Gaels doubleheader in Utah highlights weekend for California Conference

D1A Rugby: Gaels doubleheader in Utah highlights weekend for California Conference
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

BOULDER, Colo. – Saint Mary’s College has the toughest schedule in college rugby, and the Gaels are about to head into that schedule’s toughest weekend.

Saturday’s rematch against BYU is an unmistakable challenge, but the task of taking on the Cougars becomes more daunting given that the No. 1-ranked team plays No. 8 Utah tonight. Sure, Saint Mary’s had its way with the Utes back in January, but Utah is much improved from that early test as seen in dominating performances against Arizona and UCLA.

The Gaels know Utah is much better than they were two months ago, and it’s not in their DNA to rest players in good form, anyway. That’s why it’s likely Saint Mary’s will throw its top side at the Utes and take on BYU 24 hours later with some bodies a little worse for the weary.

Regardless if the Gaels go 2-0 or 0-2 on their road trip to Utah, the team should be commended for its effort and willingness to challenge its players and become a better team for it.

“Utah has tremendous respect for Saint Mary’s, their coaches, and players for taking on a tour to play both Utah and BYU,” said Utah Director of Rugby Mark Drown. “We don’t get anybody else in the country who is willing to do that.”

UC Santa Barbara will be seeking its first conference victory tonight. It won’t come easy, as the Gauchos will face No. 7 Cal Poly. The Mustangs have lost a handful of matches this season, but all to very good sides.

Santa Barbara, however, did show improvement in its last showing against San Diego State. Still, Cal Poly’s explosive back line should be able to exploit gaps against a young Gaucho team.

In a nonconference match, Santa Clara will face Cal. The Broncos will be outmanned versus a tough Golden Bears team, but the match between Bay Area schools isn’t about pulling off an upset for Santa Clara. Head Coach Paul Keeler is committed to making his team a serious national contender, and he knows playing the best competition is the only way to slowly get his team into that echelon.

Last season, Santa Clara stayed close with Cal for the early stages of the match. It will be interesting to see how long this year’s unit can hang with the Bears.

San Diego State also stays instate for a difficult nonconference match when it visits UCLA. The Aztecs showed they have the firepower to put up numbers on attack, but will need improved defensive integrity as compared to their win over Santa Clara, in which the No. 15-ranked team allowed 44 points.

The Bruins’ recent last-minute loss to Arizona State will have the hosts drooling for a win, so Head Coach Alex Lichtig better have his Aztecs prepared for a dogfight.