The St. Mary’s rugby team laid down a marker Saturday with a 69-3 shellacking of a very solid Cal Poly team.
The Gaels scored 13 tries from nine different players, and seemed to be clicking in all aspects of play despite being with several top-level starters, some of whom are not coming back.
Hooker and captain Andrew Cook was the redoubtable leader for St. Mary’s, and one of a trio of front row starters who scored.
“Andrew did a great job,” enthused St. Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien. “He was very clear with the players on how we wanted to play, and how to make all the pieces fit. Having players like him makes coaching pretty easy.”
O’Brien confessed to being somewhat shocked at this victory, coming, as it did, on the heels of a big win over UCLA and Cal Poly’s defeat of Cal earlier in the season.
“We see this as a big win,” added Cook. “Every win is a big result. With Cal not in the league we need to take every week and look on it as the most important game of the season. I think we did well to make sure we stuck to our pattern. We didn’t have to play a lot of defense, but when we did, the guys did a good job.”
O’Brien said the victory over Cal Poly should not be read as anything remotely meaning that St. Mary’s is better than Cal. But the Gaels did look mighty impressive.
Cal Poly struggled to relieve territorial and possession pressure from St. Mary’s, and the Gaels front eight were truly outstanding, especially in the scrums. As a result the Mustangs struggled to get go-forward ball.
"You're always going to have a tough day at the office if you don't secure clean ball for yourself at the set piece," said Cal Poly Head Coach David Burnett.
That was most evident at the end of the first half. With the score 20-5 Cal Poly were in the game, but gave up a penalty near their line. Cook signaled for a scrum, and St. Mary’s proceeded to shove the ball over the line and score a try that stung the Cal Poly confidence.
The game was very physical and both teams struggled with injuries.
Cal Poly fullback Landis Nasser and second rower Bobby McNeal both left the field at halftime with injuries, while the Mustangs had to sit wing Cody Perez due to the re-flaring of an ankle injury.
Things weren’t that much better on the St. Mary’s side. Flyhalf Max Heath left with a shoulder separation that appeared serious. This is added to the Gaels’ already having lost Bubba Jones to a fractured jaw, and Joe Brophy out with a knee injury. Others are out too, with the biggest absence scrumhalf Chad Clark, who is not expected back.
“We’re going to go with whoever we’ve got on a given day,” said O’Brien. “We hope we’ll match up well with teams.”
Although disappointed with the result, Burnett told his players that this was a learning experience.
"Losses like these are tough and you certainly learn from them, but it’s important not to dwell on the negatives for too long,” he said.
Meanwhile, there have been lessons for St. Mary’s also.
“We did not play well for 60 minutes against UBC, and we were punished for it,” he said. “But we learned some harsh lessons from that and the players are showing that they’ve learned them.”