Photos On the Marc Photography
U-19 and U-17 All Star sides from Northern California collected championship hardware over Father’s Day weekend in the 11th Annual Rocky Mountain Challenge held at Aurora Sports Complex. USARugby selectors and college recruiters were conspicuous at the games, engaging youth and coaches alike in conversations regarding their bright rugby futures.
U-19 Road to Final
Wisconsin earned their berth in the championship with pool victories over Minnesota 22-10 and Florida 31-29, and a semifinal victory over Texas 27-12, while Northern California defeated Heart of America 52-16 and Nebraska 85-0, then brokered their place in the finals with a 52-12 win over Southern California.
Wisconsin drew first blood in the 8th minute when scrumhalf Jeff Cebe scrambled around the base of a loose piece five meters from NorCal’s tryline and dotted down. NorCal roared right back, and from an attacking lineout 30 meters out, a driving maul brought them inside Wisconsin’s 22. They spun the ball wide, which cut out a pair of defenders, and wing Johnny Niupalau pinned his ears back and sprinted into goal for the leveler at 11 minutes.
NorCal grabbed the lead as first center George Naufahu-Talakai dipped and banged his way 20 meters into goal for a 10-5 Pelicans advantage 18 minutes in. Wisconsin crossed into NorCal territory twice before halftime, but their attacks were blunted by handling errors and the ensuing turnover ball was well capitalized as Niupalau picked up his brace in a 40 meter sideline scoot that brought the tally to 15-5 at break.
Wisconsin pressured early after the re-start, but to no avail as NorCal extended their lead with a George Folau try at 35 minutes converted by flyhalf Tyler Nawrocki for a scoreline of 22-5. The omnipresent loosehead finished the scoring as he got his brace in support of a fine forward rush with a snatch and plunge over goal. Conversion by Nawrocki and a final of 29-5 went into the books.
Northern California 29
Tries: Niupalau (2), Naufahu-Talakai, Folau (2)
Convs: Nawrocki (2)
Officials: B. Arciero, T. Luscombe, C. Ratay
U-17 Road to Final
Colorado got past Texas and Wisconsin in the pool rounds before booking their seat at the final’s table with a heart-stopping 3-0 semifinal win over Minnesota, and Northern California bested Southern California and Minnesota then topped Wisconsin 37-17 in the other semifinal to obtain their championship shot.
Northern California’s continuity and opportunism were the story as they crossed into goal four times in the first half.
A spate of tight NorCal slippage maul-work brought the action into Colorado territory, and wing Sateki Polaulu finished well in the corner after a 20-meter power run to paydirt. The conversion by Kyle Garlick made it 7-0l at the fifth minute. Colorado had trouble finding the handle on the ball and subsequent possession exchange was capitalized on adeptly by Jamie Howells at the end of a scrum. Garlick converted and NorCal were up by 14 in the ninth minute.
Ball swung long and wide from the breakdown five meters from goal saw wing None Vailea free and clear to try midway through the half for a 19-0 NorCal lead. Then with the travellers on the front foot once more, halfback Aidan Flynn broke out of congestion at Colorado’s 22 and fended off a tackler en route to a try converted by Garlick for a 26-0 halftime score.
Colorado pressured early after the re-start and patiently worked the ball into Nor Cal territory before a pair of backline surges took action to NorCal’s doorstep. No. 8 Ben Pinkelman snatched ball from a five-meter loose piece and twisted into goal to make it 26-5 at 30 minutes.
But Northern California replied with a pair of scores from Oisin Collins and Pate Takeveikata, and with one converted by Garlick the score stood at 38-5 with time slipping away. Colorado were back once again knocking on the door and Pinkelman got his brace with a canny pick, dodge, and dot from breakdown five meters out for a final of Northern California 38, Colorado 10.
Northern California 38
Tries: Polaulu, Howells, Vailea, Flynn, Collins, Takeveikata;
Convs: Garlick (4)
Officials: C. Schuyler, J. Zevin, M. Nelson
Of note: In addition to the weekend’s All-Star action, on Saturday over 30 youth sides competed at Aurora Sports Complex in the Colorado Youth Jamboree which featured U-13, U-11, U-9, and U-7 action. Jamboree director Davids White-Farmer had this to say about the festival atmosphere: “We’ve over 300 kids under 13 out here today playing both tackle and touch rugby, and though there will be no champions crowned, each and everyone of these boys and girls are victors.”