By Alex Soloman USA Rugby BOULDER, Colo. – Teams seeded five through eight for the 2014 D1A Playoffs will all be on the pitch this Saturday to determine who will move on to the National Quarterfinals.
The higher-seeded team will host the matches, all of which are interconference games. Team’s financial limitations prevent many programs from traveling great distances to compete against D1A teams from other regions of the country. The D1A playoffs will help determine the strength of conferences, and of course the individual teams competing for a National Championship.
Here is a closer look at Saturday’s first round matches:
Cal Poly vs Wyoming
Following an impressive 31-19 win over Air Force, Wyoming is in the midst of a three-game losing streak. The Cowboys lack experience, so traveling to California for a playoff match may be trouble for a side that is still wet behind the ears.
Cal Poly has regrouped well following its 31-28 loss to Santa Clara. With recent wins over Dartmouth, Sacrament State, and San Diego State, the Mustangs should have a fair amount of momentum when Wyoming rolls into San Luis Obispo. Also, several players on the Cal Poly side reached the semifinals of the 2013 D1A playoffs, giving the Mustangs far more meaningful experience than its first-round opponent.
Players to watch:
Andrew Early, Cal Poly: The Mustangs have game-breaking runners in Will Campuzano and Matt Long, while Early is more of a bruiser from his inside center position. Cal Poly should feel confident in its abilities to outplay Wyoming straight up and avoid risking extra passes to get the ball to the edge. If Early is breaking the gain line, the Mustangs should be comfortable giving him the ball early and often, knowing its more experienced side will overtake Wyoming over 80 minutes.
Alex Knowles, Wyoming: Playing a position that requires experience, flyhalf Alex Knowles is one of the more knowledgeable and talented players on the Wyoming roster. His play will be crucial to the Cowboys’ ability to hang with Cal Poly. It would be beneficial to Wyoming’s chances if Knowles can feed his dangerous center, Bobby Watckins, whenever he has a chance.
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The Cal Poly Rugby Club are on their way to the D1A Postseason after finishing the regular season with solid wins over Sac State and SDSU earlier this month.
The Mustangs will host the University of Wyoming from the D1A West conference this Saturday evening at 6pm, with the winner advancing to the National Championship Quarter Finals against Arkansas State the following Saturday.
After returning from their five day Spring Break Tour of Utah for a cross conference match with 2013 Varsity Cup champs BYU, Cal Poly were confident they could finish the D1A regular season on a winning note.
“There’s no doubt the tough losses in the first few weeks of March hurt, but myself and the entire Cal Poly Rugby community couldn’t be more proud of the way the boys bounced back and took the game to BYU up at altitude and in the snow of all conditions” said Coach Burnett
Mustangs Captain Alex Frost agreed the Spring Break tour was a big success “The BYU trip really brought us together as a team and showed us that we can not only play with but get on top of the best sides in the country.”
On the first weekend of the spring quarter in San Luis Obispo the Mustangs secured a 36-10 win over a much-improved Sac State side. As at BYU it was the Poly forward pack that led from the front, dominating the scrum and scoring two driving maul tries off the lineout. The pack scored five of the six tries for the home side on the day, touching down was flanker Mark Grzanich, hooker Kyle Castaneda, lock Nathan Sylvia and 8 Man Aaron Arenas who score a double from the driving mauls.
For the last match of the regular season the Mustangs traveled to SDSU, a venue that has been unforgiving for the men from San Luis Obispo in the past. Up until last season Cal Poly hadn’t beaten SDSU home or away in five years.
The 2nd XV gave the visitors a terrific start to the evening’s matches notching up 75 points to the Aztecs 2nd XV zero. Tighthead prop Drew Meulman led the score sheet with five tries, a try count unheard of for props around the world.
Playing in front of a vocal crowd at 7pm, the SDSU 1st XV came flying out of the blocks with big defensive tackles and real physicality at the breakdown. Holding strong and playing a well-executed kicking game, the Mustangs drove themselves down into the Aztecs quarter.
