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Saint Mary's Comes Back to Haul in UCLA

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Saint Mary's Comes Back to Haul in UCLA

Photo David Barpal.

In a bizarre and very entertaining game in Moraga, Saint Mary's came back from 31-12 down to beat UCLA 41-31 in a non-conference D1A showdown.

UCLA unleashed some impressive backline play, speed of movement, and a good kicking game to expose Saint Mary's, and at one point looked in control. But a much improved second half by Saint Mary's saw them score 29 unanswered points to win the game.

UCLA was under pressure early thanks to a well-taken 50-22 by Saint Mary's flyhalf Karl Keane. But the Bruins defense was good, eventually stopping a maul and getting a scrum. They then kicked, not to touch but as a kick-ass for wing Max Cosmides. Saint Mary's read it all well enough and then when UCLA sent the ball back into their threequarters, Gaels flanker Soren Peterson brought in a massive tackle that shook loose the ball. Ever quick to punish turnovers the Gaels sent it wide, and a nifty inside pass from center Junior Waqavesi to Eddie King saw the fullback in for the opening try of the game.

UCLA replied quickly, kicking deep and chasing hard. The Saint Mary's support was slow to get back and the Gaels were whistled for a holding-on penalty. Smart play by UCLA and from that penalty they took a lineout, mauled it, and then flyhalf Shane Barry grubbered through for Lucas LaCamp to race through for the try. Barry converted and UCLA led 7-5.

Back came Saint Mary's, using their dominant scrum to get go-forward and then snappy hands from Waqavesi to wing Jonathan Hackett to a front-rower out to lock Lleyton Delzell for the try in the corner, Keane hit the tough conversion and it was 12-7 Saint Mary's.

Not for long. An excellent power run from lock Aiden Metzner put him through some Gael arm tackles and then he offloaded to No. 8 and captain Josh Dowdeswell, who was only too happy to chug in under the posts. Barry converted and it was 14-12 UCLA. Moments later a turnover was gathered by lock Rory Corr who smartly offloaded to LaCamp, and the UCLA center, already capped by the USA in 7s, showed why as he burned everyone around the outside. Barry converted and it was 21-12.

Another burst by LaCamp set up Cosmides on the wing to make it 26-12 at 29 minutes. Saint Mary's had some momentum, chiefly thanks to a scrum that shoved UCLA back at will, but they weren't smart. A penalty against UCLA for a high tackle at the Saint Mary's 22 was reversed when a Gael appeared to slap a Bruin in retaliation. Yellow card, penalty to UCLA and, eventually, a try for the Bruins.

This time Barry kicked ahead and big flanker Alex Cortessis charged through to touch it down. That's how the first half ended, with UCLA up 31-12 and Saint Mary's wondering how to deal with it.

They dealt with it in classic Saint Mary's style, coming out of any shell they might have been using and playing open, daring rugby. Within two minutes the Gaels had a try. Waqavesi sent a wide pass to Hackett who galloped close to the line. The forwards were there and Waqavesi had wisely followed his pass, skated out to the left side, and took the pass to score comfortably.

UCLA got into some penalty trouble and one such penalty led to a lineout, then another penalty, then a scrum at the UCLA five-meter. From there it looked like maybe the Bruins had stolen the ball in the backline, but they were called back for offside right in front of the posts. Kick for points? Don't be silly—King tapped quickly, and after a couple of rucks right on the tryline the ball was sent wide to lock Cathal Coakley for the try. the conversion attempts was off the post, but now it was 31-22.

UCLA's hopes of regaining the momentum took a hit when Hackett, on defense in the middle of the field despite being a wing, intercepted a UCLA pass and was in from 50 meters. That interception was helped, in part, but the Saint Mary's scrum shoving UCLA back. The Bruins retained the ball, but it was Saint Mary's that was going forward. Now it was 31-29 with Keane's conversion.

Back came UCLA. Fullback Josh Cox fielded a kick and countered before passing inside to LaCamp. A Saint Mary's hand grabbed LaCamp's army as he caught the ball—knock-on and Saint Mary's once again on the front foot. A nice run in traffic by wing Mario Storti got the Gaels in shouting distance, the forwards consolidated, and then Hackett just picked up and took Route 1 straight ahead to score. With 15 minutes to go, Saint Mary's was now in the lead 34-31.

Keane then kept the pressure on with another well-taken 50-22. And while in open play the Gaels were driven back a bit, they retained ball. Finally King chipped ahead. The UCLA defenders unwisely decided to worry about slowing the fullback down from chasing the ball. No one paid attention to reserve lock Angelo Aguirre, who charged in and was on the ball before most of the UCLA players realized it. Keane converted and that was it, 41-31.

Both teams came close to scoring after that, with the Barry-LaCamp connection, this time on a high ball off a penalty, almost paying off. But Saint Mary's held on.

In the end, what we learned was that UCLA's backline is very dangerous and their forwards work hard around the ball. But their set piece needs work. New Head Coach Harry Bennett has brought in some wrinkles with the kicking game and several times the Bruins used a kick in slightly unorthdox ways. Slogging it out on defense against a team that retains ball well, however, is a different situation.

For Saint Mary's, they looked quite beatable in the first half, but brought it together, realizing that with their strength in the scrum they could afford the odd knock-on and still exert pressure. Waqavesi's work rate and playmaking was exceptionaland captain and tighthead prop Joe Marchant just got down to work. Ever the opportunist, Hackett made things happen.

Saint Mary's 41
Tries: Hackett 2, King, Delzell, Waqavesi, Coakley, Aguirre
Convs: Keane 3

Tries: LaCamp 2, Dowdeswell, Cosmides, Cortessis
Convs: Barry 3