This early in the Southern California season, every game is massive. No team is out of the playoff race, and every team is good enough to win.
In one of three contests, OMBAC travels to Back Bay. Both are coming off disappointing losses, in which they led at halftime. And neither can afford to start 0-2 in the nation’s toughest league. Whether or not OMBAC’s Duncan Kelm is healthy enough to play after sustaining a rib injury against Santa Monica could play a big factor in this one.
Elsewhere, Belmont Shore is traveling to cross-town rival Los Angeles. LA hasn’t beaten Belmont since Belmont returned to DI from the Super League in 2010, but last year’s two contests were lost by just eight and 12, respectively. Belmont is trying to improve to 2-0, while LA hopes to avoid 0-2.
The most intriguing game, perhaps, features Las Vegas’ return to Santa Monica, where the incident involving a Las Vegas b-side player, a punch and a touch judge landed the Blackjacks a forfeited season last spring.
That player has been excommunicated from USA Rugby, but the incident still happened, and the result can’t sit well with the Blackjacks. But, says new Las Vegas coach Expo Mejia, his team is out to prove they can be gentlemen.
“Not just this game. That’s the vision of the whole season to rebuild our reputation that Vegas Rugby is a club that plays exciting rugby, but at the same time has the values and a good club culture, team culture, and we’ve had a number of sessions this season to address that,” he said.
Greg Commins, the first-year coach of Santa Monica, says talk of the incident hasn’t crept into his team’s training this week, which is a good thing.
“The funny things is not one person has even mentioned it…It’s in the past and that’s what I’m trying to get into the guys minds as well,” said the former Belmont Shore coach.
“Santa Monica, in the past, has had talent, but I think a big thing with them is they haven’t been able to apply it because their heads have been elsewhere, so this year a big thing for me is trying to get their heads in the game, and if that’s done I think there will be a lot more success all the way around.”
Santa Monica and Las Vegas, after just one week, look like real contenders for the SoCal title this year, as both are experiencing the fruits of having a bonafide coach. Because the coaching carousel has landed a championship coach in Santa Monica, the Philippines National Team head coach in Las Vegas and a former Super League skipper with OMBAC, it’s difficult to compare any of this year’s teams to their 2011 counterparts.
“It’s a really interesting league this year because pretty much across the board the whole of SoCal has had a bit of a shakeup when it comes to coaches,” said Commins. “It’s one of those things where there’s a lot of unpredictability across the board, so I don’t think any sides is going to be the same as it was last year in regards to style.”
Even with the changes in coaching, much of the personnel remains similar, so expect Las Vegas to try and control the game with its lumbering forwards and Santa Monica to try and outpace the Blackjacks.