For the third consecutive match it was the Mustangs dominant driving maul from the lineout that gave the visitors the first points of the game. Openside flanker Matt Ryan got the five points and fullback Alex Frost kick the conversion for a seven nil lead. From there both the Cal Poly forward pack and backline got the better of their D1A opponents in their respective arenas. The pack or “Core” as its known by players numbered 1 through 8 took the Aztecs possession at the scrum & lineout, and the let the backs finish the job. Tries to flyhalf Kelii Dominguez, fullback Alex Frost and local inside center Andy Early took the game out of reach of the home side shortly after the haft time break, and the Mustangs finished on a high with a try to hooker Kyle Castenda in the 73rd minute of the match. Final score Cal Poly 31 – SDSU 10.
Captain Alex Frost said “The team was very happy to get the win at SDSU to lead us into the playoffs. We played some great rugby in patches and we were able to work out the kinks on some of our offensive and defensive plays as well.”
This Saturday evening against Wyoming, Cal Poly will be coming out full of confidence and excitement knowing that a win could see them through to the D1A National Championship elite 8.
“Its great to play against a team (Wyoming) we’ve never faced before. That unknown element will bring a lot of excitement to the match but we know we’ll need to be vigilant and respectful as well to ensure the win.”
Kick off against Wyoming is at 6pm at the Cal Poly Rec Fields. Entry is free and there will be FREE hotdogs for Cal Poly students between 5:30-6:15pm.
In the rain, hail, and snow of Provo Utah on Wednesday night, the Mustangs went down 37-22 to #3 BYU in an epic match not soon to be forgotten by either team. Cal Poly came flying out of the blocks and stunned the home side with a 10-nil lead six minutes into the match, but when BYU gained the lead and the heavens opened up to coat the field in snow, Cal Poly couldn’t get enough points back on the board to get the win.
Wrapping up one of the hardest four-week schedules in collegiate rugby this season, the Mustangs traveled to Utah earlier this week to take on #3 BYU in Provo. The match against the 2013 Varsity Cup Champions BYU signaled the end to an arduous month that saw Cal Poly take on #1 St Mary’s, #2 Cal, Santa Clara and Ivy League Champions Dartmouth in back to back matches.
The Mustangs have come through the period a little worse for wear with 1st XV starting flyhalf Taylor Honnette, prop Phil Davidovich and flanker Christian Alexandre sustaining season ending injuries early in the month. These young men will unfortunately join fellow 1st XV starters; prop Eric Parsons, outside center Max Tacket & lock Wyatt Esola in the stands for the rest of the spring.
Testament to the strength and depth of the Cal Poly program in 2014, young Mustangs such as freshman tighthead prop Eddie McFarland, sophomore wing turned flyhalf Kelii Dominguez, rookie lock Nathan Sylvia and freshman outside center Will Campuzano have not only filled the cleats of their injured teammates, but excelled in the green and gold jersey against some of the most dominating opponents in collegiate rugby.
Arriving into Salt Lake City four days earlier to prepare and acclimatize to the high altitude conditions, the Cal Poly boys enjoyed a mixture of practice and sightseeing in some of Utah’s most iconic locations.
When match day came around the visitors were more than pumped for the immense challenge ahead and the men from California made a lightening start just 2 minutes into the match. With an attacking lineout ten meters out from BYU’s line, hooker Eddie McFarland nailed the throw to the back which sent the Mustangs pack galloping towards the line in a well formed driving maul. The stunned BYU forwards couldn’t do anything to slow the momentum of the maul and when vice captain John Joe Murphy touched the ball down, the Mustangs had just the start the were looking for. The successful conversion to Alex Frost and a penalty kick only a few minutes later gave the men in green a 10-nil before the home side realized what hit them.
Not to be left wanting, the reigning Varsity Cup champs began their comeback shorty after scoring three tries in a ten-minute period midway through the first half. One to winger Jordan Lowry and two to Fijian outside center Josh Whippy.
Although the days leading into the match were warm and sunny, the conditions that arose 30 minutes into the match were something else entirely. What began as sideways rain turned to hail and then to snow, something that in the 22 years of BYU Rugby on campus has never happened during a match.
With the snow now really coming down the Cal Poly boys didn’t let off and after a 40-meter break from scrumhalf Thomas Leacox the visitors parked themselves in the BYU red zone.
