Is this the pool of death? It could be. In the Men’s DI Club playoffs, Glendale, Santa Monica, Austin and OMBAC all meet. Only one team will come out of that meatgrinder (yes, we already referred to kitchen implements today, next up – zester).
Glendale is a fairly small team up front, and gets much of the bruising go-forward from USA No. 8 Nic Johnson. In the backs they are smooth and silky, and have plenty of finishers, James Paterson key among them.
Perhaps on paper Santa Monica, the #3 team out of Southern California, might be challenged. But that’s not how the Dolphins see it.
“We’ve had a couple of good weeks of preparation,” said Santa Monica Head Coach Doug Bratcher. His club defeated the Utah Brothers in Utah to earn a spot in this melting pot (sorry!), and did so after dropping behind 14-10 at halftime.
“We were down but in our minds we never lost control of that game,” said Bratcher. “We were very disciplined and I think that helped us. We committed only four penalties in the game. It’s something we have focused on in the season, being disciplined and then when penalties are in our favor, taking advantage, and keeping the scoreboard ticking over.”
What Santa Monica needs to do is watch those final ten minutes. Too often they have seen games slip away, or beaten sides creep too close, in the final ten minutes. Even against Utah, the Brothers scored two tries late.
“For us going forward it’s playing a full 80-minute game,” said Bratcher. “We know we match up really well against the other teams in our bracket. We’re not the biggest side, but we can play.”
Flanker Dave Martini, late of UCLA, and No. 8 Ken Aseme have led this team well – one a former football player with a small amount of experience but plenty of athleticism and brains to learn, the other one steeped in the English system with all sorts of experience.
On the opposite side of this bracket, Austin plays OMBAC. OMBAC was 2nd in Northern California, and is led by a thundering pack, intelligent captain and loose forward Joe Fontana, and the shifty flyhalf Zach Pangelinan.
They take on an Austin team that dominated in Texas, and recently kept their hand in by playing (and beating) New Orleans, and then Lloyds of London, a touring side of former English pros.
“The guys are very excited about the challenge, and so am I,” said Head Coach Lachlan Ferguson. “Last year was my first trip to the sweet 16, and I learned a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable. The guys know we’ve done everything we can to prepare. We know we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us, but we’re quietly confident.”
Antipodean rugby mantras aside, Austin has every reason to be confident. Ferguson has seen his team ramp up their physicality. Their set piece is effective and they have the right perspective.
“What we tried to all season is the guys making the right decisions at the right time,” said Ferguson. “The bigger the game and the bigger the occasion, the less those opportunities come about. So the more you practice doing the right things and getting the simple things right, the more you can, when the pressure’s on, choose the right option. We look on every game as a Grand Final. We can’t think about Sunday until we get through Saturday.”
Austin has good depth, which should help them whichever game they play on Sunday. But what they really need to do is bring the defense. OMBAC can score. They can score a lot. For Austin to prevail, they need to bottle up an electric OMBAC attack.