LAFAYETTE, Colo. – It’s rivalry week in the PAC Rugby Conference as two pairs of Pac-12 rivals are preparing to do battle. In the desert, Arizona State will host Arizona, while Los Angeles adversaries UCLA and USC will have at it.
Arizona State vs. #15 Arizona
Arizona was possibly the hottest team in D1A Rugby before running into a buzz saw in the form of San Diego State last weekend. After climbing as high as No. 11 in the Canterbury D1A Rugby Top 20, the Wildcats traveled to Southern California where the Aztecs outplayed Arizona to the tune of 30-12.
The defeat caused the Wildcats, who currently sit second behind Cal in the PAC Rugby standings, to drop a few spots in this week’s Top 20, but feel the humbling defeat could benefit the team during the second half of the spring semester.
“You’re never happy to lose, but in the long term I feel strongly that we’ll look back on last weekend as a point where we really re-focused on some things and that will benefit us,” Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy said. “Specifically, we’d like to see us work together better and make quality decisions. It’s part of the growth in any season, and I’m looking forward to seeing if we can do that this week.”
Arizona State is coming off its own humbling loss after a trip to Berkeley, Calif. produced a 44-16 loss to a Cal Bears team that split its first XV in half in order to play Cal Poly the same day. Still, the Sun Devils are lumped in a group of four one-loss PAC sides that all have a legitimate shot of finishing second in the conference.
Students on campus might view this Feb. 25 match as a rivalry, but Arizona is doing its best to prepare just like any other game. In part, because every PAC fixture is a massive challenge, so it’s important to treat each week as a crucial game.
“Many term this a rivalry match, and I know Arizona State does given their move up to D1A this year, but we’re just focused on playing our style and improving week-to-week,” Duffy explained. “Every PAC game is a rivalry game in a sense that we see each other a lot, there’s familiarity and a desire to beat the man across from you.”
For the Wildcats to be successful tomorrow, they’ll have to corral Alex Walsh. The Arizona State fly half scored a try and tallied 12 total points during the Sun Devils 47-24 win against USC. Arizona, on the other hand, could use standout performances by centers Shane Dempsey and Ben Joseph. The midfielders are two of Arizona’s most experienced campaigners and can benefit the team by taking pressure off freshman fly half Anton Grigoriou.
UCLA vs. USC
The Trojans have to be feeling pretty good about themselves after their Feb. 11 win over Utah. The 31-5 victory might have been against the Utes’ B-side, but it no less lends proof that the USC Rugby program is growing stronger.
Unfortunately, the timing of its crosstown contest against UCLA couldn’t come at a worse time. Sure, the Bruins are reeling after two consecutive losses, but any frustration they’ve built up from the combined 98-16 defeats to Arizona and Utah will be taken out on the Trojans.
The timing isn’t perfect for another reason – USC’s curriculum. The student-athletes have been in midterms the past two weeks, leaving some worn thin. However, the team’s “focus has certainly increased as this week’s progress,” according to Director of Rugby Dominic Riebli.
The Trojans view a game against a team that shares the same city seriously. However, given this is their first year in D1A Rugby and the PAC Rugby Conference, they aren’t jumping at the opportunity to put additional credence into Saturday’s contest.
“As much as I’d like to promote a fierce rivalry between our programs, it simply doesn’t exist at this point,” Riebli suggested. “We’re simply not at that level…we aspire to one day have the type of program that [UCLA Head Coach] Scott Stewart has built there.”