Following three successive scrums and three successive penalties awarded to Cal Poly only meters out, it was Leacox again that created the chance for the tourists. Taking a quick tap the zippy number 9 raced past the retreating BYU forwards to set up winger Matt Long who crash over the line for the try. The try took the Mustangs to within four points of the Cougars.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs these were the last points to be scored in the first half. When winger Matt Long was taken into touch following a short dash down the left hand sideline, BYU’s South African scrumhalf Luke Mocke caught Cal Poly napping with a quick throw in to his New Zealand flyhalf Johnny Linehan. Linehan went on a surging run through the off guard Mustang defensive line to score under the posts for the last say of the half. Half time score BYU 24 – Cal Poly 15.
With the snow well and truly coming down, the biggest story coming out of the first half was the dominance of the Cal Poly forward pack. At every scrum encounter the Californian men had the usually formidable BYU forward pack on skates, shocking the BYU fans, commentators and no doubt coaches. This is a tremendous effort for the Mustangs tight five that boasts only one returner from the 2013 1st XV. Great payoff for the hard work of the new players and scrum coaches Charles Zanoli and Peter Madonna.
With a substantial layer of snow on the pitch in the second half both sides struggled to gain any attacking continuity. Both sides had to resort to tight rugby tactics and it was BYU who scored first early after the break with a pick and go try meters from the Poly line.
Cal Poly answered back with a pick and go try of their own following a clever box kick from Leacox gave the Mustangs the territory they needed to convert pressure into points. Attempting a push over try the Cal Poly pack got within inches of the BYU line but the scrum was moving too fast for 8 man John Joe Murphy to control. Taking the ball off the back Murphy made an unsuccessful charge to the line but two phases later his San Francisco teammate Joe Cremen extended his long arms to ensure the Mustangs were still in the hunt.
With fatigue setting in in the icy conditions it would seem the final quarter of the match would be determined by the team that could control the possession and territory stats. A strong kicking game kept the Cougars inside the visitors half and with continued pressure at the breakdown led by BYU’s Australian openside flanker Jordan Wilson, the home side capitalized with two successful penalty kicks that extended their lead to 15 points.
That lead would prove to be too much for the Mustangs to overcome and the final score stayed at 37-22. Although beaten in the match, the men in green came off the field knowing they gave everything they had and more, in horrendous conditions and put a championship side under immense pressure the likes the home side has not experienced in many years.
With two weeks left in the D1A regular season, Cal Poly in 8th place take on Sac State in San Luis Obispo on April 5th and SDSU in San Diego on April 12th. Successful results in these finals rounds will give the Mustangs a home playoff play in match on April 19th against the likes of Santa Clara, Wyoming or Michigan. The winner of that match will travel for a quarter final match up against St Mary’s, Life Univ, Arkansas State or Lindenwood Univ.
The Mustangs played host to the Dartmouth Big Green in SLO last Wednesday night whilst they traveled down the Californian coast on their 2014 spring break tour. The locals put on a couple of days of beautiful central coast weather for the men from New England who were in dyer need of some sunshine after the brutal north east winter.
Although located in opposite corners of the country, the Cal Poly & Dartmouth Rugby Clubs’ have developed themselves quite the rivalry in recent years particularly in Rugby 7s. Last fall at the 2013 USA Rugby 7s National Championships, the Mustangs & the Big Green found themselves in Pool E for the second year in a row. Dartmouth, a first rate Rugby 7s team with two CRC 7s Championships in their name, had to fight back from 12 point deficit against Cal Poly in the last match of Pool E. With the help of current Eagles 7s player Madison Hughes the Big Green pulled off an epic win after the final whistle.
Now well into the 15s seasons these first class Rugby universities played out two matches beginning at twilight last Wednesday evening at the Cal Poly Rec Fields. The first match between the college’s 2nd XV sides saw the home side hold off the tourist in a low scoring nail biter. A try each was scored in the first half and only the successful conversion by Mustangs flyhalf Corey McGrillen was the difference for the duration of the match.
Both sides played attacking rugby from inside their own halves but each teams’ defensive efforts matched their opponents offensive prowess. Dartmouth had two long-range penalty shots inside the final quarter of the match but they came up short and the Mustang’s 2nd XV held on for a 7-5 victory.
After the sun set behind Bishops Peak the 1st XV teams took the field and put on a quality, fast paced high scoring match for the healthy home crowd. Although the visitors scored first, Cal Poly gain control shorty after and came away with a five tries to three win.
