Dominant first half leads to Saint Mary’s win over Utah

D1A Rugby: Dominant first half leads to Saint Mary’s win over Utah
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Saint Mary’s College used a dominant first half performance to defeat the visiting Utah Utes, 55-12, in a nonconference match featuring two of Canterbury’s D1A Rugby top-15 teams.

The Gaels jumped all over Utah from the opening whistle on a soggy pitch in Moraga, Calif. Aaron Matthews, Holden Yungert, Mike Wallace and Chris McDonnell each scored tries and All-American eight man Vili Helu dotted down twice before the Utes could get on the scoreboard.

“The first half stats were pretty impressive,” said Saint Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien. “Five penalties, three turnovers and nice continuity while dominating time of possession and territory.”

Trailing, 34-0, PAC Rugby Conference’s Utah stopped the bleeding momentarily when Caleb Meyer found the try zone, but the Gaels would go into the break with a 41-5 advantage after Dylan Audsley converted his own try to close the opening half.

The second period was a different story altogether. Five changes to Saint Mary’s back line and a lack of execution led to just two Gael tries in the final 40 minutes. To the visiting team’s credit, the Utes fronted defensively and countered a solid Saint Mary’s kicking game very well.

“The second half was a mess as we struggled to generate much continuity,” O’Brien described. “Eight penalties, 13 turnovers and a few extreme blunders.

“In the end, the loss of continuity is a coaching flaw which needs to be examined and improved upon.”

Utah All-American hooker Chad Gough notched the Utes’ second try on a brilliant piece of individual effort. Still, as they did in the first half, the Gaels got the last laugh in the second half thanks to Cory Kroeger’s finish down the sideline. Audsley’s fifth successful conversion capped the game, 55-12.

For all of the inconsistency shown throughout the game, there were a few Saint Mary’s players whose performances stuck out. Reserve flanker Marcus Viscardi continues to be an absolute menace when coming on as a substitute. O’Brien describes the junior as “fit, strong, mean and all about the dirty work,” and doesn’t sense much of a drop off when Viscardi replaces one of the Gaels’ three All-American loose forwards – Alec Barton, Helu and Kevin O’Connor.

The team’s first choice in the front row isn’t solidified but Nick Hyrekewicz continues to impress at hooker. Last year’s starter, Ethan Waller, hurt his knee in the beginning of November, giving Hyrekewicz an opportunity. Waller will be fit soon, creating quality competition for the No. 2 jersey.

Then there’s freshman Payton Talea. A loose forward before arriving to Saint Mary’s from nearby San Francisco, Talea is now capable of scrumming down as either a tight head or loose head prop and has the hands and footwork of a back.

“He is a cool-headed, hard working, hard charging kid who will make a name for himself in the sport,” complimented O’Brien.

The Gaels return to conference play this weekend against Santa Clara two weeks after decimating UC Santa Barbara to begin their California schedule.

Utah transitions to PAC Rugby this week for its first conference match of the year, but the task gets no less challenging. The Utes will be back in the Bay Area Saturday, Jan. 28, to face a No. 2 Cal side that is coming off a 39-12 win over Arizona.