MORAGA, Calif. – The Saint Mary’s Gaels enter 2015 with a heavy load’s worth of expectations on their backs. After back-to-back appearances in the D1A Rugby Final, including a National Championship title in 2014, California Conference’s top dog has built a well-deserved reputation for being skilled, well-drilled, and flat out dominant.
This accurate perception of Saint Mary’s was reason enough to create minor shockwaves in pockets of the rugby community after the Gaels dropped recent matches to club teams Old Mission Beach Athletic Club and San Francisco Golden Gate. As impressive as Saint Mary’s has been in recent years, the stir over a couple of losses to elite senior sides seems a bit unwarranted.
“It’s a different team this year,” explained Gaels inside center Dylan Audsley. “Right now we lack some understanding due to some new guys coming up and getting used to the environment.”
This time last year Saint Mary’s dismantled Golden Gate 60-20, so there was reason for surprise when San Francisco avenged its loss by defeating the Gaels, 50-17, on their home pitch. While the reigning D1A Champions return a host of talented starters, including Audsley who scored two tries against SFGG and handles the team’s kicking duties, they are still going through the hiccups induced when replacing an All-American nine-ten connection of Joey Reavey and Garrett Brewer.
“It will take a bit of time for the new guys to get into the flow of things, but I think once they get their wits about them and get into a rhythm we could be a real force,” Audsley said.
Saturday marks Saint Mary’s first match against a college foe when Utah travels to the Bay Area to face off against the Gaels. The result against the highly regarded Utes should make for a fairer assessment of where Saint Mary’s currently stands as a team.
“They’re usually a big side and able to use their physicality to their advantage,” Audsley measured. “But we are certainly going to stick to our patter of play and improve on the things we didn’t do so well in our match against Golden Gate.”
Regardless of opponent, Saint Mary’s current perspective is one that is more concerned with the process rather than results. A win against Utah, which will not be easy to come by, is not the top priority.
“Hopefully it will be a positive outcome, but the most important thing for us is to improve as a team,” Audlsey said.
The Gaels’ focus is on getting better because their ultimate goal is to get back to the D1A National Championship. To do so, they will need to play better than they did in their losses to SFGG and OMBAC, and in their win over the San Diego Old Aztecs in December.
“It’s just a matter of getting that rhythm down. A lot of the guys are new and we haven’t played together much. But yeah, I think we have the capability to be as good as we were last year.”
With fellow AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans Cooper Maloney and Kingsley McGowan supporting Audsley in the backline, and capable rugby players filling the boots of the departed Brewer and Reavey, Saint Mary’s high-octane offense from a season ago should find the rhythm Audsley is referring to sooner than later.