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The PAC Rugby Conference continued last week with a pair of games. Arizona came a with a statement victory with a 47-8 thrashing of UCLA while Arizona State handled newcomers USC 44-29.
Arizona put on an impressive display in a matchup with UCLA. Arizona has been getting better and better since Sean Duffy took over the program three years ago. Having three years of recruits seems to be paying dividends as the Wildcats dominated an opponent that they have struggled with in recent years.
The Wildcats set the tempo early with strong defense. Prop Steven Branham capitalized on a turnover to score the games first try. His counterpart Cody Hunt extended the lead to 14-0. UCLA got a penalty to cut the lead to 14-3 but Ben Joseph added another score to extend the lead to 21-3. After an unconverted UCLA score, Arizona responded with another converted try to take a 28-8 halftime lead.
“We put on great defensive pressure. We were able to do some good things defensively working together. It led to some early pressure that led to some turnover ball, and we had some good scoring opportunities,” Duffy told Rugby Today.
Arizona clamped down in the second half, blanking UCLA and scoring 19 points on route to a 47-8 win. It was a goal for Arizona to shut the Bruins out in the second half after giving up a soft score in the second half.
“Our work on defensive structure is starting to pay off. We still have a ways to go but when it comes to guys working together and understanding what we are trying to do and when we are trying to do it, the guys are starting to have knowledge and develop intuition,” Duffy added.
In the other game of the weekend, Arizona State defeated USC. The Sun Devils rested a number of starters to give some younger guys opportunities to play. The match against USC does not count towards the standings so it was a real opportunity for ASU to experiment.
“I think there were moments where we could have done better but overall I was pretty happy with the team’s performance,” said ASU coach Gary Lane.
It was the best game Arizona State had at the breakdown, allowing them to get time and space. However, doing it against an up and coming team like USC is far different then against some of the Sun Devil’s more traditional opponents. Now ASU will have to continue to do this against better competition in conference play and during the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup.
“We controlled the first phase pretty well and were able to take control. We need to continue that momentum going forward,” said Lane. USC really came to play and they are definitely improving.”