The Sacramento Lions began their preseason on Saturday with a compelling victory over Santa Rosa Rugby Club, 32-18, in rainy conditions in Santa Rosa, Calif. The Lions managed to overcome a feisty DII Santa Rosa side who had got the best of the Lions in their previous two preseason match-ups.
“We knew Santa Rosa is no push-over,” stated Lions Team Manger Aaron Frederick. “They beat us narrowly the past two years, and they made the final four in the DII playoffs last year, so no one is going to underestimate a team like that. “
Playing at Santa Rosa’s home field in wet conditions, the Lions were unable to find their momentum until late in the first half. Santa Rosa got on the board first with a try in the fifth minute when their center found a gap in an eager Lions defense and scored between the posts. A converted kick brought the score to 7-0 and Santa Rosa would hold that lead for the next 25 minutes.
The wet conditions made it difficult for both teams to find their flow on offense. Plenty of knock-ons, missed passes and slippery runs caused potential offensive drives to become turnovers for both clubs. The Lions continued to knock on the door and finally found pay dirt when lock Johnny Green powered though the defense and ran 15 meters for the Lions first try in the 30th minute. The kick was unconverted and Santa Rosa kept their lead, 7-5.
Shortly after the re-start kick, Santa Rosa began what looked like a promising drive with their backline. Suddenly Lions winger Garrett Hawley intercepted a pass and took the ball halfway down the field and offloaded to Lions center Sione Latu, who finished the job with a try between the posts. A conversion from Ratu Rinakama put the Lions on top 12-7 going into halftime.
Lions Head Coach Iferemie Tawake told his players during halftime, “We cannot get down on each other for mistakes. The defensive effort is there but we need to score tries. The ball is slippery and the field is wet, so mistakes will happen. Continue to put the pressure and the points will come.”
The Lions entered the second half with a sense of eagerness. But continued penalties at the breakdown gave Santa Rosa the opportunity to put three points on the board with a penalty kick in the 45th minute, bringing the score to 12-10 in favor of Sacramento. From there, the Lions began to find some offensive energy. After a series of pick and jam phases in the Santa Rosa red zone, Lions hooker Meli Tuiqilai punched his way in for the try. Sacramento No. 8 Nemani Volavola would power his way in for another try in 55th minute and brought the score 22-10.
Santa Rosa would answer back soon after and scored an unconverted try in the 65th minute to bring the score 22-15. Another Santa Rosa penalty kick brought them closer, but the Lions would not allow any further points. Two more tries came from Rinakama and the Lions secured a victory 32-18.
“It took us some time to find our momentum, but we played well in some pretty bad conditions,” stated Lions Coach Tawake. “Coming into a good team’s home field and playing our first game in poor weather, I was happy with the result. But there is plenty we need to work on. Bad weather or not, we need to keep possession of the ball. And although our forward pack played very tough today, our set pieces in the lineout and scrum will need some major adjustments.”
The Sacramento Lions will open up their 2013 spring season at home against Olympic Club on January 5th, 2013. With the Super League disbanding, the Lions have a challenging 13-game season schedule in DI, including matchups against powerhouses San Francisco Golden Gate and Old Puget Sound Beach.
“This season will be anything but easy,” said Frederick. “But with Coach Tawake at the helm and the talented group of athletes we have coming to practice, we believe anything is possible.”