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With the PAC Conference season winding down, UCLA travelled east to Salt Lake City, Utah to play a weary Utah club. The Bruins battled from an extreme deficit to come back and narrowly earn a 36-34 victory. UCLA will now rest up and prepare to play Central Washington in the first round of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup on April 9th.
The match was Utah’s second test in three days where they lost to St. Mary’s on Thursday night. It is admirable that although the Utes fell in both matches, they only lost by a combined nine points and put up 84 total points against two top programs.
Commenting on the outcome, UCLA head coach Scott Stewart said, “It’s not easy to play at Utah as they are an excellent team. We got into the game early, but they had a strong finish to the first half and took a score right at halftime that put us reeling there. It took us some time to gather ourselves because they were looking like they were going to win the game. In the last, we were able to comeback.”
For the Bruins, center Niall Barry had two tries and Yanick Mendes, Yoh Nakayama, Henry Wadsworth, and Zach Bonte each had one. Nakayama added a conversion to his point total and reserve Dan Thomas contributed with two more conversions.
When Rugby Today talked to Utah head coach Haloti Liava’a, he said that his players have played a tremendous amount of rugby in the last two weeks. “It is a lot to expect from our boys to play 7s in Vegas, St. Mary’s on Thursday, and then UCLA. We don't have the depth to play at the expected high level. All quality opponents.”
Even though the team was tired and beaten up, they were very competitive and led for a good portion of the match against UCLA. Chad Gough, Casey Raymond (2), Taylor Thomas, and Aiden Sully each scored a try for the Utes and Josh Webber handled the kicking duties converting three conversions and a penalty.
Coach Stewart said UCLA’s ability to remain positive in the face of a large deficit was the key to the game. “The guys maintained positivity even when we were down 17 points. They didn’t get on each other, they stayed on task and were able to claw back and get a try to get them back into the game. That gave them some confidence to keep fighting and that’s what it took at the end because it was such a close game.”
For his players of the game, Coach Stewart chose Zach Bonte in the forwards and Niall Barry in the backs. “Zach’s ability to control the kickoffs when they were kicking off to us really helped under tremendous pressure. Niall Barry intercepted a pass which gave us life and allowed us to keep going. That was a momentum changer and Zach was very consistent on kickoffs.”