Broncos, Gaels coast to California wins

D1A Rugby: Broncos, Gaels coast to California wins
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater (homepage)

BOULDER, Colo. – Two teams got their feet wet out west over two blowouts in the California Conference. San Diego State learned just how good No. 1 Saint Mary’s is during its 78-5 drubbing, while No. 20 Santa Clara ran UC Santa Barbara off of the pitch to the tune of 60-8.

From the opening whistle, Saint Mary’s jumped all over the Aztecs and led, 21-0, just 10 minutes into the match.

“We came out of the gate hot and scored a try within the first minute, and we told each other, ‘Let’s keep the pedal to the floor,’” wing Mason Colombo said.

The Gaels were indeed on fire for a majority of the 80 minutes, especially Colombo, who scored a hat trick in the first half and added a fourth try to open the second. Colombo’s effort was matched only by Dylan Audsley. The inside center scored two tries and made nine of his 12 conversion attempts – finishing the afternoon with 28 points to his name.

The lopsided win is just the most recent in a string of blowouts by Saint Mary’s, proving the Gaels are once again a serious contender for the D1A National Championship. However, BYU, whom the Gaels take on Feb. 28, plays a more physical and skilled brand of rugby than the five college teams Saint Mary’s has beaten by an average of 71 points thus far in 2015. The challenges BYU brings to the table will be new to the Gaels, but the team feels prepared nonetheless.

“Tim [O’Brien] and Johnny [Everett] are such good coaches, and they had us thinking BYU when we were running hills at the beginning of the season,” Colombo said. “We also played several tough men’s teams in the preseason to get ready for a game like this.”

Saint Mary’s has had the upcoming clash versus BYU circled for a number of months now, but they still see Saturday’s contest as just another game.

“We try not to overhype it, but just look at it as another week for us to take care of business.” Colombo added.

Not to be outdone, Santa Clara also won in convincing fashion this past week as well.
The Broncos’ conference opener against UC Santa Barbara began as a back-and-forth battle, with the Gauchos’ Alex Asturias scoring a try 30 minutes in to bring the score to 17-8 in favor of Santa Clara. Instead, the Broncos began to click as a team and scored the next 43 points.

“They were able to find their legs a little bit,” explained Santa Clara Head Coach Paul Keeler. “They were playing in the open field, and offloading and supporting each other a little better, and making the most of their opportunities.”

Keeler was pleased with the running rugby he saw from his team, especially considering his roster is young – both in terms of age and overall rugby experience. In fact, two standout players from the Feb. 21 win were first-year rugby players. Lock La’akeaikawaiola produced consistent go-forward ball and tough defense, while full back Asad Braswell continued to impress with two tries.

Still, it wasn’t only the newcomers who propelled the Broncos to its first conference win of the season. Veteran back line players Andrew Clem and John Holmgren were effective, and wing Kyle Dunne poured in three tries.

Seen as a bit of a disappointment, Santa Clara had dropped recent matches to Colorado, Arizona, and Saint Mary’s – the latter of the two being less than competitive. Albeit, the Broncos don’t view the victory over Santa Barbara as a turning point in the season because they felt they were just a few mistakes short of playing the brand of rugby they expect to bring to the pitch on Saturdays.

“I never felt like we were in a dire season,” Keller said. “I just felt like we were a young team making mistakes – and the boys felt that way too because they knew they were capable of playing much better rugby. By no means are the overall problems solved, we just need to keep up the work and build on this game.”

Santa Clara will host a second consecutive California Conference match Feb. 28, but against a much stouter opponent – 10th-ranked Cal Poly.