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Speed of Play Sees Gaels Past GCU

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Speed of Play Sees Gaels Past GCU

Saint Mary's vs Grand Canyon University January 6, 2024. J. Dalton Photography.

Saint Mary’s put Grand Canyon to the sword Saturday in Phoenix, defeating the ‘Lopes 79-8 on the first day of collegiate competition in the New Year.

GCU started on the front foot and got an early penalty goal to lead 3-0. But Saint Mary’s played their habitual fast ball-movement game, bolstered by a powerful scrum, and answered in short order.

In fact it was the scrum that put GCU on the back foot and a loop move and some hard running from newly-capped Dom Besag (still only a sophomore) put the Gaels in at the corner.

GCU did spend some time after that in the Saint Mary’s 22, but little execution errors and some very aggressive defense from the Gaels kept the ‘Lopes from scoring—Besag made a try-saving tackle to keep it 7-3.

About seven minutes of GCU pressure yielded, in the end, a Saint Mary’s try as wing Iosefa Toiaivao burst in to intercept a pass and go 80 meters for a try under the posts.

That was a tough one to take for GCU. 

Saint Mary’s then punished a kick out on the full but launching a more structure attack. A chip kick from Besag was fielded by flyhalf Sosaia Pongi, who unveiled a lovely chicken-wing offload to outside center Erich Storti for the next Gaels try.

Captain and flanker Kaipono Kayoshi then led the next surge which ended with wing Jake Negrete racing down the sideline, getting tackled, getting back up when he wasn’t held, and scoring.

GCU got out of trouble and kicked clear only for fullback Mario Storti weave his way in and around and through before linking with loose forward King Matu who widely just passed off to Taoiavao for the wing’s second try.

Kayoshi’s fingerprints were all over the next try as he scooped up a loose ball and carried three or four more times, all at key moments, to set the stage for lock Cathal Coakley to cruise in.

That made it 38-3 at halftime.

Dominant scrum work and defensive pressure forced a GCU turnover deep in the ‘Lopes’ end at the beginning of the second half and Besag got his second.

A set plan off a lineout and back against the grain allowed Erich Storti to dummy and go over. 

GCU did have opportunities and midway through the second half. A nifty pop kick from fullback Luke Neely and an excellent gather and run from wing Lewis Case almost yielded a try. But Saint Mary’s was quicker to that breakdown and stole the ball back.

Still Grand Canyon spent the next several minutes in the Saint Mary’s 22 but they could not break through. And when the Gaels got a scrum the Storti brothers took off into the GCU half and eventually Coakley had his second in much the same way as the first, holding his position out wide and taking the gap that was on offer.

The tries continued to flow even as Saint Mary’s rang the changes. The Gaels were very quick on defense and they clearly work on their ball handling skills—expecting the pass is as important as any other part of that equation, and it was 79-3 with about seven minutes left.

GCU did finally get a try. The ball rolled out of the side of a Saint Mary’s ruck and Bentley Bleeker pounced on it and took off down the sideline to score in the corner. 

But overall it was a dynamic showing from Saint Mary’s, while a very young GCU team got a taste of how quickly and aggressively they will want to play.