SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Arizona’s first foray against a fellow D1A Rugby team went better than imagined. The Wildcats traveled to California to take on Santa Clara – a D1A Playoff team from a year ago – and proceeded to hammer the Broncos, 55-5.
In a match that was contested well by both teams in the early going, Arizona’s consistent defensive pressure eventually wore down the youthful Broncos, and created attacking opportunities in generous areas of the pitch.
“I give a lot of credit to Santa Clara,” Arizona’s second-year coach, Sean Duffy, said. “They are well-coached, very young, and the game was close at the beginning of the match with aggressive play from both sides around the breakdown.”
Nine different Wildcats found the try zone, including two from the quick-footed Dante Weeks. Cam Hudson, who began a transition from center to hooker last season, also scored a try and set up another. Those two scoring opportunities as well as his play in the set pieces earned Hudson the Man of the Match accolade.
For a team that held out many of its key players from 15s participation in the fall to focus on sevens, the midseason form can be thanked, in part, to a training regimen that followed the New Year, which included two-a-days.
“We’ve been stressing defense since January 5, and as a coach you hope some of it translates to the game, but to have a performance like that showed that a lot of it did translate,” said Duffy.
Several key members from last season’s Arizona squad that reached the D1AA Final are back, but what makes this year’s team even more dangerous is the immediate impact of a few dynamic freshmen. English-born halfback Ben Crossley has slotted in wearing the No. 10 jersey in his first season in Tucson. He’s a valuable playmaker who has also taken over kicking duties. Crossley’s emergence has also allowed Duffy to move sophomore Kyle Rogers from fly half to scrum half, giving the Wildcats two capable distributors at the half back positions.
Weeks is also just a freshman. With two multi-try performances to his name this season, he and 2014 Honorable Mention All-American selection Anthony Spencer will pair as an extremely lethal wing combination on the edge.
“Seeing how well the freshmen have meshed with the returners has been special,” Duffy described. “Our culture is in a good place right now.”
Even with the influence the newcomers have made to the program, Duffy insists it’s the seniors like captain Jack Arnold and vice captain Matt Tomasetti who are the backbone to the 14th-ranked team.
The Wildcats head back to the Bay Area this weekend, but to play a much stronger opponent in Cal. The Bears are coming off a dominant performance of their own after a 76-3 win over Cal Poly.