Pacific Rugby Premiership Preview

This weekend marks the return of one of the premier domestic rugby competitions in the United States, the Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP). 2018 marks the rebirth of the PRP, as conference realignment and scheduling conflicts forced the 2017 season to be missed. In its place, they created the Cal Cup, which served as a shortened version of the PRP to warm players up for their respective divisional schedules. Now that the scheduling issues have been resolved, we have the latest installment of the PRP starting this weekend.

The PRP is made up of the premier teams from the top flights of Northern California and Southern Californian rugby. From Northern California, there is Olympic Club Rugby, the Life West Gladiators, and San Francisco Golden Gate; from Southern California there is Belmont Shore Rugby, Old Mission Beach Athletic, and the Santa Monica Dolphins. We spoke with members of each club to gauge their expectations for the season ahead.

Old Mission Beach Athletic:

Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC), based out of San Diego, are coming off an impressive 2017 in which they won the Cal Cup. "We won the Cal Cup, so in a way we see ourselves as the defending champs going into this PRP season" explained former Head Coach Jason Wood. To replicate that level of success, Wood believes that they will have to "empower the senior players to lead by example." Wood's replacement, Tai Tuisamoa, will be looking for the support from senior players, as he himself is still playing for the side, and from all accounts is doing "an awesome job."

To translate the performance he has done so far into the PR he will have to learn from the team's past mistakes, namely not taking the competition points on offer. This was something that Wood said would be a big learning point, and something that they'd hope to rectify this season.

One of the player's Wood is expecting to help guide OMBAC through the fields of their past trepidation is Jed Gillespie, the former Melbourne Rebel. "He was our hooker for the Cal Cup...he is taking on more of a leadership role this season and that is good for OMBAC." 

While they are excited about their prospects, they aren't getting too far ahead of themselves. While they will be looking forward to going up against Life West, who they faced in the Cal Cup final last year, they cannot look past each week. "Our toughest opponent is Olympic Club and that is who we play on Saturday," said Wood, adding, "Doing that [looking ahead] leads to let downs on the other weeks."

On Saturday, they will be looking for their system to help them get over their line. In Wood's words "We have a basic pattern and we follow it." Unsurprisingly the basic pattern they follow is one centered around groups, and never the individual. "Our players work in mini groups of individuals, always groups of three."

Life West Gladiators:

Life West is the youngest of the clubs to be participating in the PRP, but that does not make them any less deserving of their seat at the table. Despite the fact they are only four years old, they finished second in Northern California's Division I, made it to the National Quarter-Finals, and fell one game short of winning the Cal Cup last year. Their youthful exuberance has meant they are eager to learn from their experiences. Head Coach Adriaan Ferris noted, "As a young program we are constantly facing new experiences...the travel component of the California Cup last year was new to us and we had to adjust... I expect us to perform better on the road this season."

Being a part of the PRP's latest installment means the world to Life West, but they are not letting their excitement get in the way of preparing properly for each game, and it is giving them a rather cautious approach. "It is pleasing to be able to play in high level games regularly. This level of competition only makes our players better...we need to realize that this league is a marathon not a sprint...something to be wary of as consistency is key in any league season, as is a team's ability to continue to improve week to week."

They are expecting a tough matchup every weekend, but their main focus, currently, is solely on Santa Monica. "(We) are simply focusing on our first game against Santa Monica, a team that we have never played before," Ferris stated. While venturing into the unknown, they will be looking to rely on the known: their style of play. Ferris describes it as an unashamedly New Zealand style of play. "We like to use the ball a lot. We definitely try things and at times are not averse to taking big risks."

They will be relying on the strength of their roster to help carry them through their season. When Ferris was asked who he will be looking to lead the team's production, a bevy of names escaped. Names including Zach Bonte (USA Selects), Huluholo Moungaloa, Deveraux Ferris, Matini Talapusi, Fancy Namulauulu, Charlie Brennan, and Jay Finau. With names and skills like this they will surely pose a threat to the title.

Olympic Club Rugby:

After an up and down season last year, Olympic Club is looking to create more stability in their results. One of the ways they have done this, according to their commissioner, Andrew King, is through building a stronger roster. "We have been focused on getting a deeper team and player pool that allows us to ensure that we are able to handle the eventual injuries that come with the sport." They've also used prior experiences in the PRP to learn from their opponents how to "implement professional elements to an amateur program."

For the Olympic Club, they will be looking to Mike Haley, one of their big centers, to be doing the brunt of the work. "Our team is at its best when Mike Haley is getting us go-forward ball in the centers. We are looking to him to have a big year."

The Olympic Club is taking care to ensure that they do not put the cart before the horse the cart. When it comes to preparations, they are taking it one step at a time. However, they still have their eyes on a couple of games. "Obviously this first game against OMBAC is huge for us to evaluate where we are as a team, but there is always something special about our games against San Francisco Golden Gate."

