It was another fight to the death between the Gaels of St Mary’s (#5) and the Mustangs of Cal Poly (#13) last Saturday in San Luis Obispo. These Californian rival sides played out two nail biters in Rugby 7s last fall, with wins going one each way, and this match in 15s for the Californian conference title was another tremendously tight encounter, in which St Mary’s came out eventual winners 41-31.
After a gloomy week of wind and rain in SLO, it was only the gusting winds that stayed around on Saturday, as the sun shone on a long day of Rugby on the Cal Poly Rec Fields. These terrific Rugby universities played each other in 1st, 2nd and 3rd XV matches, a feat achievable by on few university rugby clubs around the country. Cal Poly also ran out their 4th XV side against an Alumni side before the matches against the Gaels.
In front of a cheering home crowd, Cal Poly came out firing from the opening whistle. It was only the second minute of the match when scrum half Thomas Leacox caught St Mary’s napping with quick tap off a penalty 40 meters out from the line. Leacox step and drove past half a dozen Gael defenders to get the ball under the posts for the try. Mikey Micthell’s conversion gave the home side a 7- nil lead.
St Mary’s got on the scoreboard shortly after through a charged down kick by inside center August Heath only meters out from Cal Poly’s try line. 7-5 Cal Poly.
Cal Poly bounced back well with tries to winger Jake Gersh and flyhalf Taylor Honnette in the 10th and 15th minutes respectively. Gersh showed great strength and speed to get past three Gaels defenders after he gathered the ball from a fumbling St Mary’s attacker. Honnette’s try came off the back of some great team play and built up pressure from the Mustangs. A strong pick and go from tighthead prop Eric Parsons gave the backs quick ball five meters out from the try line. Honnette stepped passed the rushing defense to slam the ball over the line.
Three more tries would be scored before the half time siren, two to St Mary’s through scrum half Joseph Reavy and outside center Tim Maupin, and one to Cal Poly winger Cody Perez. Perez’s try came again through continued pressure and meters gained by the Mustangs forward pack, before the backs spread the ball wide to Perez who cut back in to score under the posts. Half time Cal Poly 24 – St Mary’s 19.
St Mary’s came home with a wet sail in the second half and the Mustangs struggled to gain any momentum or field position running into the gusting wind. The Gaels scored four tries between the 50th and 70th minutes of the match, but a determined Jake Gersh sprinting from his try line to charge down the subsequent conversion attempts allowed St Mary’s kicker Gareth Brewer only one successful kicks from four attempts.
Down by two tries with only ten minutes left in the game, the Mustangs dug deep to stage a fight back of their own. Making their way into the visitors red zone, Joe Cremen found himself with the ball only 10 meters out. The big lock step past two defenders and gave a beautiful offload out the back of his right hand to a charging Pat McCreesh who dove over the line to the screams of the home crowd. The successful conversion to Mikey Mitchell would be the final points of the game. St Mary’s holding out for a 41-31 win.
I was just as a gripping encounter in the 2nd XV as it was in the firsts. Cal Poly and St Mary’s went toe to toe with tries going back and forth right up until the end. It was the Cal Poly speedsters that got the majority of the points for the Mustangs. Fullback Brent Mine score a double and winger Nate Nunno had a tremendous 90m solo effort for his five pointer. The other scorers were prop Drew Meulman who scored his fifth try in two games, and replacement scrumhalf Jack Brown. Unfortunately the Gaels edged out the Mustangs by nine points, 36-27.
The Cal Poly 3rd XV had a tougher day at the office, going down 42-7, after being up 7-5 at halftime. The 4th XV vs Cal Poly Alumni match was a great one, played in spirit that Rugby is known for worldwide. Tries came in thick and fast to the Alums before a 4th XV come back. The score was fairly close in the end but no one was really counting. Special thanks goes to Landis Nasser 12’ for organizing a great Alumni team.