Saturday, May 6 Life University and Saint Mary’s will square off in the D1A Rugby National Championship for the fifth consecutive time. For the second year in a row, the National Champion will hoist the coveted trophy on the pitch of Saint Mary’s Stadium in Moraga, Calif. Fans can also watch the action live on CBS Sports Network and on The Rugby Channel.
Nestled just a few miles east of San Francisco, Saint Mary’s Stadium has become a pinnacle of an ever-growing presence of rugby in the Bay Area. The school’s rugby program itself dates back to the late 19th century, but the venue and symbol it has become for the sport has only recently entered its new chapter of history.
The facility officially opened in 1973, the original home of the school’s football team. Nowadays, men’s rugby has become the main attraction as one of the largest club sports and varsity fan bases on campus, according to Marti Storti, the Senior Associate Director of Athletics.
“Men’s and women’s soccer play their games in the stadium in the fall,” said Storti. “Men’s rugby was moved to the stadium to accommodate the large number of fans who attend their matches. Nobody practices in the stadium. There may be a walkthrough now and again, but it is limited to competitions for those sports that have crowds necessitating use of the stadium.”
In 2014 the stadium received a major renovation overhaul in accommodations, technology and turf. One of the biggest projects however was installing over 100,000 square feet of Hybrid Bermuda grass as the new playing surface. At the same time, the playing surface was made bigger for soccer dimensions, which are now the maximum permitted by the NCAA (75 x 120 yards). While additional grass and field projects highlight the outlying of the pitch, the new field dimensions were only made possible by gutting out bleacher seating on the south side end zone.
Today, the facility can seat 5,500 people, which may seem small when comparing to modern day sports stadiums – even to college standards. On game day however it is typically a huge crowd for rugby and soccer fans alike.
“The stadium environment is something you have to experience,” Storti added. “Words won’t do it justice.”
“The atmosphere for rugby is wonderful in Moraga,” Saint Mary’s head coach Tim O’Brien added. “The fans equally cheer effort and play…just a bit louder cheer for the home side.”
Arguably the biggest eye catcher is the stadium’s new, state-of-the-art scoreboard. Made by South Dakota based Daktronics, Saint Mary’s stadium joined a long list of sport facilities that have chosen the American-made video displays to be on the cutting edge of technology. The new board allows more flexibility and customization for rugby games, such as time, score and various stats, to be on display at all times.
Saint Mary’s Stadium has come a long since its inaugural football match between the Gaels and Southern Oregon over 40 years ago. With the newest improvements it has become a must see experience for any rugby fan.
Last year Saint Mary’s College of California hosted the USA Rugby 15s National Championships. Life University defeated the Gaels 24-20 to snap two consecutive D1A Rugby National Championships won by Saint Mary’s, in what was on of five USA Rugby Championship fixtures held on the day.
The 2017 D1A National Championship between the Gaels and Running Eagles is scheduled for this Saturday at 4 p.m. PT. Tickets can still be purchased online, and at the gate.