LAFAYETTE, Colo. – A crucial PAC Rugby Conference contest went the way of the Wildcats when Arizona welcomed UCLA to Tucson and smothered the Bruins, 47-8. The two PAC sides have had some tight encounters in recent years, but UCLA had managed to get the better of Arizona until this past weekend.
“It’s a big win, but hopefully just the start,” said Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “We have a lot of important matches upcoming and we can’t lose sight of our goal. We finished in the Quarterfinals last year, and our hope is to take the next step this year. Saturday was a sign that just maybe we’re on track for that this coming season.”
The hosts ticked the scoreboard first when eight man Tyler Hansen dotted down and freshman fly half Anton Grigoriou slotted the conversion for a 7-0 lead eight minutes into the game. UCLA answered with a Cian Barry penalty kick, but Wildcat prop Cody Hunt and center Ben Joseph scored consecutive tries – both converted by Grigoriou – to build a 21-3 advantage.
UCLA scored a try through Darius Collins in the 38th minute in a momentum-swinging play just before half. However, UCLA mishandled the ensuing kickoff, setting up Arizona with the put-in for a scrum in the Bruins’ half. An offload later from Matt Rogers into the hands of Dante Weeks sent the winger behind the defense and into the try zone to end the half, and created a commanding, 28-8, lead at halftime.
“The try to end the first half was vital,” noted Duffy. “Those points right before halftime are huge in establishing momentum as UCLA had just scored. This gave us confidence going into the second period.”
Steven Branham, Kyle Rogers and Bronson Teles added second-half tries while Arizona held the Bruins without a single point in the final 40 minutes.
“UCLA is a great attacking team capable of putting on points in a hurry, so to hold them to under 10 points and shut them out in the half is a huge accomplishment,” Duffy said. “Patrick Coco, our defense coach, has done a great job and the guys have all bought into what we’re trying to do.”
The victorious afternoon saw Grigoriou earn his first varsity start for the Wildcats. Just a freshman, the fly half’s insertion into the first XV pushed Rogers to full back. The additional playmaking skills gave Arizona a lethal look on attack and its best defensive combination in the back line, as well.
“Not too bad for a debut, huh?” Duffy complimented of Grigoriou’s performance. “He’s a work in progress but the future’s bright for him, and having Kyle at full back gives Anton a co-pilot on the field to make our attack and defense the best it can be.”
Elsewhere in the Grand Canyon State, Arizona State earned its first PAC Rugby victory of the season by fending off USC, 47-24.
Utilizing a youthful lineup while resting several starters, some of Arizona State’s underclassmen got a taste of PAC Rugby. A Kyson Jester try and five points off the boot of Alex Walsh had the Sun Devils leading, 10-0, early. The Trojans struck back with quick strikes by centers Dimitry Veremeenko and Michael Suzuki to take a 12-10 lead.
“For whatever reason we didn’t settle into the game well,” assessed Arizona State Head Coach Gary Lane. “We tried to be too creative and that cost us a bit. Once we played phase rugby things started to get a lot better.”
The visitors, however, were dealt a blow when Brian Lee was sent off for a yellow card, and Arizona State pounced on the opportunity to score three tries while USC was short-handed.
The Trojans were able to make it a 10-point game thanks to Adam Bushell’s try in the 45th minute, but a try from Jester and forward reserves Oscar OckoMichalak and Colin Clancy put the game out of reach before USC All-American Luc Desroches could dot down in the game’s final play.