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The University of British Columbia began their short tour of Northern California with a 34-19 loss to St. Mary’s Wednesday afternoon at Treasure Island.

The game was moved from St. Mary’s field in Moraga at late notice due to the Gaels’ field being in poor condition, and the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club stepped up quickly to provide the venue.
In the game itself, St. Mary’s started much the stronger, showcasing their trademark wide open style, breaking some desultory UBC tackles and offloading out of contact with aplomb.

That led to a commanding 22-5 St. Mary’s lead against a slightly less-than-full-strength UBC side.

“We have taken 26 players down with the intention to win both games, but we also wanted to play everyone,” said Paul Horne of the UBC coaching staff. “Some of our younger players struggled with elements of the game – especially the tackling – and it’s something they will learn with experience. St. Mary’s are a very good team.”

UBC goes on to play Cal on Saturday.

At halftime UBC brought on several subs in the back row and the backs, including captain and flyhalf Charlie Jones. The moved ignited the backline attack and the Thunderbirds ran in two quick tries to close the gap to 22-19.

But an injury to St. Mary’s player Jake Holguin halted the game for several minutes. That seemed to stymie the UBC momentum, and the Gaels rebounded with two late tries to win 34-19.

St. Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien was pleased with the performance, saying the squad fell off for about 20 minutes, but got the game back under their control late.

He credited scrumhalf Jimmy Wallace, playing in place of injured co-captain Chad Clark, with an outstanding game, and also lauded the play of his “undersized, pasty locks” Kyle Batten and Kelly Harris, who continue to outplay bigger, more imposing opposition.

Perhaps the highlight of the match was St. Mary’s flyhalf Bubba Jones taking a pass that was high and behind him, gathering it with one hand, slipping it behind his back as he fought to control it at full pace, and then beating several defenders to score under the posts.

“St. Mary’s did a great job pinning us in our end at the end of the game, and we didn’t do a good job making decisions,” said Horne. “We kicked possession away three times late.”

“I think UBC players are overall much more skilled than any other college team we’ve seen, and more skilled than most club teams,” said O’Brien. “They have great skill and ferocity, and this was an excellent game for us to play.”

Added Horne, “if someone were watching this game and had no stake in who won or lost, I think they would have been very entertained.”

UBC goes on to play Cal on Saturday (whose coaching staff was at the game to scout both teams), and then a week from Friday will host St. Mary’s in Vancouver under the lights in front of what is expected to be a sizeable crowd.

“St. Mary’s used to play UBC and UVic every year,” said O’Brien. “We’d like to get back to that.”