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After a two-week holiday break, the California Cup was back in action on Saturday for Week Four. With one set of games left until the Grande Final on January 21st, this weekend had a significant impact on the standings. With its 46-28 win over previously unbeaten Life West, OMBAC is one step closer to securing a spot in the final. SFGG came from behind to knock off Belmont Shore, 23-21, setting up a semifinal with Life West next Saturday. Lastly, the Old Aztecs picked up their first win of the competition beating the Olympic Club, 31-22.

With the victory over Life West, OMBAC is in the Grande Final with a win against the Old Aztecs next weekend. For Life West and SFGG, Saturday's match between the two clubs in Hayward, Calif. will determine the second spot of the championship.

Life West at OMBAC

The most anticipated match of the weekend was at the Little Q in San Diego, Calif. between Life West and OMBAC. The Gladiators ventured into enemy territory hoping to preserve their unblemished record against an OMBAC club that blasted SFGG two weeks ago. Both teams played tight rugby for almost the entire game until OMBAC started to pull away in the second half. When the dust settled, OMBAC showed its might for the 46-28 victory.

When asked to comment on the win, OMBAC head coach Jason Wood said, “The key was staying to team plan, despite times when they pressured. We maintained structure and shape on both sides of the ball for 80 minutes and they had lapses that we capitalized on.”

Life West was first on the board as a set piece play from a lineout saw scrumhalf Devereaux Ferris score in the seventh minute. OMBAC responded with back-to-back tries in the 19th and 24th minutes as John Grant and Jed Gillespie each found the endzone. Inside center Kalei Konrad connected one of the conversions and chipped in a penalty six minutes later, 15-7.

The Gladiators narrowed the lead to one point in the 35th minute after Anthony Munoz scored, but OMBAC’s Grant answered back with a try. Konrad converted and added his second PK at the whistle to lead 25-14 at intermission.

Like the first half, Life West came out charging scoring first in the second half. UCLA All-American flanker Zach Bonte closed the gap for the Gladiators to four points at 25-21. Unfortunately, that would be the closest Life West would get for the rest of the match.

In the 50th minute, wing Tim Stanfill crossed the whitewash bursting through a hole in the defense and Konrad cleaned up with the conversion and subsequent PK. Ferris scored his second try late to cut the advantage to seven points, but OMBAC continued to press. Reserve Ian Cassidy added two penalties in the last ten minutes of the match and Todd Clever hammered the final nail in the coffin in the 76th minute with a try to give OMBAC the 46-28 victory.

Coach Wood gave the game ball to flanker Chris Turori. “Despite not scoring, [Chris] performed the best overall in the pack - carries, support and defense. He was our man of the match.”

Discipline was an issue for Life West as three yellow cards hampered its attack and continuity. “Ultimately, conceding 13 penalties, including three yellow cards, is giving too much allowance to a quality side like OMBAC,” Life West head coach Adriaan Ferris said. “Life West spent 30 minutes of the game with 14 players on the field and at one point, were reduced to 13 players for six minutes with two yellow cards. That hurt us. On all three occasions, OMBAC capitalized on our reduced numbers and scored points. OMBAC are a good enough team to win games without us helping them like that.”

Next Saturday’s home match against SFGG is effectively a semifinal with a trip to the Grande Final for the victor. “SFGG is a very good side who have proven year after year that they one of the best teams in the US,” Ferris stated. “They have experience up front and are led by Club Player of the Year, Brendan Daly. They have quality players throughout their line up and will be determined win. We will need to be more disciplined and accurate if we want to win.”

For OMBAC, Coach Wood has his team focused on Saturday’s game versus the Old Aztecs before even thinking about the final. “We just need to focus on our game next week and not think about the final until after next Saturday.”

SFGG at Belmont Shore

After a brutal Week Three loss to OMBAC, SFGG was in playoff mode and rebounded with a close 23-21 win over Belmont Shore in Manhattan Beach, Calif. SFGG got to the field only 30 minutes before kickoff due to flight delays and it showed in its slow and unorganized play in the first 20 minutes. Belmont Shore put up a valiant effort, but SFGG stormed back to take the lead in the second half to win, 23-21.

“It wasn’t a pretty win, but was a tough, gutsy win,” SFGG head coach Neil Foote said. “Once we adjusted and got the forwards to be direct and bring defenders in, we created some space. Instead of running straight lines, we started coming in on angles. Instead of running at defenders, we started running to spaces, which started to create confusion in the defense. We just became more aggressive than them from the middle part of the game.”

Taking advantage of SFGG’s slow start, Belmont Shore pounced on the opportunity scoring a Hilton Mexted drop goal, Mason Pederson try, and Andy Jackson penalty in the first 15 minutes of the game. Flyhalf Isoa Donaldson broke the goose egg for SFGG with a penalty, but Jackson answered with a PK of his own in the 32nd minute.

