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The action in the D1A PAC Conference centered around Arizona State’s trek to California for a pair of matches and #2 Cal challenging a men’s club to a duel. ASU ended up splitting their road trip by losing to UCLA, 47-5, but beating USC, 22-20, on Sunday. Cal brought the full ferocity of the Bears to Olympic Club on Saturday beating the Pacific Rugby Premiership outfit, 87-19.
In Westwood, Calif., the Bruins were the first stop for the Sun Devils. ASU scored the first points of the test with a Cody Canaan try, but UCLA ended the half with 20 straight points from two Matt Williams tries and two penalties and two conversions by Cian Barry.
UCLA head coach Scott Stewart thought it took the first half to warm up in the game. “We were loose in contact in the first half, but maintained more discipline with the ball towards the break which helped us for the rest of the match.”
The second half was all UCLA as Williams completed his hat trick and Eric Naposki and Ben Broselle tacked on scores. Barry continued his great day at the tee with two more PKs and two conversions and Yoh Nakayama finished the kicking duties with a conversion at the end.
“We started OK, but then we had trouble retaining possession,” Sun Devils’ head coach Pieter Hugo said as ASU struggled to get its hands on the pill. “We were not carrying the ball well into contact. We had very little possession throughout the game... We put ourselves under a lot of pressure. It was a very good UCLA side, they continued to have long periods of possession, applied a lot of pressure, and came away with points.”
UCLA will be in the spotlight next Saturday when it plays Arizona at the StubHub Center in Carson before the Americas Rugby Championship match between USA and Argentina. “What a great opportunity to play Arizona and to play in that setting at StubHub,” Stewart said. “They are well coached and a physical team with a lot of speed and our task will be to maintain our own composure and to focus on our own game. It should be a great experience for both teams.”
With a short turnaround time and an injury fallout from UCLA, Hugo decided to go young against the University of Southern California and it paid off with a 22-20 win. ASU led for a majority of the match but USC came back late to take a 20-19 advantage. After camping out inside the Trojans’ 22, the Sun Devils’ James Tarbatt kicked the game-winner with a few minutes left. ASU retained possession in the end and kicked the ball into touch for the win.
Hugo emphasized ball control and he saw results on the pitch. “We definitely had a lot more possession. We had more chances to score, but we just didn’t finish well. We led for most of the game, but they came back late. We were up 19-13 and they scored a try and converted.”
“We had to come back with 15 minutes left,” Hugo continued. “We applied a lot of pressure and were in their 22 a sustained amount, but couldn’t score and kicked the penalty to take the lead. It was a lot more taking care of the ball and being more aggressive coming up on defense and taking space away.”
Matt Brenner, Adriaan Van Niekerk, and Finley Saint scored tries in the win with Saint converting two of his kicks.
Hugo’s main takeaway from the exhaustive road trip was possession. “We have to be far better at taking care of the ball. We have to have a lot more possession and have multiple phases to apply pressure. If we do that well, we can compete, if we can’t, we will struggle.”
Lastly, Cal opened its 2018 season at Witter Rugby Field against the Olympic Club. The Bears had little difficulty with the men’s club scoring 13 tries in route to 87-19 victory. Nic Mirhashem (2), Aisea Tongilava, Aidan Flynn (2), Thomas Robles, Damon Wiley (2), Sam Cusano, Christian Dyer, Kevin Saunders, Justin Dunn, and Zachary Tavenner each crossed the whitewash for the Bears and Sam Howells and Matt Coyle combined for 12 conversions.
Cal head coach Jack Clark took away a few positives in preparation for SDSU on Saturday. “We did the hard parts of the game reasonably well, our scrum held up and we were good in contact at the tackle, ruck. We also played pretty quick which made it hard on them.”
The Bears will be very busy in February with nine games scheduled in the month. First up is SDSU, followed by Stanford, Cal Maritime, Utah Valley, Arizona, and Arizona State. Cal will host the University of British Columbia and USC on the 24th and finish with Santa Clara on February 28th.