Players Added: Seamus Kelly (NYAC), Don Pati (Utah), Mahe Fangupo (NSW Country), Jack Hallilio (USA 7s), Bubba Jones (St. Mary’s), Pila Hulu (EPA Bulldogs), Huluholo Moungaloa (St. Mary’s)
Players Subtracted: Mose Timoteo (Glendale Raptors)
Coaching Changes: Mark Giacheri (Head Coach), Mike Bobis (Team Manager)
Team Leaders: Volney Rouse, Opeti Okusi
Players to Watch: Don Pati, Mahe Fangupo
Warm-up Matches: St. Mary’s (won 50-17)
San Francisco Golden Gate come in as champions and with a big target on their back. That’s a challenge the club is looking forward to as they have only added to their already strong squad. The team will miss the leadership and ability of Mose Timoteo but have brought in Don Pati from Utah, a player some see as the future scrumhalf for the Eagles, and Mahe Fangupo from Australia. Those players will couple with Volney Rouse to launch one of the best attacks in the league.
Their biggest addition may be that of Eagle Seamus Kelly and head coach Mark Giacheri. Kelly has plenty of experience playing with the Eagles, has a strong pedigree with his time from Cal, and an overseas stint at Gloucester. He’ll plug into a very skilled backline that will cause plenty of problems for opposing players.
Attacking is a big part of the SFGG set-up but they have also a strong defense. That’s a main consideration of coach Giacheri who comes in with plenty of overseas experience. He hasn’t had a lot of time with the team but with the core group of SFGG remaining the same it shouldn’t be a large issue.
To get more insight we spoke with Giacheri and club director Bruce Thomas.
PRP: Having won the championship last year do you feel that the team will be able to respond having a target on their backs?
Mark Giacheri & Bruce Thomas: Our main aim is to respond and win the title again. In order to achieve this we need to ensure we are well prepared as a team and mentally ready week to week as every game will be hard. There is not much between the teams in this competition. Therefore, consistency is paramount. If we can achieve consistency week to week we provide ourselves with an opportunity to make the play-offs first and foremost, which then creates an opportunity to make the final again. We are under no illusions, we know it’s a big challenge and it will be tough. However, we are excited about the challenge.
PRP: You lost Mose Timoteo in the offseason. How big of a loss is that for you and do you think you’ll be able to replace him?
MG & BT: Mose’s leadership is more of a loss for the team than his general scrum half play. No doubt he is a great scrum half but we have adequate player depth to fill the scrum half position. Where we lack some depth is having an experienced captain. Developing a leadership, a captain and co-leaders within the team is what will be required the most to replace Mose’s loss.
PRP: The Bay Area has a number of strong players. How is SFGG working to bring them into the squad?
MG & BT: Over the last few seasons, SFGG has seen an increase in Cal players moving to the club game. In conjunction with a more long standing relationship with St. Mary’s; this provides a rich pool of local rugby talent to recruit from.
SFGG is in the unique position to offer players of all abilities a good standard of play. For those guys moving through the club levels or coming out of college; we have the PRP at the top level and the D1 for guys looking to improve or requiring development.
PRP: You won the championship but not the regular season title. Is that a major priority for you this year?
MG & BT: Winning the regular season is usually a result of a team’s consistency in performance. We are aware consistency in performance week to week will provide us with the best possible opportunity to win the title and consistency is definitely an area where we need to improve from last season. However, although winning the regular season is a goal, it is not our main priority. Improving and evolving as a team throughout the season and finishing strong at the back end of the season to make the play-offs is necessary and more important than winning the regular season. Patience may be required as we have a new coach and some new players, so combinations may take some time.
PRP: What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from year one that you will change for year two?
MG & BT: None of the games in the PRP are easy. Home or away, every week is a tough match up. Some of the circumstances are not ideal; flying out in the early hours of the morning, quick turn around times, but those are the variables we are dealt with and we must adapt to them as a team.
Momentum is crucial to playing in a full league structure; with weekly games, getting on the front foot and staying there is the secret to success. We had a mid season slump last year and that caused as a little ‘discomfort’ towards the end of the regular season; we will be looking to start with a bang and stay focused for the whole season.
PRP: What do you expect the atmosphere at Ray Sheeran Field to be like this year?
MG & BT: It is a goal of the PRP as a whole to get more ‘eyes’ on the game; whether that be ‘live’ rugby or on the screen in peoples homes. We push SFGG to the local rugby and non-rugby fan base with the hope that we get those people through the gates and seeing the great rugby that is on display.
We had some really good days at Ray Sheeran last year, with solid numbers in the bleachers; we want to improve on that this year.
In terms of playing atmosphere – it will probably be tense and electric. As noted; none of these games are easy and everybody wants to come to the opponents home field and leave with the W. Hopefully the teams on the day can deliver and demonstrate some fantastic rugby to the loyal fans.