May 16-18, 2013
Written by Jonathan Straka
Elkhart, Indiana played host to this years’ Boys National Invitational Tournament, and Danville was selected to represent Northern California in the Club Division. Amazingly, 2013 was the first year the Oaks played in the top tier Gold Division of Northern California, competing with perennial powerhouses like Marin, San Francisco, Lamorinda, and Hayward. Danville would beat them all and finish the regular season undefeated, arriving in Elkhart as the unknown “new kid on the block”. By the end of the weekend, however, every rugby team in town would know about the Danville Oaks Rugby Football Club (RFC).
In their first match, Danville took to the pitch against the Southern California Champion San Diego Mustangs; a big, physical team that had skyrocketed past the Oaks the previous week in the national rankings. The Mustangs were on fire and the pick of many to win the tournament, but the Oaks were able to control the game and win 17-15. The Oaks forwards dominated possession throughout the match, limiting San Diego’s touches to take a 12-5 lead at the half. Winger Grant Sherrod put down the first try, receiving a pass from Number 8 Vili Helu on a nifty set piece scrum move which started with a pass from Helu to scrumhalf Rhys Watkin. Later in open play, fullback Kevin Woo scored a brilliant try after faking out multiple defenders with dummy passes and running straight into goal.
In the second half, outside center Justin Bangay set up winger Cameron Marek for what would be the game winner on a run half the length of the field. San Diego never quit though, scoring near the end of regulation but missing the 2 point conversion kick. The Oaks pulled the upset and were off to the ice baths, readying themselves to take on the Cathedral Royal Irish from Indianapolis the next day.
Cathedral were heavy favorites to win the tournament, never relinquishing their #1 ranking all season on their way to the top seed in Elkhart. In fact, they had won the previous three National Championships but would get all they could handle from the Oaks. Danville took the semi-final match’s opening kickoff and worked their way methodically down the field to score first. Vili Helu finally put the ball down in goal to put the Oaks up 5-0 with a missed conversion. Almost immediately, shortly after receiving the ensuing kickoff, the ever dangerous Cameron Marek would strike again to put the Oaks up 12-0 in the first 10 minutes. A shocked Royal Irish team gathered themselves and fought back to score at the end of the half to make it a familiar 12-5.
The second half was marred by Danville penalties and yellow/red cards, forcing the Oaks to play first one and then two men down for the last 20 minutes. Still, the Bay Area boys had a chance to seal the match with a five minutes left but turned the ball over near the Cathedral goal. The defending champs wound up keeping the ball and scoring in the last minute, converting the try to tie the match at 12 and force overtime. In the 10 minute overtime, a tired Oaks side played with 13 against 15 and couldn’t keep the Royal Irish out of the goal. At the final whistle, Cathedral had prevailed 17-12.
After the match, two worn out groups of young men showed great sportsmanship and came together to applaud each others’ efforts. The Cathedral Captain voiced that Danville “had them really scared” and an Irish coach echoed the sentiment by saying that they had “never seen anything like you guys” and the Oaks were the best team they had played against in years. In the championship on Saturday, the Royal Irish lost to a fresh Utah United who had cruised through the other side of the bracket against inferior competition. Cathedral’s coaches quietly told Oaks coaches after that they were beat up from playing Danville and unable to play their best rugby on Saturday, a rematch of the 2012 final which Cathedral won big.
In the consolation match for 3rd, Danville took on second seed and #2 ranked Colorado Springs Grizzlies. Big and powerful, the Colorado champs looked to give the Oaks a run after a close loss to United the day before. The match was all Danville though, playing with a chip on their shoulder and looking to prove that they belonged in the conversation of elite high school programs in the country.
Cameron Marek opened up the scoring with two tries on assists from Vili Helu and sophomore inside center Simi Hingano. Later, lock Mahe Fifita powered his way in after some great forward play. Near the end of the half, Bangay finished off another nice drive to put the Oaks up 28-0 at the break. In the second half, Woo mirrored his try from the San Diego match before Captain Rhys Watkin finished off his 5 year career with the Oaks by scoring the final try. Watkin was also 6 of 7 on conversions to give Danville a convincing 40-5 victory and 3rd place finish.
