The Sacramento Lions kicked off their preseason at home with a 31-5 victory over San Francisco Golden Gate’s DI team Saturday.
The match was tense and physical as both teams struggled with first game angst.
The Lions got off to a slow start as they moved up the field; unable to get steady control of their passes against a determined San Francisco defense. Golden Gate forced a number of knock-ons and turnovers.
“The first half was full of errors that we were making on our own part,” said Lions team manager Aaron Frederick. “We had to settle ourselves down from first game jitters and work on connecting our passes. Some of our new players are adjusting to the game and our style of play.”
The Lions scored the first try of the game in the 12th minute which Golden Gate then responded by scoring a try in the 38th minute just before halftime.
San Francisco Gold Gate is adjusting to a new DI squad this season. Many of the 2013 Elite Championship players who were on the DI team last season are now preparing for the Pacific Rugby Premiership rather than playing Division 1. So this season the SFGG DI team is comprised of players who were on the 2nd side, or DIII team, last season.
“They were an unknown force because of the new direction the program is going,” Frederick said. “It was interesting to the see the reminiscence of last year’s squad compared to the new one we faced. Golden Gate has always had a great team.”
Despite the reputation of the former Golden Gate team, they were unable to stop the Lions offensive dominance in the second halftime.
Eddie Matakibau got the second half to an explosive start with a try in the 46th minute followed by two back-to-back tries in the 50th and 54th minute, one of them by a new player to the Lions Branndon Francis, with successful conversion kicks after each score.
Once the Lions improved communication and passes, San Francisco couldn’t stop the relentless runs and attacks. Lions pulled in one more try to end the game. As expected it was a great warm-up game for both teams before Northern California officially kicks off the Division 1 season on January 11th.
“I was pleased with the guys’ performance today. I think as they got familiar with what they’ve practiced, they started to really move the ball,” said Sacramento Head Coach Ifereimi Tawake. “You never know where the team is at after months of practice and training until seeing them play in the first preseason game.”
The Lions have recruited a number of new players for the season, some of which are adjusting to the elevated competition level and some who are fairly new to the sport. However after Saturday’s game, Tawake is optimistic of the season that lies ahead.
“A couple of the younger guys like Ray Zapanta were really energetic and involved. He just transitioned from high school to the men’s team and he was able to hold his own ground well,” Tawake said. “Branndon Francis, who hasn’t been around the sport much until recently, was able to come around and see what we do as a team. It was a great start for some of our new guys.”
Saturday, Dec. 21, will be the Lions’ last preseason game against Santa Rosa. Before the game, Tawake will be holding another Tawake Rugby Clinic sponsored by the Santa Rosa Rugby Club and Pete’s Sake Community Rugby Foundation.
The free clinic is open to all coaches and players of all ages for both men and women. It will take place from 9am to noon at the Santa Rosa Rugby Club Field. Tawake will be covering basic ball skills, attack and defense strategies as well as game plans and sequence plays.
“I am happy to share my rugby knowledge and passion with Northern California. From the feedback we’ve gotten in past clinics, it has been well received by the rugby community,” Tawake said. “I design the exercises and drills so that those who attend are able to learn something new that they can apply to their skill sets, while still having fun playing the game.”
for more information on the clinic.