The Mustangs played a much more control game in this mid week encounter than in their narrow lose the Saturday before to Santa Clara and it showed with well worked tries to hooker Kyle Castaneda, outside center Will Campuzano, winger Derek Morefield, new flyhalf Kelii Dominguez and flanker Matt Ryan. Dartmouth showing real intensity with ball in hand and a smart offloading game also put on three quality tries for the spectators.
All in all a great tour match in which the Californians will look to repay their New England rugger mates in the seasons ahead.
It has been a tough start to the month of March for the Mustangs as tight losses and injuries have hit the ruggers in the gut, but with matches against 2013 Ivy League champs Dartmouth tonight and 2013 Varsity Cup champs BYU in Utah next Wednesday, the Mustangs have every chance to regain momentum and confidence leading into the back end of the D1A season.
On March 1st Cal Poly travelled to Moraga to take on St Mary’s College who were recently ranked the number 1 team in the country after an impressive win over BYU the week before. It was and always is a bruising match between these two Californian D1A sides and this encounter was no different.
Substantial rainfall in Moraga the day before the match left the pitch in a soggy state that hampered both teams attacking chances. With dropped balls a certainty a lot of attacking stability would rely on strength of each teams scrum. The week before the Gaels scrum tore the BYU pack a part, a rare site for those who have seen BYU scrums of the past.
For the Mustangs it was down to freshman tighthead prop Eddie McFarland, stepping up for injured 2013 All American prop Eric Parsons, to anchor Cal Poly’s scrum against might of the Gaels. McFarland with only a handful of matches at tighthead prop cause his opposing loosehead prop so much difficulty that referee Phil Akroyd had no choice but to yellow card the Gaels no.1 in the second half for repeated illegal scrimmaging.
These continued penalties at scrum time gave the Mustangs much needed field position throughout the game but a lack of “that finishing touch” prevented the visitors from converting line breaks into points.
After restricting the dangerous St Mary’s attack to two tries it wasn’t until the final play of the half that Cal Poly would score a try that would keep them in sight of the Gaels and give the green & gold fans something to cheer about. Having established good possession inside the Gaels territory, Cal Poly were in a threatening position and with a strong skip pass from scrumhalf Thomas Leacox from the base of the ruck it was flyhalf Taylor Honnette who dove into the corner for the try. The unsuccessful conversion attempt left the score at 14-5 to St Mary’s at the break.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs it was that late first half try that would be their only points for the match. St Mary’s stretched their lead in the second half with strong pick and goes at the ruck and some solid counter attack by fullback Cooper Maloney. The final score had St Mary’s on top 36-5.
Adding to the pain of the loss for Coach Burnett and the Mustangs was the pain of losing starting flyhalf Taylor Honnette for the season after he suffered a knee injury in the final 10 minutes of the match.
The next weekend for the Mustangs was a San Luis Obispo double header, taking on Santa Clara in week 3 of the D1A league season on Saturday and the might of Cal #2 on Sunday.
Filling the shoes of Honnette, who was the leading try scorer in the Mustangs fall 7s season, was the very experienced senior utility back Alex Frost. Frost who enjoyed 7s success as a scrumhalf/flyhalf also spent time in the pivot role for the Mustangs 1st XV in earlier season matches against ASU and UCSB.
Sending in a mix of youth and experience against the SCUTs, the Mustangs had another rough start to the match. Unfortunately for the home side, it wasn’t the final 10 minutes rather the first 10 of the match that their flyhalf would go down. Frost sustained a hamstring injury from one of the first set pieces of the match that would ensure he would not return to the field for the duration of the weekend.
Confident and energetic, Santa Clara scored first after a string of penalties by the ill-disciplined home side gave the SCUTs field position they did not pass up. Not to be left standing at the gate, Cal Poly bounced straight back with a try of their own to quick stepping fullback Matt Long.
Down 8-7 midway through the first half the Mustangs took the lead with a well executed set piece try to home town winger Nate Nunno. Replacement flyhalf Corey McGrillen made no mistake with the conversion as the vocal home crowd cheered the Mustangs on under the sunshine at the Cal Poly Rec Fields.
