Tucson, Ariz. - For the first time, the Arizona Wildcats will face the the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on the rugby pitch. No. 16 Arizona (3-3) will face Notre Dame (0-0) in the inaugural Ara Parseghian Cup Match on Sunday, March 10. The game kicks off at Murphy Field at 2 pm.
The Fighting Irish are coming into the game fresh and ready to start their season. They played an exhibition match with the Chicago Lions, but have yet to play an official match on the year.
After playing in Tucson on Saturday, Notre Dame will travel north, facing the Sun Devils of Arizona State on Tuesday. It will then return home to play four more games to finish out the regular season. The Irish are also slated to play California in the opener of the Varsity Cup starting April 20.
“The Wildcats are delighted to begin a new series with Notre Dame,” remarked Arizona head coach Dave Sitton. “Their brand alone is special. But we have been impressed with what the fighting Irish under the direction of Coach
O’Leary have accomplished since the sport has returned to their South Bend campus. “
Arizona and Notre Dame have both participated in every USA SEVENS Collegiate Rugby Championship. Although they have not met on the pitch in that competition, the two programs have had a chance to get acquainted.
The Arizona rugby team is coming into the game needing a win to stay above .500 on the season. The Wildcats lost in Berkeley to California last weekend 80-14. The loss was costly, dropping Arizona to 0-2 in PAC Conference play, but the Wildcats never stopped fighting, adding a final try in the last minute of regulation.
“I am sure that someone unfamiliar with college rugby will raise an eyebrow looking at the score line from last Saturday,” said Coach Sitton. “But to appreciate Cal rugby one only needs to gaze at the National Championship banners that adorn Witter Field. Their program - a bona fide member of the athletics department – is the gold standard in this country. They will continue to challenge all other college rugby programs to raise their standards.”
Arizona will show several changes in the back line including moving Ryan Matyas to fullback. His brother, Andrew Matyas and Jarrett Wellman will work in the flyhalf and center positions during the Notre Dame contest.
The forwards will be anchored by team captain Craig Samoy and All American Number 8 Nic Svob.
Prior to the California loss, Arizona won three of its last four games after opening the season with a non-conference loss to rival Arizona State. The Wildcats upset San Diego State on a rainy day in Tucson before crushing Dixie State 59-0 in the Las Vegas Invitational. The second loss of the season came in the inaugural PAC Conference match against Utah, which was played on a neutral pitch in Las Vegas. And Arizona toppled Air Force Tucson on February 16.
Arizona will be missing several key players due to injury. Center Jack Arnold (ankle), halfback Joe Kunz (shoulder), wing Michael Kinsey (Achilles), and wing Connor Sohn (foot injury) will all miss the Notre Dame match.
With a win, Arizona coach Dave Sitton would reach 396 wins over his 35 year run as Arizona coach. Sitton played four years at Arizona and has been a member of the team since 1974. His record stands at 395-210-12.
One More Victory, Ara! The Rugby Match, was created in to benefit ongoing studies by The Ara Parseghian Research Foundation. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to funding medical research projects to find a treatment for Niemann-pick Type C and other related neurodegenerative disorders.
Ara Parseghian, the legendary Notre Dame football coach, helped found the program after learning that three of his four grandchildren were diagnosed with the disease.
The Parseghian family will take part in a weekend of activities which includes the first “Breakfast of Champions” on Saturday, March 9 at the Viscount Suites Hotel.
The weekend’s activities are supported by Tucson Medical Center.