Happy with the results of the season but not satisfied, Danville hopes to return to the Nationals in 2014 with the goal of winning the tournament. “We may have won this year if we limited our mistakes”, said Oaks Head Coach Roy Helu. “This year’s tournament was great experience for our Juniors and the Sophomores we brought with us. Hopefully we understand for next year the discipline and level of fitness it takes to win three games in three days.” In hindsight, the Oaks’ staff would also like to have left California a day earlier to get acclimated to the conditions and be fully rested for the first match.
Although the Oaks lose 8 starters to graduation, they will return a number of core players next year including All-American probable Vili Helu. Coming up from the Junior Varsity are a number of prospects who helped their team to the Northern California championship final before losing by three points to Sacramento powerhouse Granite Bay. The Oaks also hope that their fairy tale 2013 season will attract new, talented recruits in 2014.
Capital High RFC (Idaho) hosted by Danville Oaks RFC on Northern California Tour
Tuesday March 26th Girls- Lady Oaks 47 Capital 0 Boys- Capital 40 Oaks 15
Both clubs came together following the match for a taco feed at Oaks Varsity Gold sponsor Norm’s Place. It was a classic rugby scene of players, coaches, and supporters to send the Idaho state champs away happy. Capital is the top program in the state, winning the boys championship 3 of the last 4 seasons. After a couple of physical matches Monday against Jesuit (boys) and Rio Linda (girls), they would be tested again in Danville to perform at a high level.
The Girls kicked off around 5 and the Lady Oaks scored early and often to jump out to a big first half lead. The scrumhalfs got a bit heated and things needed to be calmed down, but the girls played nice the rest of the way. Leti Hingano has turned into the best player in the league so far at fullback, breaking through the defensive line for long scores on a consistent basis. Her tackles have saved uncountable opposition trys. Jesse Palu and Mata Hingano are the heart of the forward pack, controlling the game with their runs, tackles, and ability to create turnovers.
Despite the score, there were a number of bright spots for the girls from Idaho. They demonstrated a good set of fundamental skill and have been taught well by Head Coach Matt Jacobsen and his staff. Back at home, the Capital Girls are accustomed to winning their games by 60 or more points. Leti’s opposite number was particularly impressive, presenting to her a challenge across the pitch for one of the first times this season.
The Boys match was a hard fought and entertaining contest. Capital had some big forwards, led by their monster Number 8 who broke tackles and set up scoring opportunities all game long. He is on his way to the University of Idaho on a football scholarship. Their scrumhalf was also a stud, and wreaked havoc on the Oaks attack and defense. The rest of Capital’s backs were able to break through the line a few times to make for a fast and exciting match. Inside, the pick and go game was effective against a smaller and younger pack. Danville’s side was made up of mostly JV players some Varsity reserves doing much of the dirty work in the forwards.
Seniors Kareem Khattab and Armon Hamzehloo continued their solid play this season, highlighted by a nice try from Kareem. Taylor Schmidt and Mathew Gilchrist were the only other seniors and played up to the competition, leading the younger players to win the 2nd half. The backline was entirely JV except for junior flanker Nick Nuti, who scored a try while playing wing for the first time. Sophomore Matt Snyder earned forward of the match honors, playing hard all over the field like a loose forward from the lock position. Sophomore flyhalf Kyle Makaiwi was awarded a black and gold 10 jersey from Capital’s first ever kit, donated by the Army National Guard.
The Oaks boys played great against a much bigger, older team. Two 8th graders even played on the wing for most of the 2nd half after starter Eddie Jensen went down early on. Eddie has been a standout for the Varsity Silver team this season, scoring regularly on breakaway runs and playing great defense to complement.
As Referee for both matches, I was impressed by the sportsmanship and camaraderie shown between both clubs in their short time together on and off the field. Though at times tempers flared and some light taunting occurred, the matches were clean and became friendlier as time went by. Despite the loss, Danville worked hard to run their system and play some incredible rugby to stay in the game. The Lady Oaks just keep getting better, and will need to continue if they are to win at the Girls National Invitational in Wisconsin.
Diablo takes key matches in weeks 4 & 5 to move into the second spot with a 5 – 1 record. Both Fresno & San Jose have been play off clubs along with Santa Rosa making these match a must to win.
Diablo vs Fresno RFC – From the opening kick off it was 3 rucks spin the ball wide to the wing and score. The open style of play with multiple running lines displayed by Diablo overwhelmed the veteran Fresno squad & at the end of regulation time it was Diablo 50 – 27 Fresno.
