Spring play in D1A continues to gently get into the swing of things this weekend, as #4 Saint Mary’s and UC Davis get ready to kick off their 2019 California Conference campaigns. Both teams started their spring D1A schedule of last weekend with games against #14 Central Washington University. The two results were rather stark in contrast. UC Davis hosted the Wildcats last Thursday and fell, by a convincing margin, 72-14; while Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, shut the Wildcats out 50-0.
Entering the conference season, UC Davis will be hoping that last weekend shook the cobwebs out from their system and their season can start in earnest on Saturday. However, it will be a tall order as they have one of the toughest schedules to open a season out of any D1A Club. Knowing the challenge they face, UC Davis’ head coach, Andy Malpass is looking for constant improvement and execution over the weekend, “It’s about setting small goals and expectations. Can we keep our shape in attack and defense? Can we keep our work rate high? Can we execute the simple things well?”
Competing against a school of Saint Mary’s caliber is never an easy thing, last year proved that. During their first season in D1A ranks, UC Davis was putting together a strong string of results. Five games into the season they sat at 4-1 and looked destined for the playoffs; until they met the Gaels. In their March matchup, the Gaels put a massive dent in the UC Davis’s postseason aspirations, knocking them down 78-0. Malpass is expecting another tough challenge this weekend, but thinks a strong performance this weekend will be able to set the platform for the rest of their conference schedule this year. “This tough start is about getting used to playing at high pace and tempo and hopefully gets us somewhat used to that tempo. I truly believe we can be competitive with the rest of our conference get some wins in and make better players and team men on the way.”
Saint Mary’s season will be about making amends for their premature end to last year’s efforts. After winning three of the last five D1A championships, the Gaels fell to a strong and surging Lindenwood side in the quarterfinals and this year they want to get back to the pinnacle of college rugby. Led by the Yacoubian brothers, Sean and Joe, and stalwarts such as captain Vili Helu- the Gaels have one of the top squads entering the Spring season and they will be playing with a massive chip on their shoulder. With a significant contingent of returning players look for Saint Mary’s to use these early season games to develop a sense of rhythm and familiarity with one another that will serve them well late into the season.
While Saint Mary’s will be the favorites coming into Saturday’s fixture, the game will be an Important one to follow. It should reveal a lot about how UC Davis will cope in their second season playing against the country’s best; and how dangerous can Saint Mary’s really be this year.