Utes return to the pitch for a date with Arizona

D1A Rugby: Utes return to the pitch for a date with Arizona
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

BOULDER, Colo. – Taking the pitch against the top-ranked team in the Canterbury D1A Top 20 could give any team nightmares, but turning around and taking on another top-five opponent would be unimaginable to some sides. Despite the challenges that such tough opponents present, Arizona finds itself preparing to take on No. 5 Utah after a disappointing showing against No. 1 Saint Mary’s last Friday.

The Wildcats had bruises that needed nursing after their 73-3 pounding handed down from the Gaels, but now have four young, talented players returning to their lineup after their participation in the Men’s Junior All-American camp in St. Charles, Mo. Playing against an elite side like Saint Mary’s without four of their key players was hard going for Arizona, but the challenge gave it an opportunity to start three freshmen against the best competition around.

“We learned a lot from a good Saint Mary’s team,” said Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “We’re still a young group but, regardless of age, there’s basics we needed to get back to and we can be crisper in a number of areas. We hit that hard this week and have had the best week of training since camp.”

The Wildcats will be facing a Utah side that has proved its worth during its conference play in the fall, going undefeated against the likes of No. 10 Air Force and No. 19 Colorado. Led by All-Americans Chad Gough and Taylor Thomas, the Utes have become a force in D1A in less than a year, but their schedule going forward looks to be just as difficult as Arizona’s.

Utah is coming off of a scrimmage against BYU, which had BYU beating Utah to the tune of a 82-17 win. This was great practice for the Utes as they return from their winter break, and shows them areas that need improvement. Utah will play BYU and Saint Mary’s twice apiece this season, as well as a PAC rugby schedule that includes a match against Cal, and this match against Arizona.

The weekend’s match can set the tone for both sides in the early stages of the spring season. The young Arizona side will have to prove that it can overcome the adversity it faced against Saint Mary’s, and Utah will need to prove it is ready to play in what will be a long spring season.

“We’re here to play,” said Duffy. “We’re trying to win a National Championship, and games like this will help us get there.”