Arizona handles season’s first test in Santa Clara

D1A Rugby: Arizona handles season’s first test in Santa Clara

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – A nonconference confrontation in the desert between Arizona and Santa Clara went the way of the hosting Wildcats. Arizona’s young but talented lineup scored six tries in the 43-17 defeat of the Broncos.

“We’re young but experienced, which is a neat place to be in as a program,” said Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “We had one senior in the lineup for Santa Clara. But we are focusing this year on taking the next step. We can’t be a young team with talent forever, so we’re working hard to build.”

Santa Clara drew first blood with an early converted try. The 17th-ranked Wildcats rebounded quickly by sending Ryan Fitzpatrick over in the ninth minute. The sophomore flanker wasn’t finished, scoring a second after teammates Shane Dempsey and Ryan Hudson dotted down.

“Ryan Fitzpatrick was really special – building on a strong freshman year,” Duffy said of the Xavier High School product. “Scored twice, did a lot of work defensively and showed good strength over the ball. He’s all that you want in an openside. He may not be big, but he plays big and that’s what matters.”

Sophomores Adam Wilson and Tyler Hansen added second half tries, while Kyle and Matt Rogers combined for 13 points from the kicking tee.

For many of the players who focused on sevens during the fall, this was their first real taste of 15s for the 2016-17 season. Plenty of positives were on display throughout the 80 minutes, but the coaching staff came away with its share of areas to critique, as well.

“I’m pleased with the result, but far from pleased with the process,” noted Duffy. “We underachieved in some areas, but that’s to be expected somewhat in week one. I’m thankful for the good level of Santa Clara that allowed us to see those issues and address them rather than player a weaker side to open the season that wouldn’t be able to do that. I would like to see our continuity improve on the whole and that will come in time.”

Even though Arizona ran out a side full of both youth and talent, it was missing a handful of its youngest and strongest players. Four Wildcats were Southern California for the Men’s Junior All-American Developmental Camp.

“We were missing a number of starters, so getting those guys back and seeing how guys develop means every single position is up for grabs each week.”

The return to Tucson, Ariz. of the four potential Junior All-Americans will be welcomed. All hands will be needed on deck because the 26-point win over Santa Clara began a stretch of nine consecutive weekends in which Arizona has a match. It’s next contest, however, should be it’s hardest. The Wildcats travel to Berkeley Calif. to face. No. 2 Cal Jan. 21 in both teams’ first PAC Rugby match of the season.

Santa Clara had the difficult task of taking on Grand Canyon University a day after falling to Arizona. In game two of the two-match Arizona tour the Broncos fought to a 20-20 tie with the Lopes. Santa Clara will seek its first win of 2017 when it makes the short travel to Stanford to face the Cardinal Jan. 21, before starting the California Conference season versus No. 3 Saint Mary’s the following weekend.