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A handful of PAC teams got in some early spring action this weekend in preparation for the start of the upcoming conference play. Cal got off to a strong start winning four games at the Dennis Storer Classic, including a 26-0 win over PAC rivals UCLA. In addition to the two California heavyweights, Arizona and Utah both came away with wins against Santa Clara and Dixie State respectively.
Despite losing its entire front row to graduation, the Golden Bears picked up right where they left off last season. Playing shortened games at Storer, Cal won a trio of matches on Saturday. The Bears blanked both UC-San Diego and UC-Santa Cruz while only yielding a try in a 31-7 win over UC-Davis. In total, the Golden Bears had twelve different try scorers. Hugo d’Auriol led the way with four.
On Sunday, the Bears faced off with the Bruins. Freshman prop Damon Wiley opened the scoring with a pick and drive before fellow freshman scrumhalf Keanu Andrade snuck in to extend the lead to 12-0. The Bears added two more tries in the second, half, one each from seniors Russell Webb and Kevin Sullivan.
The tournament was a nice tune up for the Bears and the Bruins. Both teams will start PAC play against Arizona and Arizona State respectively.
While the California teams used the Storer Classic to tune up for conference play, Arizona welcomed Santa Clara for a friendly before the bout with Cal. After giving up an early try, Ryan Fitzpatrick got the first of his two scores for the Wildcats. After a penalty and a Shane Dempsey try, Fitzpatrick tallied his second right before halftime to take a 25-10 lead. With a large number of returners and a built in system, Arizona is implementing a more sophisticated defense and attack.
“We installed some new stuff this year, more than we have in past years because it is the first time that it really is a team that has run the same system,” said Arizona coach Sean Duffy. “We are able to do a little more complex things than we have in the past but there are some lumps that come with that but overall we are pretty happy with it.”
Arizona controlled the tempo in the second half, monopolizing possession and territory. The Wildcats started seven underclassmen due to camps and injury but it was mainstay Kyle Rogers and brother Matt who led the attack in the second half. Kyle scored his first try of the season while Matt added two penalties. Along with a try from Santa Clara, the game ended 43-17.
While the Wildcats are happy with the victory, next week will be a stern test against Cal and a JV match against new to conference Stanford.
“This is a big week for us. Santa Clara definitely prepared us for the upcoming games. We wanted to play a tough opponent to see how we look and hope that will prep us for a tough Cal team that had a prep weekend as well with their tournament,” Duffy added.
Over in Utah, the Utes took on Dixie State in preparation for a pair of tough tests in the next two weeks. Utah will go on the road to St. Mary’s next weekend and will return to California to play the Bears in two weeks.
“We have our work cut out for us. These are two programs that we continue to look up at and respect. We play both of them frequently so we know what they are about and they are both terrific opportunities for us to go test our mettle,” said Utah coach Jon Law.
It was a slow start for the Utes this week, however. Several miscues and botched opportunities left points begging and resulted in points for Dixie State. At halftime, Utah only led 17-15. Utah is missing several key players from last year’s team due to graduation. As a result, the Utes are starting a number of freshmen. The first half gave them some experience playing at the faster college pace.
“This game helped our young guys understand the place that we like to play at,” Law told Rugby Today. “It is a little bit faster than they are used to in high school. The accuracy that is required at the breakdown and the strength of the players at the breakdown I think was a little bit surprising to them.”
The second half went much more to plan for Utah. The Utes blanked Dixie State and put up points in bunches for a 56-15 win.
“They put in three unconverted tries but in the second half we locked things down. What I told the boys at halftime was we were inside the five-meter line three times and didn’t come away with points. Clearly, tactically we are getting what we wanted but we just needed a little bit more cleanliness and accuracy,” said Law.