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This weekend marked the beginning of the Pacific North Top 4 playoff, with our Gladiators hosting the East Palo Alto Razorbacks at Sunset Park in Hayward. Every point will matter in the journey towards regional playoffs.

With the Gladiatrix taking the weekend off, all focus was on our Gladiators as they stepped on the pitch under a warm Hayward sun. Despite recent rain, the pitch was firm underfoot, allowing for quick ball and flowing attack. Every match against EPA has been an aggressive and physical contest, and Saturday proved to be no exception.

Life struck first in the opening period, with hooker Jay Finau dotting down off a rolling maul from a 5m lineout. Fly-half Gui Cazenave, ever reliable from the boot, put the conversion on a string and Life stepped out with a 7 – 0 lead. Off the restart, EPA turned the ball over and earned a penalty in front of the post when Life infringed at the ruck. EPA’s Taniela Vakauta slotted the penalty easily in the 8th minute. In the 13th minute, after a period of sustained pressure, Vakauta had another chance at goal. He struck it well but it bounced off the post, leaving the score 7 – 3 after the first quarter-hour. A few minutes later EPA scored in the corner through a fortuitous grubber, but were unable to convert.

Our Gladiators responded vehemently, as scrum half Devereaux Ferris took a quick tap from a penalty and took it 40m upfield. A few phases later, Life made it over the EPA line but were held up. The ball was sent blind from the ensuing scrum, and fullback Tyler Harrison dove into the corner for the score. Another try came a few minutes later through Cazenave, as the Gladiators stretched EPA wide across the pitch, and left wing Anthony Muñoz found space on the outside before passing to Cazenave, scoring 15m in from touch.

However, it was EPA who had the last say before the half time break, with one of their centers taking a sharp angle through the midfield in the 38th minute. One phase later the attack yielded a try in the right corner.

Half time score: Life 19 – 13 EPA

After the break, the first chance came Life’s way after an EPA kick that missed touch. It was swung wide across the pitch to wing Muñoz, who took it 40m down the right flank to score the fourth and, more importantly, bonus point try for the Gladiators. Six minutes later, EPA responded with a converted try of their own, pulling within six for a 26 – 20 score in the 48th minute.

The next fifteen minutes were dominated by the Gladiators, with Cazenave scoring again off a turnover in the tackle, and substitute flanker Tookey Stevenson scoring twice in five minutes. The first was from an excellent break and offload from lock Alex Pedjase, and the second was a brilliant solo effort. Stevenson ripped the ball free from EPA’s Siupeli Sakalia and expertly fended off their scrum half to score under the posts. Cazenave converted and Life pushed ahead 45 – 20 with 15 minutes to go.

Five minutes from time, EPA scored from a 5m scrum and picked up their try bonus point, but the Gladiators had the last say on the day through an excellent Dev Ferris grubber to captain Zach Bonte.

Full time: Life West Gladiators 50 – 27 EPA Razorbacks.

Instrumental today was the work done in the set piece, with several EPA lineouts turned over. At scrum time, the Life West pack dominated, and they also held the upper hand in the loose, more than matching EPA’s physicality up front. As with last week’s match against the Sacramento Lions, winning the physical battle meant quick and clean ball for the backs, who used it to great effect. Eight tries were scored on the day, with Cazenave adding five conversions.

Pictures from the match are available on the Life West Rugby Facebook page, here.

Next week our Gladiators face SFGG at Treasure Island, in what is likely the most important match of the D1 season so far.