TREASURE ISLAND, Calif. – Eight teams converged on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay to play a warmup 7s tournament in advance of the new Northern California 7s Series, which starts next week.
In this tournament, SFGG’s 1st side swept all of their games, while the Sacramento Lions did well to finish 3-1, beating the SFGG 2nds 21-19 in a thrilling match.
Along with SFGG and Sacramento, teams from Olympic Club, EPA Bulldogs and San Jose Seahawks faced off. The two pools were then ranked 1-4, with the top team from one pool playing the top team from the other, and #2 playing #2, etc.
However, both SFGG teams won their pools. SFGG I, led by Mile Pulu, Volney Rouse, Mose Timoteo, Jeff Colata, Bruce Thomas, and Neil Barrett, beat Sacramento 27-7 to win their pool. SFGG II were also 3-0. SFGG 7s Coach Jone Naqica opted not to have his two squads play each other, and instead matched up the SFGG II squad against Sacramento, and his SFGG I squad against EPA.
The Sacramento Lions arrived at Treasure Island with a young team with many players who did not have a great deal of 7s experience (most of the Lions’ regular starters were unable to attend the tournament due to work and family commitments). Salesi Osborne, David Pale, and Joel Scott were the only three players who have played with the Lions 7s team before. The rest of the starting lineup included Andre Whaley, Marshall Godfrey, Hiko Fotukava, and Denzel Manning. Whaley and Manning are former football players who have adjusted quite well to 7s rugby, while Fotukava and Godfrey were highly recruited college players who just finished their freshman years and are back home for the summer (Fotukava at Life University and Godfrey at American International College). None of the Lions subs had ever played in a 7s tournament before Saturday.
The Lions opened up the tournament with a 26-10 win over the San Jose Seahawks. The Seahawks had a big, strong team that pushed every opponent on Saturday. Naqica said they will be a team to watch out for this summer.
Scott won the opening kickoff for the Lions and the ball made its way into the hands of Pale, who goose-stepped his way through the Seahawks defense and scored the first try for the Lions. The second half opened up with the Lions spinning the ball wide to Manning who sprinted down the sideline past the defense to curve around between the posts. After the Seahawks answered back, Lions center Fotukava charged over the Seahawk defenders and pounded his way to paydirt extend the Lions’ lead 21-10. Lions sub Josh Whaley finished the job with a try in the 14th minute and the Lions notched their first win of the day over the Seahawks, 26-10.
The second match for the Lions was against a much more experienced team in San Francisco Golden Gate. Heine McFarland scored two tries and Rouse scored one to set up a 17-0 halftime lead for the hosts. SFGG scored two more tries in the second half, but the Lions would have the last word when forward Andre Whaley picked the ball from the back of a ruck and barreled through a few Golden Gate defenders and sprinted 30 meters for a try in the 12th minute.
Lions Head Coach Iferemie Tawake was not completely disappointed with the loss to SFGG.
“Golden Gate always plays great rugby and it was clear their players are very experienced,” said Tawake. “There were many missed tackles and we weren’t spreading our defense like we had practiced, but there were other moments where we played great defense and kept them out of the try zone. This game showed we have much to work on, but it also showed we can be competitive with a great team. We know where we need to be and I think these guys are capable of getting there.”
Sacramento won their third game of pool play over Olympic Club. Scott, Pale, and Fotukava all scored in the first half to stake Sacramento to a 19-0 lead. The two teams traded tries in the second half, but the Lions won easily 29-10.
“I don’t think Olympic Club brought their best team,” said Naqica, who saw his #1 team also play and beat O-Club. “They are going to be better.”
In the final match of the day between the top teams, SFGG easily outpaced East Palo Alto to finish 4-0. Meanwhile things were a bit more dramatic between Sacramento and SFGG II.
SFGG kicked off and the ball went to Lions forward Joel Scott, who, instead of catching the ball, booted it downfield past everyone. Scott chased and got to the ball first, was tackled, but offloaded to Pale, who sprinted 30 meters to score. SFGG answered to make it 7-7, but then, near the end of the first half, Lions forward Andre Whaley bulled his way into the try zone. Whaley was a physical force for the Lions and showed it usually took more than one tackler to bring him down. The conversion was good and the Lions went up 14-7.
SFGG II once again had an answer and notched an unconverted try right before the halftime whistle. They then took the lead 19-14 in the 9th minute, and seemed set to claim more. However, Sacramento’s defense held. Solid effort on the defensive side earned a penalty for the Lions, and Scott tapped quickly, sucked in two defenders, and offloaded to Fotukava, who raced between the posts. The conversion made it 21-19.
SFGG II continued to throw everything at the Lions and were making their way downfield as the Lions played desperate defense and did everything they could to keep SFGG out of the try zone. With time up and Golden Gate pressuring, the Lions forced the ball loose and Pale scooped it up and booted the ball into touch to end the game.
“That was quite a match,” said Lions Manager Aaron Frederick. “It didn’t seem like either team was going to give. SFGG played a great game and were hard to stop. They are very well coached and should be the team to beat this summer. I am proud of the guys for stepping it up at the end of the day. It has been a long day and I know all the teams were tired and it was great to see these guys dig deep to get this last victory.”
Naqica was very pleased with his squad’s efforts, going a combined 7-1.
“We needed to play as a team and work together and we all did that,” he said. “Sacramento is an improving team and they got better as the day went on, so we expect the NorCal competition to be a really good one.”