Diablo vs San Jose RFC – This match would be the key for both clubs with the inside track to the second spot in the NCRFU D 2. Diablo would as in the Fresno match, drive down & score against a determined San Jose squad. It would be Diablo 17 – 3 San Jose before San Jose turned up the heat and scored 2 trys and and Diablo 1 try and after the break. It was Diablo with 2 converted penalties to bring the scoring to 28 – 22 at the 60 minute mark. However, again with use of their multiple running lines and use the entire field Diablo would score 2 trys and 1 converted bringing the score to 40 – 22. A late try by San Jose, who never quit, made it look like a come back but Diablo would use the pick and drive & mauls to run down the clock and seal the mach.
This Saturday vs Berkeley RFC at Morton Field, Mare Island, Vallejo, CA 1 PM Kick Off. Berkeley RFC has been thus far the surprise of the Division with a 4 – 1 record. Boasting a few imports, they have played impressively and Diablo will have to utilize a tough defensive strategy to keep this squad in check. This will be a match that will challenge Diablo’s forwards to control the the scrums , line outs and rucks to deny ball control & limit attacking opportunities. The back will need to apply constant pressure to force turn overs. No secrets, to defense just execution. It will be an away match for Diablo and home for Berkeley.
Please consider this as a prime viewing match for club rugby and join us at Mare Island,Morton Field.
Notes on Coach & Manager
On my trip to London, I had the opportunity to spend time with members of the English Rugby Union & several clubs about the basic operations of the union & club organization.
Manager – This role is essential to the vitality & structure of a club. Setting training & match schedules, facility management, equipment management, player management, match management, player transport, liaison with the coaching staff, the list is endless. Point here, each club high school, collegiate or men’s club needs to develop this position &it need to be separate from the coaching position.
Coach – Who is responsible for training your players. As coach, the key responsibilities are to organize the practice / training sessions, skill development, determine player positions, rosters &match preparation. All coaches should be USA Rugby or IRB Certified, this is important to the growth of the game in America. It puts a higher level of responsibility on a coach to conduct himselfin a more professional manner. For the youth programs, this is extremely important, yes, coaches are role models, if you are conducting yourself in a professional manner it will show in your players work ethic.
Diablo Olde Gaels RFC
In a three week stretch run of the season, Danville Oaks RFC notched victories over San Mateo Warriors 55-0, Hayward Griffins 19-7, and San Francisco Golden Gate 25-17.
Feb 23 Vs. San Mateo @ Diablo Vista Middle School.
The Boys arrived early to watch the first half of the Lady Oaks victory over Pleasanton. 30 minutes to kickoff and there was no sign of any San Mateo team. Starting to think the day was lost, the Oaks were relieved when the Warriors finally showed up about 5 minutes before match time. They were allowed some time to warm up before play.
It would be all Oaks from the beginning, running it up to 43-0 at the break. Some spectacular runs from Cameron Marek highlighted some skilled forward moves and timely distribution from scrumhalf and Captain Rhys Watkin. Danville worked hard to control the ball, winning 17 phases on their way to one of the touch downs.
The second half was short lived, as injuries brought San Mateo to 13 players. The game was called about 15 minutes into the period.
Gold reserves Kareem Khattab, Jack Marquoit, and Julian Goldman played key roles in the Silver match against a tough Berkeley side. The team was inches away from tying it up with minutes left but fell just short.
Mar 1 Vs. Hayward @ Pepsi Park, Hayward
Two Undefeateds squared off under a dimly lit field on a clear friday night in Hayward. The Griffins have made noise throughout the rugby scene in 2013 with an impressive performance at the Sacramento Kickoff Tournament in January. Earlier this season, they soundly beat Marin Highlanders, ranked 6th in the country at the time.
The Oaks came in hot after San Mateo week, but were a bit off their game to start the match. The opening kickoff uncharacteristically hit the ground, and Hayward had Danville on their heels out of the gate. Thanks to a Griffin penalty, the Oaks got out of trouble.
Rhys Watkin got the first try after the Oaks were able to work their way down the field with good execution. He dove through Hayward all star number 8’s legs for the score. Quickly, the Oaks were attacking again and awarded a penalty around Hayward’s 22 meter line. Number 6 Matthew Mulholland took the penalty tap and beat a host of Hayward players to touch it down in the corner. 12-0 at halftime
The Griffins would launch and assault on defense in the 2nd Half. The referee stopped the match multiple times to calm players down and gave two yellow cards to Hayward players. These long breaks cut down Danville’s fitness edge, and allowed the Griffins some recovery time.
