For the second consecutive weekend, St. Mary’s will butt heads with a top-flight men’s club Saturday. Last week they played San Francisco Golden Gate, and this week they migrate south to take on Belmont Shore. Some college programs avoid scheduling men’s clubs, but that’s not the philosophy of St. Mary’s coach Tim O’Brien.
“I don’t really understand why colleges don’t really play men’s clubs. We have great competition there, and we just want to play against solid competition. How do you play anybody better than Golden Gate? They’re kind to us, they layer in players to keep it competitive,” said O’Brien.
“The reason some of these club guys are so great is they don’t really (care) about a win or loss, they just want to put up good competition for the colleges. It’s a good way to expose our guys to the men’s club scene. There aren’t a lot of college guys, as far as I know, going out and playing rugby after college, so we’re reaching out there.”
In addition to good recruiting opportunities, friendlies with elite college programs provide men’s clubs quality competition they wouldn’t otherwise get this early in the preseason.
“Our plan right now is just to go ahead and pretty much put a mixed side together, pretty much what Golden Gate did against St. Mary’s, a couple of our DI guys, a couple DII guys, and we’ve even got a couple of U19 players in the mix as well,” said Belmont Shore coach Greg Commins. “It’s early in the preseason, so we just want to test a few players out and see how a couple of youngsters go and really just use it as a feeler for the first game out.”
St. Mary’s second side will duel Long Beach State on Saturday, and Sunday the Gaels boot up again to play Back Bay and UC Irvine. O’Brien says he plans to travel with around 54 guys this weekend, and four games in two days should provide plenty of playing time for everyone making the trip.
The Gaels, like many other CPL and even DI programs, have had a difficult time scheduling non-league matches this season due to all the changes taking place in the college game, so weekends like the one coming up are the best way to get quality minutes in before the inaugural CPL season.
“How do you prepare for a competition in March, how do we do this? We can’t get any games in January with the disfunctionality of our men’s clubs, and the college clubs, no one wanted to play us. They just said, what’s our motivation to play you?’ ,” recounted O’Brien. “What are you talking about? I thought we were just playing ball. Our scheduling this year, this was the toughest year to schedule that I’ve had. If it means we’ve got to go to Southern Cal, I guess it’s OK.”
St. Mary’s has at least one more southward journey booked for after the holiday break, this time to visit the LA Rugby Club and Loyola, as well as a couple northern weekends centered around games with Olympic Club and the University of British Columbia. If the Gaels can make it to the CPL season relatively healthy, there's little doubt they'll be the most battle-tested team in the competition.