LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Arizona and UCLA one-upped their NCAA rivals by beating Arizona State and USC, respectively, in PAC Rugby action this past weekend. The Wildcats made the short trip to Tempe to defeat Arizona State, while the Bruins hosted their crosstown foe to a 54-12 defeat.
#15 Arizona 35 – 25 Arizona State
Needing a productive performance after falling to San Diego State on the road last week, Arizona got just that in its win over Arizona State. It wasn’t the most productive start for the Wildcats, however. Ten minutes into the game the Sun Devils built a 6-0 lead thanks to two Alex Walsh penalty kicks. The game was stymied for the next 20 minutes until Lucas Thayer got the Wildcats on the scoreboard with his own penalty in the 30th minute.
“We got off to a slow start by, in my opinion, trying to do too much in attack and defense,” Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy said. “When we did turn over ball we got anxious, but we really learned on Saturday that if we settle down and play smart good things well happen.”
Patience was finally on display at the end of the half when Jack San Pietro scored a converted try to send the Wildcats into halftime leading, 10-6.
The Sun Devils didn’t allow the opposition’s momentum carry over into the second period, though. All-American Bailey Stringer scored a try just a few minutes after the second half restart. The Walsh conversion put Arizona State ahead, 13-0.
The back-in-forth affair continued when flanker Ryan Fitzpatrick put Arizona back ahead with a try, which Thayer converted before adding three more points at the 50th and 62nd minutes.
It appeared the Wildcats would maintain its 10-point lead with less than a quarter of the match left to play, but Stringer had other thoughts. The scrum half converted his own try with 15 minutes remaining on the clock to bring the score to 23-20 in favor of the visitors. Soon after, reserve front row Colin Clancy made for a fifth lead change when he went over the line.
Needing a try to win the game, Arizona got superb play from a few of its reserves to set up the game winner. Winger Dante Weeks made the initial break and was followed by a solid support line from Zach Briggs who handed off to Matt Rogers to finish the try.
Weeks, who has plenty of experience in the first XV, continued his strong game off the bench by scoring a late try to end Arizona State’s hopes of yet another lead change.
“Zach, Dante and Ben Scoular provided great minutes, and it’s a testament to our depth this year that we haven’t had in the past,” Duffy said of his standout reserves. “Matt has played well for us and really taken a good step in his development in just his sophomore year.”
Both Arizona and Arizona State will be in action this coming weekend. The Wildcats are heading to Sin City where they’ll play No. 16 Air Force as part of the Las Vegas Invitational, while the Sun Devils will hit the road to contend with No. 14 Utah.
UCLA 54 – 12 USC
Similar to Arizona, UCLA was in need of a bounce back performance after suffering consecutive losses to the Wildcats and Utah. It was USC, though, who enjoyed the majority of possession to open the game that resulted in winger Austin Giles’ first try of the season and a 5-0 lead for the Trojans.
“In the first half USC controlled the lion’s share of possession and territory, so it was difficult for us to do much other than defend,” explained UCLA Head Coach and PAC Rugby Commissioner Scott Stewart. “Credit has to go to USC for owning that part of the match.”
The flow of the game did eventually sway in favor of UCLA. First, lock Yanick Mendens went in for the team’s first points, and was followed by a Niall Barry try that would see the Bruins up 12-5 at halftime.
A try by Andrew Alex to begin the second half seemed to open the flood gates for UCLA. The try-scoring prop was soon followed by Griffin Scott, Christian Bernard, Austin Gates and a second from Mendes. The 42-point showing the second half saw several Bruins perform well, but Bernard really stood out from his openside flanker position, as did Daniel Thomas in the No. 10 jumper.
“Christian Bernard ran on to the ball very well and was excellent in the open field,” Stewart complimented. “Daniel Thomas was poised at fly half and mixed the run and kicking game very well.”
UCLA is off this coming weekend before its biggest challenge of the season – a March 11 visit from No. 2-ranked Cal. The Bruins are happy to get back in the win column ahead of its match against the Golden Bears, but understand there is plenty to improve upon before Cal comes to town.
“We are pleased that we were able to translate hard work to a win,” added Stewart. “Going forward, there is much to do to gear up for California.”
USC is also set to tangle with the Bears on March 11, but are expected to see a Cal side full of reserves so its top side can deal with UCLA.