LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Arizona wasn’t able to beat No. 5 Utah in its Jan. 23 PAC Rugby Conference match, but will take another crack at the Utes April 23 in the Quarterfinals of the D1A Playoffs.
The Wildcats’ first-ever D1A Playoff game ended in victorious fashion, as the team beat Red River Champion LSU in Baton Rouge, La., 31-10.
“I’m really proud of this group for trusting the process and growing up each week,” commended Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “We have guys that are stepping up to play major roles that were not starters in January.”
The D1A Independent side will need to do some additional growing this week, as well. When Arizona and Utah squared off three months ago, the Wildcats built a 16-point lead that proved not hefty enough, as the Utes stormed back to win, 39-31.
“That game taught our guys that we need to finish and play a full 80 – something we obviously state, but that Utah helped us educate them on,” Duffy said.
Since its come-from-behind win over Arizona, Utah has won just four of its last 10 matches. The losses came against some of the very best teams in the country like Army, BYU, Cal, and Saint Mary’s, and the quality of their opposition, as well as the pure volume of games they’ve played this year, have put a few of its players on the shelf.
“At full strength we’re a very competitive side; however, our physical composition and difficult schedule has left us asset-deficit,” explained Utah Associate Head Coach Jon Law. “We have hard working young players coming up, but they are not quite ready to contribute versus the competition we play.”
The wounded Utah team won’t face a full strength Arizona squad, either. Three of the Wildcats’ best young players are currently in Zimbabwe with the Junior All-Americans playing in the U20 Trophy.
The unavailability of a few key players did little to slow an Arizona team that is improving by the training session, and riding a five-match winning streak.
“It looks like they are surging and hitting their stride,” Law said of the Wildcats. “They turn a good pace and know their roles, so structure and discipline will be very important. We look forward to hosting the Wildcats Saturday night.”
Arizona is pleased to have a Quarterfinal match not too far from Tucson, Ariz., and also against a team it’s previously played against. Its familiarity with the Utes gives the team an insight on how to beat them, but also an understanding of the level of respect the West Conference Champions command.
“Utah is well coached, a disciplined team with a couple veteran leaders that really set the tone for them,” said Duffy. “They are very strong in certain aspects of play, and that’s what’s helped them to such a strong season. It’ll be a great match.”
The team that advances from this PAC Rugby rematch will face either No. 2 Saint Mary’s or the winner of Air Force’s opening round Playoff match against Cal Poly. The Zoomies will travel to California to play the Mustangs April 23 after last week’s originally scheduled match was postponed to due a snow storm.