By Alex Solomon - April 29, 2017
MORAGA, Calif. – The D1A Rugby National Championship will be contested by Saint Mary’s College and Life University for the fifth consecutive year after the Gaels overmatched Arizona, 43-7, and Life held off BYU, 36-26. No. 1-ranked Saint Mary’s wasn’t at it sharpest in the Semifinals, but methodically put the game out of reach from the Wildcats over 80 minutes. The 2017 Championship bout between Life and Saint Mary’s will be played May 6 at Saint Mary’s Stadium and air live on CBS Sports Network & The Rugby Channel.
All-American flanker Alec Barton initiated the scoring with a try that Dylan Audsley would convert to open a 7-0 lead. Audsley added three more points via a penalty kick to expand his team’s lead soon after. In the 25th minute, good support running and accurate offloading led to Michael McCarthy’s try, and Audsley’s third straight successful kick pushed the Gaels ahead, 17-0.
Periods of stagnant play slowed the final 15 minutes of the first half. Knock-ons and penalties prevented Saint Mary’s from mounting the constant pressure teams are accustomed to receiving from the California Conference Champions.
Meanwhile, Arizona continued to play confidently during its postseason run. After wins on the road against Air Force and Baylor, conference champions in their own right, the Wildcats arrived in California in good form, and spent plenty of time inside Saint Mary’s 22-meter line. Multiple Arizona miscues hurt its attacking cause, and the Gaels always seemed to be at their best defensively when their backs were against the wall.
Additional ill-timed mishaps stalled scoring opportunities for the Wildcats to open the second half. Later on, Arizona attempted to run the ball deep out of its own end, but lock Austen Middleton created a turnover. Eight man Vili Helu’s leg drive brought the ball near the goal line, and from their a set of well-timed passes put Jack Carso into the try zone for a 24-0 Saint Mary’s lead.
Fresh off the bench, backline reserve Alejandro Duran’s perfect line off scrum half Holden Yungert was rewarded with a try. The fifth try was dotted down by Aaron Matthews. The center had plenty of work left to do when he took a wide pass from 15-meters out, but managed to increase the Gaels’ advantage to 43-0 with a score in the corner.
Arizona returned to the red zone one last time where its ability to maintain possession for multiple phases finally produced points. Wing Dante Weeks, who proved dangerous throughout the match, shot himself out of a canon before taking a flat pass 45 meters for the Wildcats’ only try. Anton Grigoriou’s kick between the uprights would sound referee Kurt Weaver’s whistle to the cheer of the home crowd that applauded the 43-7 win for Saint Mary’s.
The Gaels will now quickly shift their attention to Life University after the Running Eagles beat No. 3 BYU 36-26 in their Semifinal to set up a fifth consecutive D1A Rugby National Championship match between the two teams.
The May 6 fixture will once again take place at Saint Mary’s Stadium in Moraga, Calif., but this year’s National Championship will be broadcasted live on CBS Sports Network. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT, and tickets to the National Championship event are available online until Wednesday, May 3. Tickets purchased after Wednesday will need to be made at the gate.
Last year Life beat Saint Mary’s 24-20 to end the Gaels’ run of two straight D1A Rugby National Championships. The first of what will soon be five consecutive Championship meetings was won by Life in 2013.