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Program Spotlight: Saint Mary's Over Cal

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Program Spotlight: Saint Mary's Over Cal

Saint Mary's was certainly up for this game. Karen Drinkwater photo.

While it's difficult to put Saturday's Saint Mary's vs Cal result in context, it's hard to ignore a 32-14 scoreline in favor of the Gaels.

Known for their adventurous open-field play, Saint Mary's also produced some superb work in the forwards. Led by prop Peyton Telea Ilalio and with lock/flanker Ronan Murphy back as captain, the Gaels forwards were physical, put in the effort, and, of course, mauled extremely well.

"They're just a bunch of normal guys who work extremely hard, have good rugby IQ, and are just really dedicated," said Head Coach Tim O'Brien. "The coaches we have have been doing an outstanding job getting the guys ready, but the players are also working hard and came in with plenty of intensity."

Those volunteer coaches, including Brendan O'Meara, who has installed some new detail on attack, Andrew Cook, who has worked nicely with the lineout, and Mark Bass, who has has influence throughout, were bolstered by a team that was really ready.

The tone was set early when the Gaels won a lineout and mauled it over from about 15 meters out. That maul was impressive because the players bound tightly and they didn't allow themselves to be distracted from the task at hand.

Then they did it again, this time from about 20 meters out. Cal did very well to reset their defense on that maul—usually when a maul leaves defenders behind it's game over, but the Bears managed to slow the progress regardless. Didn't matter; Saint Mary's stayed tight and mauled it over for a try.

And then in the second half the Gaels unleashed their open field attack after a massive hit from Tevita Lopeti jarred the ball loose. Finally, Ronan Murphy went over after defensive pressure produced a charge-down that bounced off the goalpost and into Murphy's hands. Sometimes you make your own luck.

And effort and pressure made that luck, but also some off-the-wall thinking. Murphy was not expected to play early this season, Lopeti was very doubtful, and some other injuries were also floating around. But O'Brien linked up with a biomechanics expert, who started working with some of the players and, behold, Murphy didn't need surgery and was able to play. 

"We've been taking some different approaches and it's been working out," said O'Brien. "We are a program with not a lot of resources and so we have to approach some things differently."

Then there are the players. We've mentioned some but fullback Erich Storti continues to produce good plays, and No. 8 Miles McCormick has been a force within a factor within an impact.

"I don't think I've ever seen a player like Miles, who does absolutely everything at 100%," said O'Brien. When O'Brien talks about winning the contact point, McCormick is listening.

It seems like all of Saint Mary's Rugby is listening.