Santa Monica Dolphins:

For Santa Monica, this campaign will be about living up to their potential. After a successful season, and somewhat surprising effort in 2017, where they finished second in Southern California Division I, they will be looking to pick up where they left off. "All credit must be given to the players, coaches and support staff...We hired a brand-new head coach prior to last season. We had imagined that the typical struggles of a new head coach would require a transition period that would have been reflected in the standings. That was not the case," explained Daniel Carpio, the Santa Monica President. Carpio later added, "We have no illusions about how difficult the PRP is, as a competition, from top to bottom. If we are going to replicate last year's results, everything will have to be better."

The Dolphins have taken, what they feel are, the necessary steps to ensure that everything is better. One of the steps they took was to bring in Scottish international Scott Murray in as their forwards coach. "We hope that adding to, and bolstering our positions coaching staff will have a positive impact on our results." Santa Monica's run in the last PRP was less than ideal, but Carpio felt that the results did not reflect the true caliber of the team. "I know that the results in the standings did not completely reflect our ability as a team."

Despite their optimism they are all too aware of the challenges that befall them. They know that for this year to be the year they want it to be it will have to be a team effort. "Every role matters, and everyone has to be an impact player... We expect every week to be extremely challenging ... The toughest team we'll have to overcome, will be the one in the mirror. We'll be challenged to overcome fatigue, physical demands, (and) emotional challenges." Fatigue will definitely be a factor for the Dolphins and the teams that they face, as they like to play an expansive and open style of rugby, utilizing the space, and each man on the field. Pairing this with their want for aggressive defensive lines and high work rate, playing Santa Monica is shaping up to be an ordeal. 


Belmont Shore Rugby:

Belmont Shore had a memorable year last year, making it all the way to the National Semi-Finals before losing to the eventual champions, the Austin Huns. Despite the great finish to the season, Belmont Shore's Director of Rugby, Ray Egan, believes their start was less than ideal. "I think we started very slowly last year but improved every game. We were a young team with some players playing in their first season in senior rugby... we are hoping that we can get a better start to the season this year and build on our experience."

Belmont is as excited as anyone for the PRP to be back this year. Egan believes that it is a great vehicle to grow the game, and the experience and knowledge of not only the fans but the players too, highlighting a few examples, "I think it's great for rugby on the west coast, as a brand it is strong, has a good following and has a lot of potential to grow... We, like a lot of other clubs, have some great talent that we need help giving exposure to...most recently we have had Mikey Te'o and Joe Taufete'e, which came through our youth and then our senior club and through the PRP."

The next wave of talent the Belmont is hoping to expose to the world is a trio of young players showing incredible promise, and as a trio Belmont will be looking to them to carry the team forward this year. "I am looking for big performances this year from Mafi Seanoa (prop), Sione Masoe (backrow) and Kameron Moeller (10). These are young players with a lot of potential and have the tools to be big players this year." Explained Egan.

Belmont is wary of the opposition that they will face this season, and know that nothing will be handed to them. When asked about the impending schedule Egan replied, "I think all teams are tough match ups...It's hard to look passed OMBAC with their record and with Tai Tuisamoa leading their pack, I think they are the team to beat." Despite acknowledging the strength of OMBAC they weren't going to overlook their first game against SFGG, "We can't really look past that to be honest, we are just looking to get a good performance on Saturday and we know we will be up against it" Egan noted.   

Be on the lookout for some high scoring affairs when Belmont is playing, who, as Egan describes them are, "A hard carrying team that like to attack with width and pace... We try to enjoy our rugby." 

San Francisco Golden Gate:

San Francisco Golden Gate (SFGG) is coming off a perfect season last year, where they went 12-0 in divisional play, picking up a bonus point in all but one of their wins. If you were thinking that they would being hanging their hat on that then you'd be wrong, however. As President Neil Foote explains, "We are not taking too much note of last year's result as we are a new group in a new comp. We're just keen to have an excited bunch of young men looking to perform at their best week in week out."

SFGG, like the other teams, are excited for the return of the PRP. Foote noted, "The last PRP was actually a moment of pride for us as we had some big adversity to overcome with the loss of up to 8 of our regular season starters throughout the comp which really tested the depth of the club. Then we had to beat the teams ranked 1 & 2 within the space of four days just to make the final."

In order to repeat the success of their last endeavor they will be looking at Brendan Daly and Lemoto Fililitonga to lead the way. But they know that if they are to replicate last year's success they will have to get through an incredibly tough schedule "The good thing about the comp is the level of intensity across the board. Obviously OMBAC and Life West will be the front runners but there will also be major challengers against the other teams. There are really exciting players scattered across all teams in the PRP," Foote elaborated. They'll be hoping that their open style of play will translate nicely into the PRP, but they will also need to make sure they are able play within their ability. As explained by Foote, "The challenge for us is that style sometimes leads to our downfall so we are trying to mix flair within structure and power with intelligence." One thing is for sure, they will be an exciting team to follow.