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(Brett Amos photo)

Unbeaten Santa Rosa and unbeaten Fresno do battle Saturday in what will likely turn out to be the NorCal championship match. With just one game left on the docket for both teams after this week, Saturday’s winner will have the huge upper hand in the standings.

These teams, at a glance, are pretty similar. Not only are their records identical, but their point differentials in-league are relatively close (Santa Rosa leads by an average of about 8.5 per game). And if you ask them what their strengths are versus each others, they’ll give you a similar answer.

“I think our backs match up with theirs pretty well,” said Fresno coach Walt Pickrell. “I think our backline may outclass theirs just by a nose, but I think for our team the concern and the focus is going to be on winning the game in the forwards. I think if our forwards can beat their forwards, we’re going to have a pretty good chance.”

“Fresno appears to be a very strong team, particularly in the forwards, and they appear to have a bit of a size advantage on Santa Rosa, and Santa Rosa’s got to have some solutions for the size differential and the Fresno forwards,” said Santa Rosa assistant Rick Humm.

“The characteristic of Santa Rosa is a very mobile and speed-oriented rugby across the board, and once you get away from first phase, Santa Rosa’s players, the breakdown between backs and forwards isn’t quite there the way it is with some other teams. It’s whether the Santa Rosa mobility and quickness can counter the Fresno strength and cohesion in their forwards.”

By winning NorCal, Fresno or Santa Rosa will advance to the Pacific Coast tournament with the #2 seed, which is extremely important this season, as the second seed can seal one of PacCoast’s three bids to nationals with one win at the PacCoast tournament, while lower seeds may need two.

Fresno was the victim of a downright silly PacCoast playoff setup a year ago, which saw them, NorCal champs, spending the postseason at home, while SFGG, the NorCal third seed, advanced all the way to the national semifinals. That hasn’t been forgotten, and Fresno is doing everything it can to prevent repeating the tragedy.

“Personally, I think about that almost every week,” said Pickrell. “One thing that we said last year was that if we weren’t able to win two games back-to-back like that at the Pacific Coast level, maybe we weren’t the team that we thought we were, even though that we felt that we did get a raw deal there, so all the boys are motivated to just keep winning. We’re taking each week from here on out as a playoff atmosphere.”