A week after opening their D1-A season with a victory over UC Davis, UCLA welcomes Pacific favorites St. Mary’s to Los Angeles.
Head Coach Scott Stewart knows what to expect, as St. Mary’s has a well-deserved reputation as an excellent open-field attacking team that turns turnovers into points. For Stewart, he might wish to harken back to his playing days, when he was a tough-minded center threequarter for Canada during a period when they singed the beards of several high-profile opponents.
“In the end it can be pretty simple what you need to do,” Stewart told RUGBYMag.com. “Like those Canadian teams, you have to have a lot of belief, and you’ve got to be physical, and you’ve got to get into the game early. For us we need to win the one-on-one battles. We have to defend individually and as a group, get them on the deck, get the ball back, and control the ball. All of that is key.”
St. Mary’s comes into town feeling positive, especially since a few players felled by injury are on their way back. Kingsley McGowan is expected to bring a spark to a backline that probably doesn’t need it. At hooker Andrew Cook leads the team and leads one of the better Gaels tight fives.
“A lot of our guys know their guys, and we have a lot of respect for UCLA,” said Cook. “But we’ve been working really hard, and trying to work all the bugs out through all the game we’ve been playing. Game time is the fun time, when we get to show what we’ve learned.”
Stewart said his players are looking forward to playing St. Mary’s, and they know it will possibly be a wild game. The Gaels lost 31-14 to University of British Columbia Feb 21, their first loss of the 15s season, and the only time they have been held below 36 in ten matches so far. During those ten games, which were against well-regarded colleges and clubs, they have averaged over 52 points an outing.
“For us the big thing is just working together,” said Cook. “We have to communicate and keep together, and if we do that, we’ll be OK. It just takes a little call here or there, and the guys know what they need to do.”
“It’s going to be a challenge,” added Stewart. “But it was a challenge playing Cal, and I think we’re a better team now.”