BOULDER, Colo. – If there was ever a good time to face No. 1-ranked Saint Mary’s, the time might be now for Cal Poly.
The Mustangs are coming off of a 66-17 win over Santa Clara, and the Gaels, while surely eager to get back in the win column, could be carrying a few aches and pains after a grueling Feb. 28 match against a physically-imposing BYU team.
“They’ve been progressing quite well, and have gotten better each match,” Cal Poly Head Coach James Tesoriero complimented of his team. “We were very good last week against Santa Clara, so we’re in some good form and the guys are as prepared as we could hope to be for Saint Mary’s this week.”
The Gaels, of course, play rugby at a whole different level than Santa Clara and nearly every other college rugby team in the country. The superior skill level of Saint Mary’s will mean Cal Poly will need to clean up the few aspects of its game that were not clicking in the win over the Broncos.
“Our ruck defense let the Santa Clara nine and ten through a couple of times, and against Saint Mary’s we’ll be punished very badly for that,” said Tesoriero.
Being the first year at the helm, Tesoriero hasn’t faced Saint Mary’s yet, but watching film on the Gaels has shown the Australian-born coach what most in college rugby already know – Saint Mary’s Assistant Coach Johnny Everett turns his forwards into a dominant unit.
“Our lineout and scrums will have to be better against a very good set piece,” Tesoriero added about Saturday’s clash.
Cal Poly is not only weary of its opponent’s forward pack, but also the Gaels’ dangerously expansive back line play.
“They’re able to move the ball very quickly, very wide, and move defenses around,” said Tesoriero. “That is something extremely hard to defend against.”
The Mustangs are fairly young in the forwards, so it will be difficult for that group to match the experienced Saint Mary’s pack, but there are a number of interesting matchups in the back line to keep an eye on. Centers Mark Grzanich and Max Tacket, as well as full back Michael Mitchell, have experience playing Saint Mary’s. The trio has the size and athleticism to challenge the Gaels’ Dylan Audsley, Cooper Maloney, Kingsley McGowan, and a host of other dangerous attackers.
The two programs have grown quite familiar with one another in recent years. The top two California Conference programs have not only faced off during their league schedules, but have competed in plenty of sevens against one another, as well as D1A Playoff matches. The Mustangs who have been involved in these meetings know just how steep of a challenge they will face at home March 7.
“I sense the senior guys who have faced Saint Mary’s a number of times have a lot of respect for them, and that’s come across in their preparation during the week,” Tesoriero has noticed.
“The boys are certainly alert, and the training and video sessions this week have been extremely focused.”
Elsewhere in California, San Diego State will host Santa Clara March 7. The top-20 matchup is of great importance seeing that it’s highly unlikely the conference will send four teams to the D1A Playoffs as it did in 2014. With Cal Poly and Saint Mary’s looking like safe bets to make the postseason, the winner between the Aztecs and the Broncos will be due for a jump in the rankings and inch closer to a coveted playoff spot.