Sacramento, Calif. -- The Sacramento rugby community showcased its talent Thursday evening in a 7s scrimmage between The Sacramento Lions men’s club and the Sacramento State Hornets University side. Each team fielded both an A-side and B-side, and played a total of three games with 10-minute halves. After 60 minutes of 7s rugby, both teams displayed speed, power, and great competition. The first game was an A-side match, while the second two games were B-side and mixed.
The first game was played between the Hornets’ and Lions’ top sides. With IRB certified referee Sione Tanoa controlling the game, The Hornets came out strong spinning the ball wide and running hard at a powerful Lions defense. The Lions stymied the Hornet effort though with a big goal line stand in the opening minutes that forced a knock on and turnover. The Lions began to display their experience with nifty passing that eventually allowed the Lions flyhalf Peceli Rinakama (who also plays for Serevi Selects) to find a gap and race 50 meters for the first try of the game.
Hornet winger Chris Bempong proved difficult to stop and answered quickly as he made big runs with a little bit of space and scored two back to back tries in the first half. Lions scrum half David Pale earned the Lions another score as he juked his way through the Hornet defense and scored in the corner while being tackled by Hornet center and team leader Erik Hernandez. During the play, Hernandez dislocated his shoulder. This didn’t help the Hornets, as their best player was unable to finish the game. The Hornets still had a lead over the Lions 12-10.
After a Lion knock-on, the Hornets were awarded a scrum inside the Lions 22 right before the halftime whistle. The ball popped out the back and Hornet forward Zeke Shockley scooped it up and raced in for the try. The halftime whistle blew and the Hornets had surprised the Lions and carried the lead 17-10 into the break.
Lions Head Coach Ifermie Tawake was impressed by the Hornets speed out wide and told the Lions at the half that they need to mark their match-ups and come up strong on defense. It was clear that the young college side was up for the challenge against a formidable opponent in the Lions. With a little space the Hornet wings proved they could capitalize and score points. In addition, Coach Tawake emphasized to the Lions that they needed to minimize their errors, as two Hornet tries came after Lion knock-ons and the Hornets capitalized off the set piece.
The second-half was all Lions, as they made some adjustments and began to use their power and experience to overcome the speedy, athletic Hornet players. Sacramento State Alumni Joel Scott and Jeff Gillingham were aggressive for the Lions as forwards and caused many problems for the Hornets at the breakdown and in the air which helped to control possession. Gillingham, who made the USA 7s development side that played at the Las Vegas 7s, was very difficult for the Hornets to defend and scored multiple tries as he continued to power through the first defender and speed past remaining defenders. Rinakama and Pale controlled the Lions’ offense and made big runs and set up plenty of great plays. Rinakama also intercepted a Hornet pass right when the Hornets looked like they were going to score, and proceeded to sprint 95 meters to dot down between the posts.
The Hornets didn’t give up and created plenty of chances. Hornet fly-half Jim Brecher was good with his boot and intelligently kicked ahead when the Lions full back was out of position. Brecher chased one kick down that rolled into the try zone and almost scored but barely missed the ball as he dove right past it. The chances were there for the Hornets but Lions defended well and their experience playing 7s proved to be a key factor. The second half ended with the Lions scoring 4 more tries and preventing the Hornets from finding the try zone again. Final score of the first A-side match saw the Lions overcome a determined Hornet squad 34-17.
“I was very impressed with the Sacramento State team,” said Lions Coach Tawake. “They have great athletes and are very fast and athletic. Their coach has done a great job adjusting them to 7s in a short amount of time. I think they will continue to improve and win games as they go forward this summer.”
Sacramento State Coach Adam Macrae was not disappointed with his team’s effort.
“It is good for us to play a bigger and physical side like the Lions. The guys had to make their tackles and I was pleased with how they played. Playing an experienced team helps you see where your strengths and weaknesses are and this was a good matchup as we go forward against college teams this summer.”
Lions team manager Aaron Frederick commented on the importance of these types of matches. “We know that Sacramento has plenty of rugby talent and it was great to see our local college team come out and play the local men’s club. In many instances, college teams would rather avoid playing the men’s clubs, but I think the college teams who do seek out those challenges gain great experience and play at a physical level they may not see very often. The Hornets challenged us in many areas of the game and we were able to identify areas of improvement as well. Hats off to them and hopefully our teams can continue to collaborate in the future.”
Both teams will continue to try and improve as the summer 7s season moves forward. The Lions have the first Northern California qualifier tournament on June 29 and are looking to challenge some talented teams in that tournament. The Hornets will enter some college tournaments as well as the Palo Alto 7s, and will hope to build this summer so they can be competitive in the fall when the college tournaments become qualifiers for a national championship. The Lions will also host the third leg of the Northern California qualifier series in Sacramento on July 13 prior to the Pacific Coast qualifier on July 20th in Seattle.
“We have a lot of players coming to practice and hopefully we can keep this up to raise our standard of play,” said Frederick. “Sac State showed us our fitness needs some work and I know the guys will be working hard with Coach Tawake to improve for the qualifier tournaments. It should be a fun summer 7s season and we are looking forward to competing as much as possible.”