SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This weekend the top six clubs in California kicked off the newly established and much-anticipated California Cup competition. America’s newest premier amateur competition will pit San Francisco Golden Gate (SFGG), the Life West Gladiators, Olympic Club, Belmont Shore, the San Diego Old Aztecs, and Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC) in a five-week round robin format with a grand finale on January 21st at Treasure Island in San Francisco.
Of the six clubs, four (SFGG, OMBAC, O Club, Belmont Shore) have been playing in the Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP) since its inception in 2013. Two newcomers to this level of play are D1 powerhouses Life West and the Old Aztecs. Straight away it seems that SFGG and OMBAC are the two favorites heading into the competition, as the two clubs have been consistently battling for the top of the table in the PRP over the last few years. SFGG finishing second last season after losing to Glendale in the Grand Final, with OMBAC finishing third in the standings.
Golden Gate has assembled a strong squad again this year, with many of the same players returning as well as a few key players returning from injuries. Their lone preseason match was a 24-12 victory over Eastern Suburbs Rugby Club from Sydney, Australia. SFGG will host the Old Aztecs at Treasure Island on Saturday for the first round of play.
For OMBAC, head coach Jason Wood says that the Cal Cup and 2017 will be about continuity from the 2016 team. “We have an awesome core of returning players with many of them having been here several seasons.” You will see many of the same well-known faces, such as Zach Pangelinan, Brian Doyle, Tai Tuisamoa, and Ian Denham. Coach Wood is also expecting young burner Matt Long to make a big impact on the wing. OMBAC traveled to Tempe, Arizona for their preseason warmup and came away with a 38-8 win. That set the stage for yesterday’s 58-10 trouncing of Olympic Club at Treasure Island, .
Looking at Olympic Club, they are a young team anxious to make their mark against top competition week in and week out. O Club finished 5th in the PRP last season. However, despite their 2-9 record and tough go against OMBAC, this isn’t a team to be overlooked. O Club’s Andrew King feels that this year’s team has possibly it’s best backline in recent history which will compliment the physical forward play that Olympic Club is known for. They will be without Alec Gletzer for the first two weeks while he is with the USA 7’s in Dubai and South Africa as well as long-time standout Colin Hawley due to offseason surgery.
As previously mentioned, the two newcomers to this level of competition are Life West and the Old Aztecs. These clubs have strong ties to each other and though they had vastly different results yesterday (Life West edged Belmont Shore 27-20; Golden Gate topped Old Aztecs 42-19), they are developing quite a healthy rivalry. Devereaux Ferris, son of Life West head coach Adriaan Ferris, played for the Old Aztecs in 2014 prior to moving to NorCal to play for his father. In addition, long-time Old Aztec Jarrod Faul joined the Life West coaching staff last season, and due to player losses wound up playing against the Old Aztecs in the D1 National quarterfinal in Tucson.
In preparation for the Cal Cup, Life West has had to deal with losing many of their former players who went on to play in the inaugural PRO Rugby season, as they have only been released to play for Olympic Club or SFGG during the Cal Cup. Despite that, Coach Ferris remains confident. “We lost 12 players to PRO, yet we continued to grow and develop a number of younger players…Our team is made up of many of the players who got us through to the D1 National semi-finals last year.” They have filled the gaps with a handful of players from the EPA Razorbacks, and a few internationals from Tonga, New Zealand, and France. This club may only be a few years old, but they will definitely contend week in and week out.
Yesterday’s loss aside, they are coming off a 12-2 season in which they finally broke through as champions in the D1 Pacific South, after making the finals for the fourth straight season. They have been building a strong program over the last few years and have added some fire power for this Cal Cup competition. Pat Blair, a consistent member of the USA Eagles player pool, will pull on an Old Aztecs jersey and look to bolster the group of loose forwards. In addition, a lot of young up-and-coming talent will be in the setup this season. Tristan Pickering is a prop from the Sharks Academy in South Africa, Kuztown standout Robert Stortz, speedster Cleeandre Ross from Indiana University and former Austin Black Donell Washington will all be looking to make a difference during the Cal Cup.
Even with all the new faces, the team will be led by the same core players from last season. The impressive second-row combination of captain Bill Down and Lucas Edwards will set the tone in the pack. Tim Howard at 9, Michael Deel at 10, and several combinations of hard-running centers will have the Old Aztecs providing stiff competition this winter. Don’t underestimate them.
Overall, the California Cup looks to be an exciting competition and the teams are ready to get after it. Stay tuned to Rugby Wrap Up for weekly recaps.
Golden Gate 42 Old Aztecs 19
Life West 27, Belmont Shores 20
OMBAC 58, Olympic Club 10
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