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Life West v. EPA Razorbacks – Saturday, April 29th, 2017

Match photos by Bill Thomas here.

The last weekend in April also saw the last match of this Pacific North Top 4 playoff. With all spots for the next playoff round filled by SFGG in 1st place and Life West in 2nd, it was an opportunity for Life West to show its depth against a physical EPA side with nothing to lose.

The whistle blew for kickoff under the hot sun on Treasure Island, and both teams were out of the gate quick, seeking space out wide early. However ambitious, both teams made some simple mistakes, with four scrums and a few lineouts in the opening period. EPA pushed first into the Life West half with strong pressure, but the Gladiator defense held firm. A few penalties by EPA lead to a strong Gladiator lineout within the EPA 22 in the 9th minute, and a scoring opportunity beckoned. However, EPA held firm, and used the turnover ball to spread it wide and beat the cover defense for a try in the corner one minute later for the opening try.

Galvanized, our Gladiators recovered the ball off the kickoff and made good yards through eightman Maka Tameilau. A few phases later, inside center Eugene Faumuina carried three defenders with him over the line for a Gladiator try. EPA kicked it dead off the restart, and scrum half Dev Ferris sent a grubber in behind the EPA defense off the ensuing scrum. The Razorbacks touched it down first for a 22 dropout, which was fielded just inside the Gladiator half by first-five Calvin Nell, who broke the EPA line on the counterattack, drew the last man, and passed the ball to fullback Tyler Hutcherson for the score. Although the try was unconverted, Life held the lead 10 – 5 at 17′.

The back-and-forth struggle continued as the game passed the 20 minute mark; EPA won a scrum inside the Gladiator half and sent it wide, again beating the defense on the outside for a quick response and a level 10 – 10 score.

The next ten minutes turned into a wrestling match between the two sides with no points to show for it despite breaks behind the defense. Finally, in the 33rd minute, a turnover off an EPA knock on allowed a burst upfield from fullback Hutcherson, another strong run from Faumuina, then a snipe from the base of the ruck through Ferris, who offloaded in contact to left wing Leki Latu who beat his man and scored under the posts for Life West’s third try.

Half time: Life West 17 – 10 EPA

Similar to the first period, both teams took some time to find their shape, and it was EPA who scored first on the fringes through their wing, who picked up his third on the day and a level score 17 – 17. Off the kickoff, the Razorbacks threatened again, making inroads into the Gladiator 22. However, the Life West defense was resolute, and a loose ball was kicked through by Hutcherson, who deftly kept it in play and touched it down despite the efforts of the EPA defender hot on his heels, putting Life West back in front 24 – 17 in the 48th minute.

The Gladiator momentum continued through a brilliant breakout by wing Latu, who fed it inside to replacement center Moni Tongauiha and then to flanker Zach Bonte, taking the ball to the EPA 5m line. The chance was spoiled by an unfortunate knock on, but the ball came back Life West’s way a few moments later to center Siaosi Lata, who stepped three defenders on his way to the line at 56′ for a 31 – 17 lead. However, EPA showed that they still had fight left, and scored in the left corner to cut their deficit to nine points. Life West responded a few minutes later through lock John Thomas from an excellent miss pass by replacement back Gui Cazenave. Again EPA showed heart and in response scored their last try on the day for a 36 – 27 scoreline.

Entering into the last ten minutes of the game, both teams looked to finish their regular seasons strongly. This intensity spilled over off a scrum, with two EPA and one Life West player receiving yellows for fighting. Undaunted, the Gladiators attacked into the EPA half and put one last try past their opponents through a strong attack at the line by Nell and a deft ball inside to Cazenave to score under the posts and put the game away for good.

Full time: Life West 43 – 27 EPA

Overall, our Gladiators scored seven tries on their way to a convincing 43 – 27 win over the Razorbacks at Treasure Island, in this last Pacific North Top 4 playoff match of the D1 season.

“We were happy with the performance,” said Life West coach Adriaan Ferris. “We have the Austin Blacks next week in the playoffs, so we rested a few players and it was good to see some of the guys who haven’t played as much this year get a run.”

The West Regional Repechage match on Saturday against the Austin Blacks offers the Gladiators a chance to avenge its National Semifinal loss from last postseason.

“We have to have the desire to carry on in this championship,” said Ferris. “We came up short last year. We really didn’t get our attitude right against a very good Austin Blacks side. So we know we have to fight against a team with a lot of experience and are really well coached. The boys will be looking forward to that match.”

The match against the Austin Blacks kicks off at 2pm CST / 12pm PST, and the winner will move on to the USA Rugby D1 quarterfinals in Tuscon, AZ.