MORAGA, Calif. – Saint Mary’s College did not wait long into the new calendar year to show it is once again equipped to play for a USA Rugby Men’s Division 1A National Championship. During a three-week stretch beginning Jan. 4, the Gaels A side defeated five teams, all but one in a crushing fashion.
The imposing streak began with a Gaels versus Gaels matchup when Saint Mary’s took on Diablo Rugby Club, a Division I team representing the Northern California RFU. Saint Mary’s simply outclassed Diablo in every phase of the game on an afternoon in which it scored more than 100 points in its first match of the spring.
The Gaels upped the competition the following weekend in their match against San Francisco Golden Gate. With each team in the early stages of its 2014 campaign, conventional wisdom would suggest SFGG’s more experienced lineup would have the upper hand. However, Saint Mary’s is not a conventional college rugby club, and it hammered Golden Gate 60-20.
Next up was an Arizona tour featuring PAC Rugby Conference’s University of Arizona and Arizona State. The college teams did not fare much better than San Francisco Golden Gate, as the Gaels swept through the desert notching 76-10 and 59-19 victories against Arizona and Arizona State, respectively.
Most recently, Saint Mary’s took on and defeated another top tier club out of San Francisco. This time it was Olympic Club that was handed a defeat from Saint Mary’s after a last -minute try by Garrett Brewer lifted the Gaels to a 36-29 vicotry.
Like any consistently elite program, Saint Mary’s has been forced to call on a group of young players to fill the void left by a talented group of graduated seniors. This group includes Nick Wallace, who had an impressive fall tour playing prop for the Men’s Eagles in matches against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks, Georgia and Russia.
“We lost a lot of size,” said Saint Mary’s Assistant Coach Tony Samaniego. “Losing Jordan Bouey and Nick Wallace from our front row is tough. We are smaller, so we have been working on picking up the pace of the game. Our game is more of a fast-pace attack and taking advantage of the speed we have in the back.”
Their identity might be different, but with an all-around playmaker in Garrett Brewer leading the attack from the flyhalf position, as well as the return of a healthy Kingsley McGowan wearing 13, the Gaels are as dangerous as ever.
“The goal is to reach the National Championship,” admitted Samaniego.
Saint Mary’s aspirations of playing in the title game should come as no surprise after finishing as the runner-up at both the 2013 D1A National Championship and the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship. Furthermore, if Saint Mary’s first five matches of 2014 are any indication of the quality of rugby the Gaels are capable of this spring, then a return trip to the D1A Final ought to be a manageable expectation.