Two of California’s best pick up wins

D1A Rugby: Two of California’s best pick up wins
Photo Credit: Mike Geib (above & homepage)

BOULDER, Colo. – Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s both earned recent victories, but in opposite fashions. The Gaels came out looking sharp against Arizona State and ran away to a 59-15 blowout, while the Broncos needed a come from behind performance to defeat Stanford.

Coming off an impressive 81-15 rout of Utah, Saint Mary’s picked up where they left off by running out to a quick 21-0 lead against the Sun Devils, and even looked to have improved in certain areas of its game.

“I think we worked our patterns a little bit better,” said Saint Mary’s hooker Mike O’Neil. “We also improved as far as communicating – something we didn’t do too well against Utah. I felt like this game was more of a team effort, whereas the game against Utah was more individualistic.”

Inside center Dylan Audlsey, who scored a first half try and was accurate from the kicking tee, continued to show well for the Gaels, and imposing freshman number eight Vili Helu scored his second try in as many matches.

Even after a compiling a plus-110 point differential in its wins over Utah and Arizona State, Saint Mary’s feels they have plenty a room to grown as a team, especially with a few positions still being battled out between young and old players alike. One area on the pitch that is cemented is the Gaels front row combination of O’Neil, Ryan Pratt and Dino Waldren. The trio are returning starters from a season ago, and are a big reason why the defending D1A National Champions are able to play as physical as they can flashy.

When asked if he and his surrounding props feel additional pressure being three of the more experienced guys on the field, O’Neil eluded that pressure is far from their minds.

“We just see ourselves as leaders on the team,” O’Neil said. “There is no added weight on our shoulders.”

The nonconference portion of Saint Mary’s schedule is a combination of senior club sides and college teams. After back-to-back matches against legitimate college programs, the Gaels are back in action against San Francisco senior side Olympic Club Jan. 24. The coaching staff and student athletes for No. 1-ranked Saint Mary’s do not prepare any different for its adult-grade opponents than they do against fellow undergrads – except for one aspect of their game.

“We just want to make sure we’re making our tackles against the bigger men’s clubs”, O’Neil stated.

For No. 20-ranked Santa Clara, limited playing time during the 2014-15 season showed as the Broncos allowed Stanford to race out to a 19-3 advantage. Either technical adjustments were made at halftime by Head Coach Paul Keeler, or a new attitude was brought to the pitch for the second half because Santa Clara played like a totally different team for the final forty minutes.

Holding the Cardinal scoreless in the second half, the Broncos found tries through Connor Rounds and Matt Fitzgerald to pull Santa Clara within four points of Stanford. Still needing a try to avoid the upset, freshman Miguel Chapa picked a perfect time to record his first career college try, and JJ Holmgren’s conversion capped the Broncos comeback 22-19.

Santa Clara will need a more consistent effort to move to 2-0 on the season with D1A Independent and No. 14-ranked Arizona traveling to the Bay Area for a top 20 confrontation Jan. 24.