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In For The Long Haul, New UCLA Coach Bennett Eyes PAC Opener

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In For The Long Haul, New UCLA Coach Bennett Eyes PAC Opener

Harry Bennett and UCLA just might be the right fit.

It's the start of a new-new era for UCLA as Harry Bennett looks ahead to this week's PAC Rugby Conference opener against Arizona.

Barring COVID interruptions of course.

This was thought to be the next step in the David Clancy era, but Clancy took a position with the LA Giltinis, and after having found their new coach, the UCLA Rugby alumni leadership group had to look for another one. Lucky for them Bennett was ready. The 31-year-old flyhalf from Sydney, Australia is a young, modern rugby thinker who until very recently was playing professionally for Rugby New York in Major League Rugby.

But there were other things on his mind. Bennett moved to the USA in 2014, playing with the Santa Monica Rugby Club. During that time he met with various people connected with UCLA rugby, and he liked what he saw.

"I went to The King's School in Australia, and it had a lot of similarities," said Bennett. The King's School is in North Parramatta just outside Sydney. "I decided that after my playing career was over I would want to be coaching at a place like UCLA."

Or exactly like UCLA. As it turned out, the timing worked out perfectly. Bennett had a strong 2021 season for Rugby New York, and was feeling pretty pleased about his rugby, but then Clancy moved on and UCLA reached out about Bennett coaching with the Bruins.

"I thought, hmm ... I am 31 and I was pretty happy which how I'd been playing in New York, but then I thought that maybe this was a good time to go out," Bennett explained to GRR. He had considered wanting to play for one more year, but then the coaching opportunity would likely have gone. Was one more season worth a missed opportunity for his dream job? No.

"Very few athletes get to go out on their own terms, and while I knew I had more rugby in me, I realized this was the time." Early in January he announced his retirement from professional rugby and moved to LA.

Bennett praised Clancy for the work he'd done on the team culture, admin, and recruiting. And then he also had praise for Adam Ashe and Cristian Rodriguez, who have bridged the gap between head coaches. 

"Their being there was really helpful as I got started," he said. 

Soon Bennett's team was on the field, hosting the annual Storer Classic. Wins were hard to come by, but Bennett said he's not too worried about that. He wanted to see players handle pressure and respond and learn. They did that, and leading Cal 8-7 late in the first half showed they had the ability to hang with any team.

"A lot of it has to do with having the belief," said Bennett. "The attitude in the team, especially on defense, has been very good. Losing is tough to swallow, but we have time. As coaches we feel the pressure of having to win, but what we're looking for right now is improvement and growth. If we focus on that and on upskilling then the results will come."

They came Saturday, with UCLA beating UC San Diego 74-0 in their full full-length game of 2022. But win or lose, key for the UCLA alumni is that Bennett is in for the long haul. At 31 he is looking to establish himself in Los Angeles and as a coach. He loves the area and is taking it slowly, week-by-week. This week UCLA plays Arizona and in fact Bennett has been in talks with Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy about coaching in the conference and the things he has to deal with. 

"The alumni group has been really supportive and my goals are in alignment with theirs," he said. 

UCLA is set to visit Tucson, Ariz. Saturday to face the UA Wildcats.