 36-34. The victory was Life West’s first against SFGG and the Gladiators will now play OMBAC for the Cal Cup.

Regarding the comeback, Life West head coach Adriaan Ferris said, “It was a huge effort to claw our way back from 34-17 down with about 15 minutes left in the game. There was a lot of heart out there, a lot of attitude shown by the lads.”

“We controlled the gainline enough late in the game to get into the game,” Ferris continued. “SFGG defended desperately. We remained calm and controlled what we could control. We threw everything we had into that last 15 minutes and we did enough to get the win. I was proud of our effort.”

The first score of the match came off the boot of Life West flyhalf Guillaume Cazenave for the 3-0 lead. SFGG had the opportunity to tie with a penalty, but missed. On the ensuing counterattack following kick, SFGG moved the ball out wide. Running the support line, hooker Neil Barrett took the inside pass and scored for his squad’s first points.

The Gladiators responded after a tighthead scrum from 40 meters out. Scrumhalf Devereaux Ferris passed to Cazenave who broke through the SFGG defensive front. Cazenave passed back to Ferris in support and the speedy scrumhalf raced to corner with the fullback draped on top of him for the try. Cazenave nailed the conversion for the 10-7 lead.

SFGG regrouped to retake the advantage with quick hands and dazzling plays by the backline. Starting with a quick tap penalty outside of 22, the ball was spun quickly out to the wing where outside center Ismeli Ratumaimuri made three defenders miss to score. After a Volney Rouse penalty, SFGG further extended the lead after a defensive poach. Quick ball movement out wide found SFGG with an opening on the sideline that allowed fullback Isoa Donaldson to score for the 24-10 lead.

With precious minutes left in the half, Life West set up shop inside the SFGG’s 22 with a five meter scrum. The pack pushed forward and a quarter spin later, flanker Siupeli Sakalia drove into the endzone under the posts for the score. Cazenave converted the play, but SFGG led at the half, 24-17.

Coming out of the half, SFGG looked to regain the momentum it lost at the end of the first half. Life West cleared the ball to SFGG’s Donaldson. It seemed as if Donaldson knocked the ball on during the catch, but the fullback kept playing with no signal from the referee. Donaldson sliced up field and chipped the ball over the last three defenders to recollect it for the try.

Down 31-17, Life West refocused to control possession working itself deep into enemy territory. At a ten-meter scrum, the eightman picked the ball for a minimal gain, but offloaded to Naibuka Tawake for the try. SFGG’s Rouse added a penalty for the 34-22 tally, but ill discipline sent a SFGG player off with a yellow card.

With the man advantage, Life West immediately scored. On a five meter penalty, phase play saw Ferris make a gritty effort to attack the tryline. The scrumhalf offloaded to Huluholo Moungaloa who barreled in for the try.

Having the momentum and man advantage on its side, Life West pressed the issue again to get into scoring position. With its back up against its own tryline and less than five minutes remaining, SFGG tried desperately to keep the Gladiators out of the endzone. In the 77th minute, Life West was awarded a five-meter penalty.

“We had a two pod set of forwards off the penalty mark,” Life West flanker Siupeli Sakalia stated. “SFGG marked both of our pods and I was lining up far toward my flyhalf. I look up and see SFGG’s flyhalf and scrumhalf marking me, so I gave a sign to my scrumhalf (Ferris) as he got ready to tap and go to hit me out wide because of the mismatch. That's what he did and I ran it in. It was a smart play by my scrumhalf to spot me out wide. Credit to him.”

SFGG attempted to charge back in the waning moments of match, but it couldn’t get close. As the final whistle blew, Life West celebrated its 36-34 victory and entry to the Cal Cup Grande Final.

Rugby Today spoke with SFGG head coach Neil Foote after the game for his thoughts. “It was a pretty intense game. Both teams played with everything on the line. A lot of ball movement and the tackling was ferocious. We just lacked a bit of composure in critical moments.”

“Just before the end of the half when we had a 24-10 lead, we let them into our 22 and they scored the try right on halftime,” Foote added. “The same thing happened towards the end of the game where we were just hanging on and our discipline let us down. We got two yellow cards where we had 13 players at one stage in the last ten minutes... We can’t play short against good teams. That’s been a real problem for us all season.”

Coach Ferris indicated that it was a total team effort to earn the win, especially in the forwards. “They went up against a tough and formidable SFGG pack and got the job done... Siupeli Sakalia was enormous for us. His size and speed caused problems for the defense all day. Huluholo Moungaloa was tireless in his work in the tight. Zach Bonte and Devereaux Ferris both had big games for us again this week but for me, it was a total 23 player team effort.”

With the Grande Final against OMBAC on the horizon, Ferris said that sticking to the gameplan will be key. “Naturally, we are excited to be in the final, but we know it will be a tough game. Having played OMBAC already, we know they are good side. We need to get our discipline right against OMBAC. That cost us the game against them in the last round.”

Old Aztecs at OMBAC

All OMBAC needed to do to advance to the Grande Final was to knock off the Old Aztecs, who picked up their first win last weekend against the Olympic Club. At Dusty Rhodes Park in San Diego, Calif., OMBAC made a statement for the final blasting the Old Aztecs, 47-8. Fullback Zach Pangelinan was outstanding racking up a hat trick in the first 25 minutes of play.

After the Old Aztecs’ Tim Howard connected on a penalty to start the match, OMBAC took control. Pangelinan was a beast with three early tries and Kalei Konrad added a conversion and penalty for the 20-3 lead. Outside center John Grant dotted down two more before the end of the half to extend the advantage to 30-3.

OMBAC picked up where it left off in the second half as Ian Cassidy intercepted an Old Aztec pass for the try and Jed Gillespie added another. The Old Aztecs’ Boomer Roller broke his team’s scoring drought with a score, but Anthony Kalani’s try late put the final nail in the coffin for OMBAC to win 47-8.

Head coach Jason Wood attributed the OMBAC win to consistency and an overall defensive effort. “Our defensive shape and line speed was outstanding and enabled us to shut them down so we could control the game... Pangelinan got us going with three tries in the first 25 minutes - his play was exceptional.”

Commenting on the key to the match, Old Aztecs head coach Jaco Breytenbach said, “Fitness, work rate, and execution. OMBAC has weapons all over the park, with some quality backs. We matched them well in the forwards, but we lost our #10, #12, and #13 in the first 25 minutes. That disrupted us and OMBAC was able to take full advantage of that, playing expansive rugby. But even with those guys on the field, we would have struggled to keep pace. They have assembled a championship quality team and fully deserved the win.”

OMBAC’s last obstacle in the way to the Cal Cup is Life West next Saturday. “This is big for OMBAC, a great crew of guys that deserve it,” Wood remarked. “We just need to stick to what we've been doing and not try to over complicate things this week.”