Down a man, Hayward drove down the field and scored a try after some penalty taps. With the conversion, the Oaks clung to a 5 point lead. Hayward’s scrumhalf put a kick through the Oaks forwards and beat Danville fullback Kevin Woo to the ball, kicking again. As the ball crept towards the try line, it looked as if the kicker would run it down and score. Cameron Marek saved the game by putting it in hyperdrive and passing the man to pick up the ball and run it back almost to halfway. There, he and Grant Sherrod drew a penalty.
Off of the ensuing lineout, Rhys Watkin cut through the defense and got the ball close. Man of the Match Jack Adams took the ball and passed back the other way to Mulholland, who threw a dummy pass to Sherrod before slashing his way into goal for the dagger.
Hayward played hard and clean and will be a top competitor of the Oaks in the playoffs.
Mar 9 Vs. SFGG @ Cal Maritime Academy
Along with Lamorinda, SFGG is long standing as one of the elite bay area rugby programs. Gate came into the match looking to rebound from a tough 20-19 loss to Peninsula Green in which they controlled the ball for most of the match.
Danville struck early with a long try by Marek up the left sideline, the first of three in the half. On the next drive towards the goal, Ryan Chen dove in after a nice pass from Aden Hales. Later on, the forwards executed a signature maul from outside the 22 meter line. The try conceded to SFGG came on a confused scrum move when the Gate scrumhalf intercepted a pass from Vili Helu to Rhys Watkin. 15-5 halftime
The second half was evenly contested, with bright spots and mistakes by both teams. The heat of the day caused problems with fitness, and the result was some sloppy play and bad decisions.
Looking back, the Oaks were able to win a lot of rucks and execute that part of the game plan with good forward play. Penalties and defensive lapses must be eliminated if Danville hopes to contend for a National Championship in May.
Match played March 15, 2013
On a warm friday night in Oakland, the Danville Lady Oaks took the pitch against the experienced, well drilled, and disciplined Bishop O’dowd Lady Dragons. A good sized crowd was on hand to witness what would turn into the match of the season so far in Bay Area Girls rugby.
Both sides came out swinging on Senior Night for the Lady Dragons, and some stellar defense would keep both teams out of the goal for the first quarter of the match. All night O’dowd played the field position game, putting sophomore fullback Leti Hingano in some tough situations with a nice kicking game from her opposite number.
Finally, the Oaks got a long break from their captain Fina Toetuu which set up a scoring opportunity for freshman Nane Fifita. Nane was held up in goal, and the Oaks were awarded a 5 meter scrum. Senior Number 8 Mele Vaka then took the ball right off the scrum and powered her way in to give the Oaks a 5-0 lead.
The Lady Dragons answered quickly to tie it up, driving and scoring shortly thereafter with some strong forward play. O’dowd would continue to threaten the rest of the half, but some stingy defense at the goal line by Danville prevented another try before intermission.
The Lady Oaks looked tired at the break, but dug down deep in their hearts to win the 2nd half. Possession went back and forth, when the Oaks were awarded a scrum around the halfway line. The scrum turned a bit and the ball popped out just perfectly to junior scrumhalf Fina, who broke a handful of tackles on the way to an exciting try. Brynne Newsome was good on the conversion to make it 12-5 with about 20 minutes to go.
Again, the Dragons answered. They were awarded a questionable penalty at the Oaks 10 meter line after Mata (Queen) Hingano looked to steal the ball cleanly. The opportunistic scrumhalf for the Dragons quick-tapped and had a spectacular run about 40 yards for the try. The conversion was good and the teams were even at 12 points.
After O’dowd gained possession on the kickoff, Queen was back to her old tricks and poached the ball in the tackle, this time cleanly according to the referee. It would be the start to the play of the day, in which the freshman flanker (playing inside center at the time) looked to be tackled at least 3 times but went all 60 yards for the game winning try.
Still, the Dragons never quit. They played the last 5 minutes deep in Danville’s half, threatening to score the possible game winner. The crowd was going crazy during this time, and the hearts of the spectators were racing. Into extra time, O’dowd held onto the ball in the tackle and Danville was awarded a penalty, signalling the final whistle and end to a brilliant match.