The SCUTs, however, were in no mood to yield and went back in front with another penalty goal to wing Holmgern followed by a try to flanker O’Hara in the 21st minute of the match. The visitors then charged further ahead when flyhalf Dunne picked up an intercept and raced 50 meters to score next to the posts. The successful conversion gave the visitors an impressive 23-14 lead when the half time whistle blew.
At the beginning of the second half the pressure was firmly on the home side. Having weathered an early SCUTs storm, Cal Poly broke for the first score of the half in 43rd minute. Matt Long counter attacking from his own half fed the ball to his supporting backs who got tackled 20 meters out from the try line. Quick ball from the ensuing ruck and a long pass from lock Joey Cremen gave electric winger Kelii Dominguez room around the covering defense. Dominguez would give the final pass to outside center Derek Morefield who dove in for the try. A tremendous McGrillen conversion from the sideline brought the Mustangs to within two points of the SCUTs.
Taking all points on offer, Santa Clara extended their lead with a three point penalty goal in the 53rd minute of the game.
Needing a converted try to regain the lead Cal Poly attacking from inside their own quarter advanced the ball down into the visitors half with a well put together attacking move followed by a string of close nit passes to charging green supporting players. This territory and momentum carried the home side to within meters of the try line and when replacement scrumhalf Thomas Leacox took advantage of some distracted SCUTs defenders to crash over line for the try, the score was all tied up at 26 a piece. Another accurate kick from the sideline by Corey McGrillen gave the Mustangs an all but comfortable two point lead in the 63rd minute.
That small lead for the home side would be short lived as the SCUTs reminded Cal Poly they were still in the game as the clawed their way back into the Mustangs quarter. A slight line break and movement from one side of the field to the other was enough to give winger Holmgern room to score in the corner.
After an incredibly tense last five minutes with Cal Poly throwing in wave after wave of attacking plays inside the visitors quarter, Santa Clara got the last referee’s decision of the match to take the game 28-31.
Eager to restore some pride from Saturday’s loss to Santa Clara, Cal Poly was enthusiastic coming into Sunday’s match against #2 ranked Cal Berkeley. The Bears sporting a handful of 2013 All American starters and the current Eagles outside center Seamus Kelly were never going to take the Mustangs lightly and showed their intent to play running rugby from the outset.
Although the 26 time national champions pushed away with two early tries, the Mustangs were building phases and pressure nicely inside visitors half. Then in the 15th minute freshman winger Matt Long, who was a contender for the All American U20s squad to play in the Junior World Trophy in Hong Kong next month, demonstrated his electric footwork and exceptional finishing skills by beating three Cal defenders on his way to the line. Long’s finish was at the end of a pin point Mustang’s move that left defenders in two minds and when new flyhalf Corey McGillen slotted the extra points, Cal Poly were only one try away from the Bears.
Never to be left quiet, Cal bounced straight back, breaking the home side’s resistance with a 50 meter dash started with some fine footwork by outside center Kelly and finished by Adolphus, counting for the visitors their third try of the afternoon.
Although the Mustangs showed patches of defiance, the men from San Luis Obispo could not contain Berkeley’s speed and athleticism out wide and tries continued in a fluid manner for the visitors for the remainder of the match.
Cal Poly however secured a consolation try in the 77th minute of the match when replacement winger Derek Morefield crashed over the line to the delight of the home crowd.
Despite the early March set backs, Cal Poly remains in 8th position on the D1A ladder, right in contention for a home play-in match. A win there would give the Mustangs an elite 8 berth against either Californian rivals St Mary’s #1, Life #2, Arkansas St #3 or up and coming athletic program Lindenwood University out of the mid-west.
By Alex Solomon USA Rugby
BOULDER, Colo. – No. 1-ranked Saint Mary’s hosts Cal Poly Saturday, March 1, in this week’s D1A Match of the Week.
The Gaels are 1-0 in California Conference play, but their 2014 résumé includes a host of impressive wins, including a 30-24 triumph against Brigham Young University. Cal Poly currently sits at no. 8 in D1A Rugby’s Top 20, and might pose the greatest conference challenge for Saint Mary’s this season.
In the 2013 conference matchup between the two schools, Cal Poly took a lead into halftime. However, Saint Mary’s came storming back to eventually overcome the Mustangs, 41-31. The teams’ second meeting of the season came in D1A’s Semifinal contest. At that point of the season Saint Mary’s had truly hit its stride and ran away from Cal Poly in a 58-29 win.
