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A Closer Look at SMCC Over Utah

College Men

A Closer Look at SMCC Over Utah

Vili Helu scored two for the Gaels. Michael Geib photo.

Saint Mary’s logged another win with a 55-12 decision over Utah Saturday.

For the Gaels, the first half was pretty much what they wanted. They pushed aside any concerns about wet weather and rain, and just played, setting up Aaron Matthews for the opening try with some smooth passing down the line. 

Scrumhalf Holden Yungert dove over a ruck after a long period of forwards bashing at the Utah goalline. Then flanker Alec Barton forced a Utah drop off the Utes’ eightman pick and the ball went out to Matthews, who ghosted through a gap and popped a well-timed offload to Mike Wallace.

More pressure from Saint Mary’s, bolstered by some smart kicking that forced Utah to try to run out of their own end, resulted in a scrum-five. The Gaels’ pack always scrums well and they shoved Utah back and No. 8 Vili Helu simply picked the ball up and fell over the line.

The Gaels were a little fortunate in the next try as they set up a maul that was not particularly unified. Utah was called for collapsing the maul, but could be forgiven as there were bodies all over the place, and who could tell if there was a maul in action or not?

Yellow card for Utah, scrum for Saint Mary’s, and left wing Chris McDonell gets a reverse pass from Yungert and scores in the corner.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic, that’s for sure. Utah had their period off attack, it was just that they usually started well inside their 22. The Saint Mary’s defense was aggressive, but flanker and captain Kevin O’Connor did get a yellow card for pushing the limits a bit too much.

That gave Utah an attacking lineout in the Saint Mary’s 22, but their approach was not quick enough and the Gaels jarred the ball loose. After some back-and-forth that still seemed to be leading to a Utah score, the Gaels got the ball back, and sent it through the hands to the wing.

On the wing was Helu, who was flat-footed thanks to a pass behind his back. But, the No. 8 sidestepped one tackle, pulled out of the grasp of another, dummied another, and pulled off a nifty sidestep to gallop 55 meters for the try.

Utah finally got on the scoreboard with a brilliant tramline run - a short lineout take and run by No. 8 Gabe Rufflin got them going, and he linked up with hooker Chad Gough, who then popped back inside to prop Caleb Meyer, who finished it off. It was a movement that went almost 50 meters and occurred entirely within 15 meters of the left sideline.

Saint Mary’s responded immediately, working the phases and then sending it wide for Dylan Audsley to run through a huge hole.

Audsley logged three conversions and Saint Mary’s led 41-5.

For Saint Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien, it was a drastic improvement from last week’s game against UC Santa Barbara, wherein his team committed a boatload of penalties and turnovers, and somehow managed to win big, anyway.

“We were really efficient in the first half, spread the ball around nicely, minimized the turnovers, minimized the penalties,” said O’Brien. The turnover count in the first half was three for Saint Mary’s.

“In the first half we had remarkable numbers,” said O’Brien. “And we had good continuity.”

In the second half, the Saint Mary’s penalty and turnover count went up significantly, and O’Brien said some changes in the backline changed the level of communication. Utah’s vertical attack worked a little better, and they finally realized that kicking to one of the best set of backs in the college game might not be a swift idea. 

Jack Carso scored for Saint Mary’s on an excellent individual effort, and then Gough, who continues an outstanding run of form, scored. Gough was one of the few Utah players who really tried to punch through the Saint Mary’s hits - it was the Gaels’ physicality at the point of contact that held the Utah attack in check. But it wasn’t a simple pick-and-go that ended up being his try. Instead, the hooker scored off another short lineout. This was a short throw to prop Meyer at the front, and Meyer popped it back to Gough, who was 42 meters from paydirt. No problem. Faced with a wing to beat, Gough faked a chip over the top, the wing bit on the fake, and the hooker kept rolling, fending off one more tackler before sliding into the end zone. It was a sensational play from one of the best hookers in the college game.

The game ended with a little champagne rugby from the Gaels, with tap passes and quick flips setting up Cory Kroeger for a long run.

In the end, the game showed what Saint Mary’s can be - clinical in the extreme even against really strong teams - but also how moving around personnel can make it difficult to get tries. Utah had plenty of opportunities to score, and their red zone offense was found wanting. But the Utes also showed flashes, flashes that they can build on with plenty of rugby to come.


Saint Mary’s 55

Tries: Matthews, Yungert, M. Wallace, McDonnell, Helu 2, Audsley, Carso, Kroeger

Convs: Audsley 5


Utah 12

Tries: Meyer, Gough

Convs: 1

Helu's try for Saint Mary's and Meyer's try for Utah. Two special ones.