The Sacramento Lions narrowly defeated San Francisco Golden Gate 26-24 to move to 3-0 in Northern California's DI club league.
The two teams battled against strong winds and heavy rain at Robla Park in Sacramento Saturday. Golden Gate fought hard in the final minutes, but the Lions managed to sustain their lead throughout the game and prevented a last-minute comeback from SFGG in the final minutes.
Pushing against 20-mph winds and rain, and extremely wet field conditions, the two teams struggled with maintaining consistent possession and handling the ball. The match got off to a physical but slow start going back and fourth as both teams struggled with knock-ons and forward passes due to the conditions.
"We had a lot of dropped balls because of the rough weather and they were unable to keep control of the ball," said Lions head coach Tawake. "I was telling them before the game that good rugby players will be able to get past these conditions, and while we were fortunate to win, there is much we need to improve on."
It wasn't until the 19th minute that a try was scored when the ball was sent wide to Lions lock Joel Scott, who sprinted upfield with only the SFGG scrumhalf to beat. The Lions lock opted to take advantage of the mismatch and initiated quite the collision with the last defender as they both slid into the mud. Sacramento flanker Eddie Matakibau was in support to catch a pop pass from Scott and scored. Lions fullback Ratu Rinakama was successful with the conversion to extend the lead, 7-0.
Golden Gate responded with a try in the 30th minute to make it 7-5. The Lions responded almost immediately, as shifty fullback Rinakama darted around and through multiple SFGG defenders to score the Lions' second try. Rinakama then converted, extending the Lions lead to 14-5.
The Lions have struggled with discipline this season and Saturday was no exception. Three of the Lions players received yellow cards during this high intensity matchup. After repeated warnings for diving over, referee Phil Akroyd began to distribute cards for the repeated infringements, and then for some dangerous tackles, as well.
The Lions played almost the entire second half with a man down, and SFGG was able to capitalize on this disadvantage.
"Discipline-wise, I was not happy with the yellow cards," Tawake said. "I told them that we just need to focus and play our game. This is an area we need to work on if we want to achieve our goal to be successful in the post season."
Despite the penalties, the Lions pressed forward. Sacramento wing Ray Zapanta, who just graduated from Rio Linda High school, scooped up a knock-on from a SFGG player an ran 75 meters, tight-rope-walking the sideline to score the third Lions try.
Down 19-5, SFGG started to make the yellow cards. They scored in the 58th minute on a nifty lineout play to make it 19-12.
Sacramento replied with a try from wing Sione Vaka to make it 26-12.
With time winding down the game's intensity ramped up.
"We played man down for a large portion of the game and were somehow able to still win," said Lions team manager Aaron Frederick. "That being said, the errors need to be avoided and we need to clean up our second half performance. Good teams like Golden Gate will punish you for your mistakes, and we barely held on to our win."
With time almost up, the Sacramento players tried to grubber the ball ahead. The wet ball was hard to pick up so they kept kicking ahead. The ball squirted sideways and finally a Golden Gate player sprinted forward to scoop the ball and race in for the try.
In one last effort, San Francisco scored the last try of the match in the 79th minute. They couldn't get that last conversion from the tough angle, and Sacramento escaped 26-24.