Randy Angel

Mira Costa ruggers gain valuable experience vs. International teams

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Mira Costa senior Jonah Tavai has accepted a football scholarship to the University of Hawaii. The standout defensive football tackle was also a four-year starter on the Mustang’s rugby team, playing Number 8 as well as Inside Center. Photo courtesy of Mira Costa Rugby

by Randy Angel

Despite the largely unprotected, physical contact, rugby squads continue to redefine the word   “sportsmanship,” sharing meals and exchanging T-shirts and hats after matches.

Mira Costa’s rugby program has thrived under coach Duke Dulgarian. While their official high school season runs from December through February, the Mustangs continue competing in the 7’s version of the game.

This season, Mira Costa has hosted the Solano-Yolo Rugby Club (Dixon), St. Edwards High School (Cleveland, Ohio) and Toowoomba Grammar School (Queensland, Australia).

The Mustangs complete international competition this week hosting Rangitoto College (Auckland, New Zealand) on Monday and Oakhill College (Sydney, Australia) on Tuesday. Both games are slated for 4 p.m.

“One of the many things that make the sport of rugby a very different and special game is that the game is international. Virtually every country in the world plays rugby (thanks to the British Empire),” Dulgarian said. “Over the years Mira Costa has become a destination for touring sides, hosting teams from England, Wales, New Zealand and Canada and this year we added Australia to our list.”

Next year Dulgarian plans to take his team to compete in Wales during the Mustang’s spring break. Additionally, he will continue the yearly tradition of taking his seniors to Las Vegas to compete in the International 7s competition with teams from all over the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Mira Costa’s teams are usually very competitive against extremely talented visiting squads.

“When we take the pitch we don’t talk “smack” like in other sports,” Dulgarian explained. “We don’t grandstand like other sports. We don’t just shake hands and go our separate ways.  Instead, we play their national anthem and fly their flag. We go out of our way to contact local ‘expat’ groups and clubs in an effort to get their countrymen and women out to watch the match. After the match we exchange gifts and have dinner together. Many of our players keep in touch with some of the guys they played against. It’s a special fraternity and for the ladies, a sorority.”  

Despite having a depleted squad with many of its athletes playing other spring sports, this season’s Mustang team continues to play tough competition.  

Although the team can’t field its best side against the extremely good clubs, the downside does benefit some athletes who gain valuable playing time.  

Senior sensation Jonah Tavai is healthy again and has scored 75 percent of the team’s points in the last two matches. Tavai recently announced his plans to attend the University of Hawaii on a football scholarship.

He will join his brothers Justus, a sophomore transfer from El Camino College, and linebacker Jahlani, an All-Mountain West Conference first team selection who averaged 9.1 tackles per game, including 19.5 for losses, who will enter his junior season for the Rainbows.  

Jonah continues to be a mentor for Mira Costa’s squad that includes lock position standout P.J. Leilua who has been playing rugby since he was five years old and has developed into one of the key players on this year’s squad.

Prop Luke Sussman has been performing well along with twins Austin and Brandon Tiradeau who play flanker. The Mustang’s fly-half Evan Anderson continues to improve while inside center Slade Gordon and fullback Aiden Martinez have been consistent athletes.

Ryan Ohanesian, a newcomer to the game, is finally comfortable with the rules and is now becoming a force.  

“I have a feeling he’s going to play in college and I have no doubt that he will excel at that level,” Dulgarian said.  

Mira Costa is coming off a 31-10 loss at the hands of Toowoomba who was playing in its 10th match in two weeks.

The Australians jumped out to a 14-0 lead before Tavai took control of the game scoring the Mustang’s first try and passing for another score to narrow the lead at 14-10 going into halftime.

With a fatigued Mira Costa squad and Toowoomba in mid-season form, the visitors scored 17 unanswered points for the victory.

“It was a spirited and competitive match that was extremely bene­ficial and fun for the two sides regardless of the score,” Dulgarian said. “Following the match, the two sides shared dinner togeth­er, exchanged gifts and gear, swapped contact info as well as rugby stories.

“As the Toowoomba coach remarked, ‘Is this the greatest game in the world? Here we are visiting from the other side of the world, play an extremely physical game for 70 minutes and then sit down together as friends for life. Truly amazing.’”

The Mustangs conclude their season hosting the 1st Annual Mira Costa 7s Tournament on Saturday, July 21.

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