With less than ten minutes left in the half, SFGG started play better within its attacking structures and creating space down the edges. Wing Fatai Vailala found an opening down the sideline and raced 30 meters to the try line. Donaldson notched the conversion, but Belmont Shore held the 14-10 lead at the half.

With the momentum from the end of the first half, SFGG ramped up its attack in the second period striking first through Donaldson’s second penalty kick. SFGG finally took the lead in the 60th minute when the forwards pressured the Belmont defensive line freeing up Donaldson to break a tackle for a short-range try. Up 18-14, SFGG extended the lead to nine points in the 70th minute when Vailala cut across the field on an angle, broke a tackle to get behind the defense, and beat the fullback to the corner for the try.

Belmont played with desperation in the final 10 minutes continually attacking the SFGG line. A breakdown in SFGG’s discipline aided Belmont in those last minutes as it played with a two-man advantage from a late yellow card and subsequent red. Outside center Mike Te'o scored as time expired, but it wasn’t enough as Belmont was two points short of the win.

Belmont Shore head coach Ray Egan spoke with Rugby Today saying, “We controlled the game in the first half, but let SFGG score before halftime which gave them confidence and brought them back into the game. In the second half, we did not execute as well and we struggled with field position, which hurt us when we missed two tackles that led to tries for SFGG.”

“[SFGG] was good in defense and really stuck in the game when we were on top early,” Egan added. “They scored crucial tries at key moments in the game that shifted the momentum and they took their opportunities well.”

Coach Foote awarded the player of the match to wing Fatai Vailala. “His try in the 70th minute was a beautiful try. It had power, pace, and skill in a real clutch moment in the game. It took us out beyond that seven point margin and in the end, won the game.”

SFGG’s next match at Life West is for a ticket to the Grande Final. “It’s a straight semifinal,” Foote said. “We always knew that we were going to be playing a quarterfinal, a semifinal, and then, hopefully, the final... Life West has some brilliant attackers, they are strong, a set piece team. They have a really good attacking mindset. We need to play in the right area of the field and be more disciplined in what we do.”

Olympic Club at Old Aztecs

In the battle of teams searching for its first win of the California Cup, the Old Aztecs hosted the Olympic Club in San Diego. After a slow start, the scoring of the match picked up late in the first half. On the back of a total team effort, the Old Aztecs triumphed for their first victory of the competition, 31-22.

Old Aztecs head coach Jaco Breytenbach said the key to the game was “believing in our structures and moving the ball effectively through the phases. We were able to get quick recycling from rucks and attacked where we saw mismatched.” 

Points in the early going were hard to come by as both teams created opportunities, but could not finish. Despite difficulties, the first points came after 14 minutes when Olympic Club’s Keegan Engelbrecht kicked a penalty for the 3-0 lead.

About 20 minutes later, the action picked up pace as flyhalf Michael Deel scored for the Old Aztecs with Tim Howard converting for the 7-3 tally. On the next restart, the Aztecs utilized excellent phase play to set up a try for Boomer Roller.  With less than three minutes remaining in the half, Olympic Club responded as inside center Mike Haley scored a try right at halftime to make it 12-8.

Minutes into the second half, the Old Aztecs found themselves in scoring position with a penalty. Lock Lucas Edwards quick tapped the ball and barreled in for the try and with the Howard conversion, the 19-8 lead. Not to be denied, Olympic Club’s Kyle Peterson hit back five minutes later to cut the lead to four points.

As the Olympic Club began to press heavily, the opportune Old Aztecs defense created a timely turnover deep in their own territory. Taking the ball back the length of the field, James Niblock was the beneficiary of the long sequence dotting the ball down for the score. Soon after, O-Club was knocking at the Aztecs’ goal line and once again, the home team caused a turnover and took it back for a Tristan Pickering try.

Up 31-15 with 12 minutes to go, the Old Aztecs locked down their defense to protect their advantage and ultimately, their first win. Although the Olympic club’s Tanner Mohr scored at the buzzer, the Old Aztecs did enough for their first Cal Cup win, 31-22.

Coach Breytenbach noted that the scrumhalf-flyhalf combination of Robert Stortz and Michael Deel was essential in the victory. “Stortz is getting better as a #9 each week. He moved the ball well and is a threat around the fringes, making sure that defenses always have to account for him. Michael Deel, our #10, had his best game of the season so far, working well in tandem with Robert to make sure that we execute our game plan. He was also able to effectively attack the gain line, and broke the line a few times to put us on the front foot.”

In the forwards, Pat Blair and Lucas Edwards shined. “Blair played his best game for us,” Breytenbach remarked. “He had good work rate, with strong carries and good work on defense. Lucas Edwards was again a workhorse in the locks, using his size effectively and making sure we always got on the front foot.”

For Week Five, the Old Aztecs will travel to OMBAC for their final regular season match and the Olympic Club is at Belmont Shore.