Head Coach Dave Burnett and the rest of the Cal Poly coaching staff are plenty aware of the rampant success Saint Mary’s has had as of late, but the Mustangs will bring a confident group to Moraga, Calif.
“We know they’re strong and they’ll be well prepared,” acknowledged Burnett. “It’s always a great match when we play Saint Mary’s and it has become a great rivalry. We know we are good enough to challenge them, to take them on and to win. We also know that in a match against a team of this caliber you have to be well prepared and execute on the day.”
The schools will be playing three full matches against one another, as each program is deep enough to dress a second and third XV. As impressive as their top units are, the depth of the programs are notable and rare at the college level.
At this stage the 3rd XV match will be played at 11am, followed by the 1st XV match at 1pm and finally the 2nd XV clash at 2:30pm. These times could change due to the rain forecast. Go Mustangs!
There is no doubt that the D1A clash between St Mary’s & Cal Poly could decide the Californian conference champion as it did last year.
But what many spectators who are heading to Moraga this Saturday don’t know is that there is another top of the table clash on the cards.
It is a match unfortunately almost always forgotten by the main horde of fans as it usually takes place after the final whistle of the all-important 1st XV match.
It is of course the match between college’s 2nd XV sides or ‘B Side Best Side’ as it’s known to some players.
This Saturday Cal Poly’s 2nd XV is coming into the Gaels match with wins over UC Davis, ASU, UCLA, last weeks 72-12 white wash of UCSB and a one off win against the Cal Maritime 1st XV.
Cal Poly 2nd XV Captain Nate Nunno knows that although these are great results, this Saturday’s match is going to be a big step up. “The boys have taken a lot of confidence out of our wins so far, but we know St Mary’s will a level above that.“ Nunno said. “In the wet conditions forecast it will come down to the most physically dominant pack and the team the applies the most defensive pressure.”
In last years match up between these two sides it was a fiercely contested match that went back and forth on numerous occasions. The final result was a nine-point ball game that saw Gaels get up 36-27.
Cal Poly Head Coach Dave Burnett attributes the success of the 2nd XV over the past two years to the increase in player numbers and the competition for spots in the 1st XV. “It’s where you want to be as a club. You want all players to strive to be in a better team than they’re in.” Burnett said. “It’s that desire to wear your club’s 1st XV jersey and the knowledge that if you have that jersey you have to continually play and train well to keep it.”
“At the moment with the depth in our backline we have young freshman winger Matt Long, who recently just missed out on the All American U20’s Junior World Trophy squad, playing in the 2nds. There’s also tremendous competition in the back row with Rugby rookies Salvador Guevara and Mark Grzanich putting great pressure on the 1st XV players above them.” Coach Burnett Said.
The 2nd XV will kick off after the 1st XV match at 2:30pm.
WRITTEN BY PAT CLIFTON. Rugbymag.com
Cal Poly bounced back from back-to-back out-of-conference losses to pound UCSB 75-3 in a game where not much went wrong for the Mustangs.
“The past several weeks have been tough. We had a good fight back against UCLA but left it too late and let them get too many points on the board early,” said Cal Poly coach Dave Burnett
“And the Arizona State was a disappointment – they got two intercept tries in the first half and the other tries came from the ball spinning out of the scrum, so it was a bit of a scrappy game down there. It’s good to be scoring some good tries today and putting it all together.”
Freshman wing Matt Long led Cal Poly in tries on the day, running in a hat trick. His fellow outside backs chipped in four more, accounting for seven of the Mustangs’ 11 against the Gauchos.
“I want to see team tries, and when your outside backs score tries, it means the whole team is doing their job, and that was very pleasing for us today,” said Burnett.
“Those guys were scoring tries because everybody inside them was doing their job – we’re winning quick ball at the breakdowns, the ball skill by the backs were very good, a lot of good draw and pass and getting the ball to space, so very pleasing to see those guys score tries out wide. Champagne rugby, as we call it.”
Elsewhere in California, San Diego State overcame a sluggish start to beat Sacramento State 46-17. The Aztecs didn’t separate from Sac State until the second half.
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